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World War 3 - WW3 - World War III
Main Articles - Casualty by Man
June 03, 2007

What is World War 3?

This article is about a hypothetical global nuclear war. The term World War III is sometimes also used to describe the Cold War of the 20th Century.

World War III

This article is about a hypothetical global nuclear war. The term World War III is sometimes also used to describe the Cold War of the 20th Century.

World War III is the name given to a hypothetical world war, initially supposed to be fought between superpowers with weapons of mass destruction, usually nuclear weapons. Superpower confrontation was deemed to be the major threat in the latter half of the 20th century, where the Cold War saw the capitalist United States face the communist USSR. This conflict was presumed to result in the extermination or technological impoverishment of humanity.

Such a globally destructive war with such pervasive weapons ranks with asteroid impact, a hostile technological singularity, and catastrophic climate change as an "extinction-level event".

world war 3 atomic bomb

Historical scenarios

When asked what kind of weapons World War III would be fought with, Albert Einstein replied: "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones." Not all scenarios for World War III have begun with the use of nuclear weapons. Operation DROPSHOT, a since-declassified US plan, written in 1947, assumed a long period of conventional war between NATO and the Soviet Union before any nuclear weapons would be employed by both sides. The standard NATO war planning scenario assumed a Soviet attack on West Germany, in which tactical nuclear weapons would be used only if NATO forces were losing. In most war games, NATO forces faced extreme difficulty defending West Germany and used nuclear weapons first. Deathlands, a science fiction series by James Axler written in the 80s, is set in the United States a hundred years in the future after a nuclear war between the USA and the USSR in 2001 totally wipes out civilization as we know it. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War, an apocalyptic war between the United States and USSR was considered likely. The Cuban missile crisis in 1962 is generally thought to be the historical point at which the risk of World War III was closest.


  • November 9, 1979, when the US made emergency retaliation preparations after NORAD saw on-screen indications that a full-scale Soviet attack had been launched. No attempt was made to use the "red telephone" hotline to clarify the situation with the USSR and it was not until early-warning radar systems confirmed no such launch had taken place that NORAD realised that a computer system test had caused the display errors. A Senator at NORAD at the time described an atmosphere of absolute panic. A GAO investigation led to the construction of an off-site test facility, to prevent similar mistakes subsequently.
  • September 26, 1983, when Soviet military officer Stanislav Petrov refused to launch ICBMs, despite computer indications that the US had already launched
  • January 25, 1995, when Russia almost launched a nuclear attack after a Norwegian missile launch for scientific research was detected from Spitzbergen and thought to be an attack on Russia, launched five minutes from Moscow. Norway had notified the world that it would be making the launch, but the Russian Defense Ministry had neglected to notify those monitoring Russia's nuclear defense systems.
OPLAN (Operations Plan) 1000 was the standard US military plan for the first hours or days of a national emergency such as World War III. Unclassified annexes included grounding all civil aircraft in the United States and controlling all navigation beacons. In the 1950s and 1960s, this included CONELRAD (Control of Electronic Radiation), in which all radio stations broadcasting in the US would operate on low power on two frequencies — to prevent Russian bombers from using them for navigation. Certain features of OPLAN 1000 were instituted during the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. The actual US nuclear response was detailed in numerous Single Integrated Operational Plans from 1960 to the present day.

Certain sources also state that the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System was specifically designed to contain several sections which were flat and straight, to be used as emergency runways for nuclear bombers. This, however, is an urban legend. The United States Department of Transportation strongly denies that such a purpose exists in the Interstate highway system. However, several other nations, such as Finland and Taiwan have done so.

Use of the term

During a press conference soon after the start of the 1991 Gulf War King Hussein of Jordan directly referred to the conflict between the United States and its coalition of allies against Iraq as "the Third World War" but there is no indication of any other world leaders accepting the definition.

Some historians have suggested that the War on Terrorism, sparked by the September 11 attacks, may become known as the Third World War by future generations due to its world-wide scope.


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