Opinion | Can America Really Envision World War III?

Economic consequences are equally weighted. A Chinese attack on Taiwan, which produces most of the world’s advanced semiconductors, would seriously damage the US and the global economy regardless of Washington’s response. (To this end, the United States is trying to move semiconductor manufacturing home.) But a U.S.-China war could be fatal. Researchers at RAND estimate that the annual war will reduce the productivity of the United States by 5 to 10 percent. In contrast, the US economy shrank 2.6 percent in 2009, the worst year of the Great Recession. The rise in gas prices at the start of the Ukraine conflict is a small foreshadowing of what will come out of the US-China conflict. For the three-fifths of Americans currently living paycheck to paycheck, the war will come home to millions with lost jobs, ruined retirements, high wages and unemployment.

In short, a war with Russia or China would injure the United States on a scale unprecedented in the living memory of most people. Because of that, it shows a lack of understanding about how the American political system works. Getting into it is the easy part. What is more difficult is if the public and its representatives continue to fight for distant territories while the physical attacks and economic disasters continue. When millions of people are thrown out of work, will they see Taiwan’s work as worth their sacrifice? Can the nation’s leaders forcefully explain why the United States paid the terrible price of World War II?

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These questions will be asked during the campaign, so ask them beforehand. Even those who think that the United States should go to war over Ukraine or Taiwan, there is a need to educate the public about the potential for high-powered warfare in the nuclear and cyber world.

The last nuclear-related sign I saw, a few weeks ago, proudly declared a small town in Washington, DC, a “nuclear-free zone.” “Duck and Cover” deserves a 21st century remake — more memorable than the Department of Homeland Security’s “Nuclear Explosion” fact sheet, although the advice is good. (For example, after the shock wave passes, you have 10 minutes or so to find shelter before the radioactive fallout arrives.) For all the moral criticism of the enemy’s actions, Americans listen to honest assessments of the costs of preventing them. A war game broadcast on “Meet the Press” in May offered an example. It’s better to follow with a peaceful game, which shows how to avoid destruction in the first place. Without raising public awareness, political leaders run the risk of bringing about the worst possible outcome – launching a World War III and losing ground when it comes to recovery.

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AInternational relations have deteriorated in recent years, with many observers of America’s global hegemony warning that a new cold war is about to begin. I am among them. But pointing to the cold war in some ways makes it less dangerous. Relations with Russia and China are not necessarily cold. During the first Cold War, American leaders and citizens knew that they could not survive. International violence remained a potential area of ​​superpower competition, until its spectacular end in 1989.

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Today the United States bears the primary burden of countering the ambitions of governments in Moscow and Beijing. The first time he did so, he lived in the shadow of a world war and acted out of genuine fear of the other. In the meantime, lessons must be learned without that experience.

Stephen Wertheim is a senior fellow in the American Statecraft Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a visiting lecturer at Yale Law School and Catholic University. He is the author of “Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of US Global Supremacy.”

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