Vučić’s World War III Warning: Hybrid Warfare Looms

Zhok reflects on Vučić's World War III warning, highlighting hybrid warfare's rise and urging peace and the rejection of emergency politics.

Andrea Zhok discusses Serbian President Vučić’s warning about an imminent World War III and explores the dynamics of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, highlighting Russia’s existential threat perception and the West’s systemic stakes. He outlines the low likelihood of nuclear war but stresses the high probability of prolonged hybrid warfare, which employs diverse and often undeclared tactics. Zhok argues that peace and the rejection of emergency politics should be central to any political initiative in the current volatile environment.

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by Andrea Zhok

A couple of days ago, Serbian President Vučić expressed his strong fear that 3-4 months separate us from World War III. Whether this is a realistic assessment or perhaps an excessive concern from someone who has already experienced NATO’s “eminently defensive” nature firsthand is something we will discover only with time.

However, we can already make some general considerations about the emerging trends.

From the perspective of a direct confrontation between major military powers, the crucial issue concerns the internal perception of the “decisive” nature of the ongoing regional conflict. For Russia, it has been clear from the outset that this was perceived as an existential threat. The asymmetry of the confrontation must be well understood here: in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Russia is formally the aggressor, having violated Ukrainian borders with its troops, but Russia perceives itself as being attacked because it has seen NATO preparations on its borders year after year (joint exercises, construction of military infrastructure, the Maidan regime change, persecution of its minorities in Ukraine, etc.). These events were lamented as precursors either to a direct aggression or to a strategic positioning that potentially checkmated Russian defenses. It is necessary to keep some historical and geographical premises in mind: Russia has always been particularly exposed to threats on its western front, where it has been attacked multiple times, where there are no significant natural barriers, and where the main cities, starting with Moscow, are located. These concerns have been expressed by various Russian governments countless times for years, and only the Western control of the public narrative has prevented this fact from being generally acknowledged before the outbreak of the war. It is not the West but Russia that has been facing a military challenge on its doorstep for twenty years; it is not the West but Russia that is being hit on its territory today by the weapons of a powerful hostile military alliance, with the technological and informational support of the same.

For Russia, therefore, there is no room for “steps back” because it has already reached the borders, the limit that threatens its state existence: stepping back means losing the ability to maintain its integrity.

What about the USA and NATO? Here, from the point of view of direct threats, the situation is very different, yet fundamentally similar. The USA is not shedding blood, nor is it suffering infrastructure damage from the current confrontation with Russia. However, the problem here is systemic: the narrative that has sustained confidence in the Western system, both military and financial, requires the system to present a horizon of growth, dominance, and international strength. The Russian initiative, subtly but substantially supported by China, has set in motion a process of “insubordination” in the non-Western world, representing a devastating domino effect for the political and economic hegemony of the West led by the USA. Seeing its ability to impose favorable treaties in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia shaken directly threatens the Western development model, which has always relied on extracting surplus value from the less industrialized world (such as natural resources, energy, cheap labor, etc.). The Hobbesian system of infinite economic competition is tolerable only as long as its populations are only marginally part of the losing sphere in this competition. When the economic struggle of everyone against everyone begins to significantly erode the lifestyles of the European or American proletariat, the alarm goes off because the unity of Western systems is provided only by the promise of (comparatively) widespread well-being.

This means that, for different reasons, even in the American-led West, the current “international insubordination” fomented by Russia represents an existential risk: it brings to light the “intrinsic limits to growth” that critics of the capitalist model have long recognized and that now knock on the door.

Neither contender can therefore afford an open defeat.

Are there margins for an honorable draw? Not many and increasingly fewer. The longer time passes, the greater the economic and human investments in the conflict, and the fewer the chances for an outcome that does not appear as a defeat for one side or the other. For instance, it is clear that the conditions of the Minsk II agreements, which were demanded by Russia before the start of the war, if accepted today, would represent a serious defeat for the Russians, leaving 8 million Russian speakers at the political mercy of those who persecuted them before and bombed them later. The longer time passes, the higher the costs, the more the results accepted as minimums for each party expand.

This picture makes the possibility of a direct conflict more probable every day.

