10 Events That Almost Triggered WORLD WAR 3
It seems that the military powers of the world are constantly on edge, their fingers hovering over the proverbial button that threatens to engulf the globe in war. Since the end of the second World War, these following ten events over the last 70-plus years are believed to have brought us to the cusp of World War III.
The Cuban Missile Crisis
During the 1950 and ‘60’s in the United States, children were hiding under desks as a defense for the impending Soviet nuclear strikes from Cuba. The tension between the United States and Russia put the world on edge as everyone waited for either of the twitchy nations to take the conflict to the next level. During the 13-day conflict in October of 1962, the U.S. sent a naval blockade around Cuba in preparations of neutralizing the nuclear threat. Rather than engage the defensive move, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev brokered a deal with President John F. Kennedy to remove the armament if the U.S. agreed to cease military activity in Cuba and remove missiles from Turkey.
Norwegian Rocket Incident (Black Brant Scare)
This January 1995 event is often referred to the closest the world has come to nuclear war. A Russian radar crew had observed an object soaring over the Barents Sea, its trajectory directed towards Moscow. With a ten-minute deadline to retaliate, then-president Boris Yeltsin was brought the nuclear command suitcase and submarines were prepped and ready to launch. All eyes were on the incoming object, believed to be an American Trident missile, and for eight minutes, nuclear war was inevitable. Before the counter expired, the object broke up into the sea. Within hours, it was revealed the “Trident missile” was really a Norwegian scientific rocket launched to study the Northern lights.
The Soviet B-59
At the tail end of the Cuban Missile Crisis, just a day before its conclusion, an American spy plane was been shot over Cuba while another had traveled into Soviet airspace. With tensions already at their peak, there didn’t seem to be any turning back. The USS Beale started dropping “practice” depth charges on the Soviet’s nuclear-armed B-59 as a warning. Aboard the submarine, captain Valentin Savitsky assumed the charges to be real and resolved to launch the ten kiloton nuke at the destroyer. Though two of the three required senior officers were ready to fire, the third, Vasili Arkhipov, refused to give consent and ceased the nuclear strike.
September 11th, 2001
After the United States fell victim to an attack orchestrated by al-Qaeda, it launched the “War on Terror,” a conflict with no set battlegrounds and no promise of resolution in sight. With the U.S. leading the charge, Afghanistan was the first target until the fall of the Taliban in 2014 and, almost immediately, the sights shifted to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which carried the War on Terror into today. While many believe the ongoing conflict to actually be World War III, there are those that postulate it’s just the beginning.
Able Archer 83
To best prepare for a nuclear strike and escalation of global conflict, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization held simulations, codenamed Able Archer, that incorporated forces throughout Western Europe and the United States. For the 1983 mockup, new elements were added to increase the realism, which immediately caught the attention of the Soviets, who ordered double agent Oleg Gordievsky to observe NATO’s actions. Commanded to simply state what he saw and not an analysis, Gordievsky’s reports were believed to show a ruse of war. In response, the Soviets stationed nuclear forces and air units in East Germany and Poland on high alert until the exercise ended on November 11th.
Soviet False Alarm
Only years after chastising the U.S. for the dangerous situation the NORAD error could have caused, the Soviets fell victim to the same false alarm. On September 26th, 1983, the Soviet nuclear early warning detected USAF Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles fired from a United States base. Monitoring the satellite at Serpukhov-15 and responsible for calling in any missile strikes was Lt. Colonel Stanislav Petrov. Being a new system, Petrov knew of the likelihood of a mistaken alert and, acting on a hunch, called it in as a false alarm. Allegedly, the satellite had responded to light reflecting off of high-altitude clouds and Petrov’s hunch likely saved millions of lives.
The NORAD Computer Error
The 1983 film WarGames wasn’t too off the mark when it depicted a computer’s capability of starting World War III. In fact, in 1979, that was almost a real-life scenario. Early in the morning of November 9th, the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado received an alert that Soviet-launched missiles were heading towards the United States. With no reason to think it a false alarm, 10 interceptor fighters were launched in preparation of a retaliatory attack. Further inspection revealed that no missiles were careening towards the U.S. and the alert had stemmed from a technician that ran a training program simulating a Soviet attack.
The Yom Kippur War
In October of 1973, Israel was the site of a surprise attack by Egyptian and Syrian forces, adding to the many years of chaos in the Middle East. While the incident may not appear to be an omen of a third world war, as the United States and the Soviet Union backed opposing factions in the attacks, it drew the two superpowers back into a deadlock. With the United States backing Israeli and Soviets backing Egypt and Syria, the Yom Kippur War divided the nations once again, causing the U.S. military to jump to a Stage 3 alert, just two shy of a nuclear launch.
The Korean War
According to CBS war correspondent, the 1950’s tussle between North Korea and South Korea was “the beginning of World War III.” Backing North Korea were People Republic’s of China and the Soviet Union while South Korea received support from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, and much of the United Nations, giving the war a more global scale. Over a period of three years, the north and south struggled to make any headway, the continued fighting created tensions that may have escalated had the war not ended in a military stalemate in 1953.
The Yeonpyeong Attacks
Once described as the “Frontline of World War III” in 2010, the South Korean islands of Yeonpyeong have been the focus of many years of tension between North and the United States-backed South Korea. In June of 1999, gunboats from both countries tested the Northern Limit Line sea boundary by Yeonpyeong until they were literally nudging one another back to their side. After seven days of this aggression, the first shot was fired by the PT-381 North Korean gunboat. It started the first of several conflicts that threatened stability as North Korean gunships regrouped and struck again in 2002. In 2010, the north came back, this time bombarding Yeonpyeong.