Over the past two decades, war has become an ever-present affair for the United States, and despite declarations of victory over ISIS in Iraq and Syria recently, it doesn’t look like that’s bound to change any time soon.  We can expect to see a broader approach to combat operations in Afghanistan in the coming year, as well as further involvement in anti-terror efforts in places like Africa.  This type of warfare has become the standard issue hardship for America’s war fighters for a long time now, however, and a new type of threat is looming on the horizon.

Although anti-terror operations remain an integral part of our national security, the potential for war with peer and near-peer opponents has resurfaced in recent years, and has increasingly been the focus of the U.S.’ training and modernization efforts.  It would seem the days of fighting ill-equipped guerrillas in caves may not be coming to an end, but we may soon have to balance those efforts with others posed by opponents that will undoubtedly possess technology and assets approximating our own in some regards.  Worse still, the complex web of geopolitical alliances could expand any number of nation-level conflicts into the makings of another world war.

Unfortunately, the question of, “which conflict might start World War III?” comes with a complicated answer – as it’s entirely likely that a cascade of alliances and bad decisions could spur a global conflict in regions ranging from the Middle East to Asia and back again, but there ARE a few hot spots worth keeping your eyes on.

The Korean Peninsula

(KCNA Photo)

Although tensions on the Korean peninsula seem to focus specifically on Kim Jong Un’s regime and their continued nuclear and ballistic missile programs, war with North Korea, if it can’t be avoided, must be approached with a fair amount of political tip-toeing.  If the United States is seen as the aggressor in a military conflict with North Korea, Kim’s regime could enlist the support of nearby diplomatic opponents Russia and China.  Kim’s PR machine has already been hard at work trying to advance the narrative a conflict with North Korea would be brought about through American aggression (which they characterize as some sort of pseudo-imperialism) and both China and Russia have offered tacit support to that line of thought.

If gone about the wrong way, war with North Korea could lead to skirmishes with Chinese and Russian forces.  With American allies South Korea and Japan involved from the onset, such skirmishes could rapidly lead to all-out war.  Politically and economically, this outcome seems unlikely, but then, the scope of previous world wars also seemed unlikely at one point.

The Baltics/NATO’s Eastern Front

(Kremlin photo)

Ever since Russia’s military annexation of Crimea in 2014, tensions have once again been on the rise between Putin’s Russian regime and NATO, particularly in the area around the Baltic states, where Russia’s enclave of Kaliningrad offers Russian forces a unique offensive opportunity.  The Suwalki Gap runs for about 65 miles between Kaliningrad and Russian ally Belarus.  If Russian forces were to capture this narrow stretch of land, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia would be cut off from supply lines and reinforcements coming from other NATO nations.