How volatile international relations have become can be gauged by the fact that the confidence and congeniality that appeared among Russia, USA, UK and France, in the backdrop of Paris attacks, at Antalya G-20 Summit evaporated by the next day’s event whereby the underlying volcano of mistrust and rivalry also got exposed. Turkey is a member state of the NATO military alliance consisting of 28 countries that was formed during cold war era to counter Soviet Union and its allies. The deterrent notion of the NATO alliance was that attack on one state would be considered as an attack on all member states. Cold war ended with the break-up of the Soviet Union but NATO alliance outlived the cold war era and shifted its focus on Islamist militancy and unwanted regimes. Since then, the joint forces of the NATO allies have fought US wars on Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria. But for some years now, Russia has been gradually making a come back on the world stage as a super power; and that has explained why NATO alliance was not dispensed with after cold war. Rise of Russia has been followed by a re-shift in the focus of the NATO again. Many experts were predicting that growing competition between US and Russia has little chance to trigger any high tension as both of them were facing a common threat in the form of International Jihad by Islamists but a small event has changed everything beyond imagination.

Shooting of a Russian jet by Turkey, a NATO state, has kick started a debate whether the world is heading towards the most feared third world war? Some analysts have gone to the extent of saying that it has already begun. They are comparing the shooting of Russian jet with the apparently insignificant events of shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Royal prince of Austro-Hungarian Empire, by a member of a non-state Serbian militant organisation and of attacking of Poland by Germany; both of which sparked the most devastating wars of human history known as first and second world wars. Some of the top world journals have published articles on this topic with a majority view that a third world war is about to begin if it has not started already. The Mirror, a UK based journal has gone so far as to publish precautionary measures for the Londoners in anticipation of a Russian nuclear attack.

Syria, which is a small and insignificant state on the face of it, owing its genesis to the disintegration of Turkish Ottoman Empire is fast becoming a flashpoint of world powers’ clash. This premise can also be stretched to the extent of saying that, God forbid, it may also become a graveyard of whole human species, given the destructive power of the huge stockpile of Atom and Hydrogen bombs at the disposal of big powers. All major world powers have already jumped into the war theater of Syria. US, UK, France, Canada and Turkey – important powers of the so called Western Block – are attacking targets in Syria on almost daily basis – with Germany joining them soon; and they enjoy active support of the Gulf countries in this venture. All of them are pursuing a singular objective of ousting Bashar al Asad for which they are raising and supporting armed groups as well. Russian has joined Syrian war recently with a big bang, albeit with altogether opposite objective i.e to protect Bashar al Asad regime, at any cost, and it is also hitting the groups that the western block is arming and financing. Another big regional power, Iran is also on Russian side. China has also sent its warships to Syria reportedly siding with Russian side. Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian Jet shows that a war which had started with the help of proxies to effectuate a regime change in Syria, turned into an international war against ISIS first – at least apparently; and now it is fast engulfing supper powers and their allies into a direct clash with each other.

Three aspects that arise from this emerging situation need consideration. First, are the US and Russia not playing into the hands of a non-state Islamist militant organisation, ISIS. Real goal of such organisations is to disrupt the existing world order so as to create space for their political ambitions based on their extreme ideology. And they seem to be fully conscious of the fact that they cannot unsettle existing world order unless world powers are somehow set to pitch into each other. Secondly, the threat level posed by non-state organisations is so minuscule in terms of destruction that it cannot even be compared with the Armageddon which super powers’ clash could unravel. ISIS can kill a few people here and there to strike terror, of which it has acquired a long-term ability; or it could spark a relatively small war like it already has in Syria but any unfortunate war among world powers can destroy the whole globe in a few minutes. Thirdly, are these non-state organisations really as big a threat as they are usually presented to be? Considering the allegations of active support of ISIS by the US and Turkey, isn’t it more probable that such organisations are being used by super powers to achieve their strategic objectives; and their threat level is deliberately exaggerated.

Any comparison among the economic, military and political power of the three super powers the US, Russian and China will demonstrate that any alliance between Russian and China will leave US far behind even if counting in the resources of its allies like UK and France. But from the perspective of third world war, its immaterial which side is mightier than the other; as the real reference point for debate on any such war is whether human species will survive it or not. If world powers fail to contain this war and reach some political settlement on Syrian question, full-scale third world war cannot be ruled out. During the cold war era, at certain points, the world had a close call from mutually assured destruction of the two blocks, thanks to the sense of responsibility shown by the US and Soviet leaders. This time too, it can be hoped that better sense will prevail.