The surge in global conflict that marred the year 2023 has set alarm bells ringing in the halls of European defence establishments.
Not three weeks of 2024 have passed, and the governments of Estonia, Sweden and now the UK have already warned their respective nations that the prospect of large-scale war is on the horizon.
Leaked German intelligence documents suggest Berlin expects Russia to launch another wave of attacks to overwhelm Ukraine, and is scrambling to come up with contingency plans in the event Russian troops march westward from Belarus.
The Israel-Hamas conflict threatens to spread violence across the Middle East, with Iran’s so-called ‘Axis of Resistance’ – including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels – increasing their attacks on Israel and commercial shipping routes, prompting the UK and US to launch a series of devastating strikes by air and sea.
Further East, Taiwan’s election of a new democracy-loving president has angered Beijing even further, with a Chinese invasion of the island nation in the coming years looking ever more likely.
And all the while, Kim Jong Un stands by with his fist clenching the keys to North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, ready to plunge his foes into radioactive winter.
In a stark warning speech this week, UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps sought to encapsulate the grave threats facing Britain and beyond.
‘In five years’ time we could be looking at multiple theatres including Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. Ask yourself, looking at today’s conflicts across the world, is it more likely that that number grows or reduces?
‘I suspect we all know the answer.’
Now, with international security experts in cacophonous agreement that we are closer to World War III now than at any other time since the Cuban Missile Crisis, MailOnline examines the global ‘fault lines’ that could drag Europe into a massive armed conflict.
Russia-Ukraine: Gateway to war between Moscow and NATO
Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 saw the spectre of a major armed conflict darken Europe’s door again for the first time since the end of World War II.
The UK and EU immediately leapt to Ukraine’s defence, cracking down on Moscow with a barrage of economic sanctions and committing billions in military and humanitarian funding to boost Kyiv’s war effort.
But now almost two full years into the conflict with no clear end in sight, European nations are forced to confront the very real possibility the war could drag on indefinitely – and perhaps even spill beyond the borders of Ukraine.