However, this opens up an essential issue regarding the NATURE of the conflict.

The possibility, feared and dreaded, of a direct, no-holds-barred clash, thus a nuclear war, cannot be excluded. Although both sides understand well the potentially terminal nature of such a confrontation, the risk here comes not so much from explicit war planning but from the logic of escalation, which can bring them to the brink of deflagration, thinking they can control it, only to surpass it perhaps due to a misunderstanding, an excess of fear, or suspicion.

But personally, I believe that the chances of a direct nuclear conflict are still relatively low, not negligible, but low.

The scenario that I think is highly probable, almost certain unless the worst-case scenarios above occur, is the development of unprecedented and devastating forms of HYBRID WAR.

By “hybrid warfare,” we mean a military strategy that employs a variety of tactics to harm the adversary, limiting the use of conventional war and instead favoring undeclared forms of attack that can always fall into the “plausible deniability,” the gray area of things that are not fully demonstrable and for which responsibility can be denied. The problem is that today the spaces for these forms of war are enormous, incomparably greater than anything the past has given us.

Hybrid warfare includes supporting terrorist acts, even by third parties. Terrorism can be direct, such as attacks on strategic infrastructure by some infiltrated commando (but here there is always the risk that someone gets caught and the “deniability” fails). Then there is the not-so-complex possibility of supporting, manipulating, and arming existing groups that hate the adversary but would never have the resources for large-scale attacks (these are, for example, the terms in which the March 24 attack on Crocus City Hall, whose direct authors are from Tajikistan but whose preparation refers to Ukrainian secret services, is viewed in Russia today).

Hybrid warfare can also include terrorist acts that do not appear to be such, such as sabotage, apparent infrastructure malfunctions, air or rail accidents, etc.

Hybrid warfare can involve targeted biological warfare, for example, with pathogens selected to preferentially affect certain ethnic groups. Here, too, the appearance can be one of chance or accident.

Cyberattacks of various kinds, aimed at financial entities, databases, archives, etc., can be examples of hybrid warfare.

Financial speculative attacks, aimed at creating opportunities that make international markets a weapon to destabilize a country, can be moments of hybrid warfare.

There are also countless areas of hybrid warfare that we do not yet have explicit examples of, but which are technologically available today. For example, consider the accusations not too subtly made by the Turkish foreign minister against the USA of being behind the 2023 earthquake in Turkey and Syria. The idea that there are ways today to induce seismic events at tectonically predisposed points has been the subject of military study (whether this study has ever translated into reality is a question we do not know).

And, of course, critical events aimed at influencing specific electoral events, such as creating ad hoc victims, scapegoats, or discrediting operations on the eve of elections, can be part of hybrid warfare.

If the horizon of a prolonged and intense hybrid war is what we face in the coming years, it is, in my opinion, necessary to keep two things in mind.

The first is that by the very nature of hybrid warfare, intentionally opaque and inexplicit, the margins for internal instrumentalization are enormous. It can happen that something is indeed an event of hybrid warfare waged by a foreign power, but it can also happen that something is a mere accident or a domestic false flag operation aimed at influencing the internal front (false flag operations are disarmingly simple in a context where by definition flags in real attacks are not displayed).

If, as they say, the first victim of war is truth, in a hybrid war, public truth tends to dissolve integrally: everything is potentially instrumental for someone.

Such an atmosphere of artfully cultivated suspicion and hidden manipulations tends to consolidate in power those who already hold power and makes it extremely difficult to build any heterodox political initiative, alien to the already consolidated power.

This point leads us to a second conclusion: the primary direction in which a critical, genuinely oppositional policy should move in this historical context must have at its center the DEMAND FOR PEACE (which means coexistence, reduction of international conflict, easing of tensions, acceptance of the plurality of perspectives, acceptance of multipolarism with equal dignity for the various poles, etc.) and the REJECTION OF EMERGENCY POLITICS (rejection of the constant creation of anxiety, terror, syndromes of attack or impending catastrophe to manipulate public will).

The will for peace, in the most comprehensive sense, and the rejection of the emergency attitude should be at the center of any political initiative capable of resisting the dark times we have been thrust into.


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