Reading the Signs: A Build up to War?

Leanne Elliott explores the signs of war and how you can do your part in helping to prevent the next global conflict.

Despite a majority of everyday people around the world wanting a peaceful existence, war appears to be a reoccurring theme among global leaders, organisations and the media. Whether it be World War, Cold War, Trade War, Cyber War, or Bio Warfare, we are being constantly cautioned and reminded the world is always only one step away from war.

Global Power Structures

War cannot be discussed without examining geopolitics and global structures, especially those attached to, and administered by the United Nations. The more powerful countries, often referred to as “the great powers”, are comprised of China, France, Russia, the UK and the US, who each hold permanent seats on the UN Security Council. The UN Security Council has the power to endorse (or legalise) invasions, wars, and the provision of humanitarian aid (e.g. NATO). It is also responsible for investigating, preventing, and punishing persons or countries involved in large scale, discriminatory or prolonged violence, such as genocide.

Other powerful nations, including Saudi Arabia, Japan, Germany, Israel and India, Middle East (e.g. Egypt) and Africa, all have differing loyalties to the great powers and each other. These loyalties are based on economic, political, religious, cultural and historical consistencies. For example, India and Japan have long established ties to Britain and the US, similarly, China and Russia have a long history and share current interests, such as strengthening economic footholds in Africa and a loathing of US dominance.

Over the past few decades, more so recently, there has been a growing distrust in US global leadership, especially after the illegal invasion of Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan. And, despite the continuing expansion of its military operations, there is also a growing consensus that many Americans are ‘war weary’. However, public distrust is not just focused on the US, with growing public distrust of governments worldwide having resulted in mass protests, in a many countries – protests which appear to have been only temporarily disrupted by the COVID pandemic.

Wars Do Not Start Themselves

When examining past wars there are definite warning signs which indicate war could be on the horizon. These signs include:


Countries do not generally go to war over one thing in particular, rather, it is usually a number of things, including triggers like: threats to economic interests, territory, citizens, or military provocation (such as Pearl Harbour and the Gulf of Tonkin), and political assassinations.

Recently, we have witnessed all of the above, and, all at a time when tensions between three of the major powers, US, China and Russia, is on the increase. China’s growing economic power and territory expansion is now largely driven by its Belt and Road Initiative, and directly threatens US economy and territories which are strategically important to the US.

Then there is the US, with its long history of political disruption, including the recent assassination of high ranking Iranian General, Qasem Suleimani. Moreover, with the US terminating a number of key treaties, such as the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and China refusing to enter into any Nuclear Treaty, military tensions do not seem to be easing.

Divide and Conquer

The world has never been so divided, and, technological, political, cultural, religious, and demographic divides have never been so apparent. While COVID has brought many communities together, it has also exacerbated existing divides. We are seeing increased nationalism, flag flying and flag burning now a popular past time for some. Even before COVID, some countries were in a race to sure up and protect their borders, with tension over mass refugee migration plastered all over the news.

Moreover, the advent of social media technologies which provide platforms for people to voice and debate their opinions online have become home to hostile, emotive mélanges of division. For every movement, there is an ‘anti’ movement. For every opinion there are people who disagree. For every belief there are people who disbelieve. For every Trump tweet there are hundreds of thousands of people around the world who are just itching to respond.

Rather than opinions, beliefs and cultures being geographically isolated as they once were, living in a digitally connected world means opinions, beliefs and cultures have no borders.

The Arms Race

Despite UN disarmament treaties, countries around the world, including Australia, are scrambling to sure up their military capabilities and stockpile of weapons. Russia is building up its military presence in the Artic. China is strengthening its military presence in the South and East China seas, building military installations on several islands. These actions have not gone unnoticed by the US and NATO, who also have expanded their territory by increasing its military presence in dozens of countries.

Moreover, many countries are in a race to develop new age weaponry, such as hypersonic, electromagnetic, directed energy, space weapons, and cyber-attack capabilities.

According to Statista, in 2001 global military spending ($US) was $1,139 billion compared to $1,922 billion in 2019; an increase of $783 billion dollars. In 2019, the top 5 countries with the highest military spending were: US ($732 billion), China ($261 billion), India ($71.1 billion), Russia ($65.1 billion), and Saudi Arabia ($61.9 billion). Other countries listed in the top ten spenders include: France, Germany, the UK, Japan, and South Korea.


