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Watch World War III (WWIII or WW3) and Third World War are names given to a hypothetical third worldwide military conflict subsequent to World Wars I and II. The term has been in use since the end of World War II, and was also applied somewhat sarcastically, to describe broad conflicts indirectly involving many countries from different parts of the world, such as the Cold War or the War on Terror.
Because of the development and use of nuclear weapons near the end of World War II and their subsequent acquisition and deployment by many countries, the potential risk of a nuclear devastation of Earths civilization and life is a common theme in speculations of a Third World War. Another major concern is that biological warfare could cause a very large number of casualties, either intentionally or inadvertently by an accidental release of a biological agent, the unexpected mutation of an agent, or its adaptation to other species after use. High-scale apocalyptic events like these, caused by advanced technology used for destruction, could potentially make Earths surface uninhabitable, what prompts many to believe that after the war, humans would live either in underground facilities or in colonies in the space (like in the Moon or Mars or a space vehicle).
World War I (1914–1918) was regarded at the time as the war to end all wars, as it was believed there could never again be another global conflict of such magnitude. World War II (1939–1945) proved that to be false, and with the advent of the Cold War in 1947 and the adoption of nuclear weapons, the possibility of a third global conflict became more plausible. The perceived threat then decreased with the end of the Cold War in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed, leaving the United States as the sole global superpower. A Third World War was anticipated and planned for by military and civil authorities in many countries. Scenarios ranged from conventional warfare to limited or total nuclear warfare.
Military planners have been war gaming various scenarios, preparing for the worst, since the early days of the Cold War. Some of those plans are now out of date and have been partially or fully declassified.
Main article: Operation Unthinkable
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was concerned that, with the enormous size of Soviet forces deployed in Europe at the end of WWII and the unreliability of the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, there was a serious threat to Western Europe. In April–May 1945, British Armed Forces developed Operation Unthinkable, thought to be the first scenario of the Third World War. Its primary goal was to impose upon Russia the will of the United States and the British Empire. The plan was rejected by the British Chiefs of Staff Committee as militarily unfeasible.
Main article: Operation Dropshot
Operation Dropshot was the 1950s United States contingency plan for a possible nuclear and conventional war with the Soviet Union in the Western European and Asian theaters.
At the time the US nuclear arsenal was limited in size, based mostly in the United States, and depended on bombers for delivery. Dropshot included mission profiles that would have used 300 nuclear bombs and 29,000 high-explosive bombs on 200 targets in 100 cities and towns to wipe out 85% of the Soviet Unions industrial potential at a single stroke. Between 75 and 100 of the 300 nuclear weapons were targeted to destroy Soviet combat aircraft on the ground.