April 11, 2018
By Stephen Gowans
World War III is not about to erupt; it has already begun; indeed, it began as long ago as 2015, when Russia, at the request of the Syrian government, intervened in the conflict in that country, whose government was under attack by Islamist insurgents encouraged, armed, and resourced by the United States and its allies.
The war in Syria, one that counts among its participants the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iran, Jordan, Qatar and others, is no less a world war for being confined to the borders of Syria. A world war is not defined by the multiplicity of its theaters but by the multiplicity of its actors.
Ultimately, the war is a conflict over two types of international order: on the one hand, a hierarchy of states, with the United States at the top, endowed with de facto authority to impose its will on all other states; on the other, a network of sovereign and independent states, linked by mutual benefit—a US-dictated global order vs. a democratic UN-defined international order. This is a battle of tyranny versus democracy at the level of international relations.
The war over these two contending conceptions of how the world’s affairs should be organized—the Third World War in action—is now threatening to spill beyond Syria’s borders.
The US president has threatened to attack the Syrian government in response to an alleged chemical weapons incident that is almost certainly a hoax perpetrated by partisan sources, the White Helmets and Syrian American Medical Society. These are jihadi-aligned groups, funded by Western governments, which have an interest in pressuring the United States to maintain its illegal occupation of nearly one-third of Syrian territory, or to provide a pretext for continued or even escalating US intervention in Syria.
The same Western governments that fund the White Helmets and Syrian American Medical Society have openly called for regime change in Damascus and have invested time and money in an effort to bring it about. The two outfits they bankroll are neither independent nor neutral, and can hardly be judged to be trustworthy sources, any more than the United States, and its allies France, the UK, Saudi Arabia and Israel, can be.
Russia has warned the United States not to carry through on its threat to attack the Syrian government. An attack ordered by the US president would violate international law, to say nothing of US domestic law, which vests authority to wage war in Congress. The president does not plan to seek Congress’s authorization.
This, however, is all of a piece. It is difficult to point to any aspect of the US intervention in Syria that has not been illegal, from the occupation of Syrian territory, to the violation of its airspace, to the funding of guerrillas to overthrow its government.
The United States’ newspaper of record, the New York Times, urges the US president to commit another illegal act, namely, to punish Syria militarily, without Security Council or Congressional authorization, for an unverified transgression against international law. The New York Times, thus, no less than other major Western media, has chosen a side in World War III—four-square behind the fight for an international order based on the arbitrary rule of the US administration in preference to a global order based on sovereign and equal states governed by the rule of law.
Russia has vowed to intercept incoming US missiles. Its warning has been met by a belligerent reply from the US president. The situation is fraught with danger. The United States, and its major media, which connive in the likely chemical weapons deception and elevate a planned illegal act of war into a moral crusade, are playing a very dangerous game. They’re willing to bring the world to the brink of a general conflagration to fulfil their vision of a hierarchy of states subordinate to the US administration’s rule—an undisputed global US empire.