Propaganda is used to change human thinking and behaviour.

“Modern propaganda is a consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of the public to an enterprise, idea or group.” – Edward Bernays, Propaganda.

Since the advent of mass media, every war has involved some form of mass, multifaceted propaganda campaign. Campaigns employing all forms of communication: radio, newspapers, leaflets, posters, gossip. Catchy slogans and phrases, like, “Uncle Sam wants you”, “support the war – buy bonds”, “loose lips sink ships”, “you are either with us or against us”, and, graphic images of blood thirsty, barbaric enemies bayoneting babies and having their way with captured women.

Propaganda has been used to spur on Western nationalism, with terms like “China Virus”, talk of unsanitary wet markets, reports that China had lied about the COVID outbreak, had been hoarding medical supplies, and colluding with WHO to suppress information.

There has even been talk in some circles (including the Trump administration) of China genetically modifying COVID, however, US Intelligence Agencies have recently stated Covid was not manmade.

Similarly, China has openly questioned the US’s involvement in the pandemic, also accusing the US of being responsible for COVID and criticising the US’s handling of the pandemic. China has also accused other Western countries, including Australia, of running anti-China propaganda campaigns.

But, let us not forget long time scapegoat, and cold war counterpart, Russia. Russia interfered in the elections, Russia hacked this, Russia’s got bots, Russia’s got weapons.

Really, at this point we can use Russia and China interchangeably when talking about anti-western propaganda. It’s true, we love to point fingers at other governments, while ignoring the role our own governments play.

Strengthening Alliances

Alliances have the appearance of being set in stone, but as history shows, sometimes they are not worth the paper they are written on. However, it is hard to talk about Alliances with out looking at the Northern Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

NATO represents an alliance between Europe and the North Americas, its role is twofold. Politically, it promotes democracy, and collaboration between members. Militarily, it promotes “peaceful resolutions”, and has the power to “undertake crisis management operations”. There are 30 NATO members which operate under collective defence model; which simply means, if you attack one member country, you are attacking them all. NATO is perhaps one of the strongest alliances in modern times.

Speculation over whether China and Russia are indeed allies continues, however, most global leaders admit that together they make a formidable alliance. Moreover, Russia has its own alliances, including members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

Global Recession

Recession has historically been linked to war, both in terms of ending global recessions (‘military Keynesianism’) and resulting from a global recession, as countries fight for territories of economic or strategic value. Even before the 2020 pandemic, economists were discussing the possibility of a coming global recession. However, COVID has made a bad situation worse, with the World Bank suggesting the virus could “plunge global economy into [the] worst recession since World War II”, which will place unprecedented economic stress to the world economy.

 “[…] we know neither plague nor depression make war impossible.” – Stephen Walt, Foreign Policy.

What Now?

Personally, I agree with Jackie Moon when he says, “everybody love everybody”. Easier said than done, I know.

The majority of people in the world want lasting peace, therefore, it is up to us, the citizens, to ensure we walk forward with care. It is easy to react before thinking, we all do it, but next time you find yourself reacting strongly to something, stop for a few minutes and try to rationally process it before reacting. Actively look for the signs discussed above and speak out when you see these signs.

Also, we need to keep our governments in check. Are they doing the right thing? If they are not doing the right thing what are the consequences, and are they adequate? We live in a time when political leaders appear as though they are above the law, they can lie, cheat, steal without consequence. Moreover, pressure needs to be put on our justice systems to ensure political leaders and people in positions of power are held to account for any wrong doings.

The same can be said for the military. Irrespective of where you are from, pay attention, start asking questions; where are our troops, why are they there, what are they doing, what will the outcome be? And if they do something wrong, they also should be held to account.

And finally, the media. Do not just sit passively by, believing everything you hear, read or see; instead, question everything. Support good, objective journalism when you find it and support the rights of whistle blowers, because nobody should be punished for telling the truth.

Being an informed citizen is not easy, you can spend hours wading through all kinds of information and speaking to different people and getting no where, but it is better than realising you’ve been suckered and that your complacency has aided tyranny. 

Feature Image: Xavier Williams, Yak Media Designer

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