Douglas Cohn

Lyons Press, Guilford, Connecticut, 2016, 264 pages

Book Review published on: June 2, 2017

As a young lieutenant in the middle 1980s, I vividly remember reading Sir John Hackett’s superb book from 1978, The Third World War. In it, Hackett, with the assistance from numerous military and civilian experts, foretold the beginning and conduct of World War III—starting in 1985. As a reader, you knew it was fiction, but the details within the book made it seem so incredibly real. It was a powerful book and one that made many of us focus even more on our profession.

Since its publication, we have seen many other books in which authors have predicted and written on the next world war. The latest volume in this genre is Douglas Cohn’s WW4. Its pages reveal nine scenarios that the author believes could lead to World War IV. (Cohn concludes that the Cold War was World War III.) It is a book that is highly readable and one that will undoubtedly spark discussion and debate.

Perhaps, the best way to highlight these scenarios is to utilize a summary furnished by Cohn’s publisher, Lyons Press:

  • The Post-NATO War. It will begin between allies, not enemies, in seemingly unconnected events.
  • The Great Russian War. Russia will seek to reverse its loss of empire through its version of manifest destiny.
  • The Great China War. By embracing capitalism in an authoritarian command-control economy, China will supplant communism with a form of expansionist fascism.
  • The Chinese Civil War. Chinese fascism will become a victim of rising expectations and diminishing realities.
  • The Polar War. Another resource rush will be on, and as occurred five hundred years ago, a treaty allocating sovereignty is made to be broken.
  • The Blue Gold War. Diminishing fresh water will spawn conflicts of desperation.
  • The Lunar War. The Moon will come to be coveted as the only permanent low-gravity satellite.
  • The Nuclear Terrorist War. As the Taliban, al-Qaida, and Islamic State terrorists inch closer in connection and proximity to sympathetic extremists in Pakistan, that nation’s nuclear arsenal is increasingly likely to fall into their hands.
  • The Commerce, Currency, and Cyber War. With globalization, government-sanctioned predatory trade practices, cyber-based industrial espionage, currency manipulation, and other financially provocative actions will lead to war.

For the preponderance of each of the above scenarios, Cohn concisely answers four questions. First, what are the conditions currently existing that make this scenario feasible? Second, what event (events) could lead to the beginning of World War IV? Third, how will the war be executed? Finally, what will be the eventual outcome of the war and its ramifications? Additionally, in several instances, he discusses how the scenario may be ultimately prevented by critical actions or decisions.

Readers seeking significant detail on each scenario must remember that Cohn has addressed nine different scenarios within his pages. However, they will receive sufficient discussion on each scenario. What makes these scenarios more intriguing is their overall diversity. They vary in characteristics such as environment, adversaries, and most importantly, the resources that are in such high demand by society. Couple this diversity with Cohn’s conversant writing style and you have an extremely engaging volume.

The great aspect of books in this genre is the potential to make readers think. Cohn has unquestionably seized on this opportunity. He has crafted a volume that encourages readers to review the past and present and question the future of the world and our role in it. He puts this all in perspective in his volume’s final chapter. He states, “Human folly is the great imponderable. Yet, does folly upset the calm or is the storm the natural state in the sea of humanity? Either way, folly or nature ensures a future filled with conflict.”

Book Review written by: Frederick A. Baillergeon, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas