World War III could erupt at any time and result in more deaths than any other conflict in human history.

That’s the chilling warning from a top academic who fears we’ve only managed to avoid a global armed conflict through ‘random luck’.

Bear Braumoeller, professor of political science at The Ohio State University has analysed data relating to international warfare during the last 200 years.

He said the John Lennon-inspired belief that war is over has lulled us into a false sense of security and cautioned that our complacency about a peaceful future is misplaced.

‘We really don’t get how big a threat war is – not by a longshot,’ he said.

‘The process of escalation that led to two world wars in the last century are still there. Nothing has changed.

‘And that scares the hell out of me.’

Future of everything Nuclear blast scales
Just one nuclear bomb would destroy a city (Picture: Getty/www8.sale-north-face.org)

Braumoeller’s new book is called Only the Dead: The Persistence of War in the Modern Age.

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It challenges the claims of recent scholars who claim war is in decline, an argument most notably put forward by Steven Pinker in his 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

‘I take a comprehensive look at all the different ways you can think about what it means for war to be in decline,’ he said.

‘I find no evidence for a long-term decline in any of them.’

Braumoeller said the probability of a small war becoming a very big one hasn’t changed.

His calculations suggest there is a 13%% chance of a war which kills 1%% of the world’s population erupting in the next 100 years, as long as there are 50 smaller wars on Earth in the same period.

A conflict of this severity would kill 77 million people.

‘That’s nothing short of horrifying,’ the political scientist added.

‘The escalatory propensity of war is the scariest thing I found in this research.’

Nuclear Explosion MET in Nevada Desert (Photo by ?? CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
The US and Russia are thought to each possess roughly 4,000 nuclear warheads (Image: Getty)

The number of worldwide conflicts has certainly declined since World War II, with the threat of mutually assured destruction freezing Russia and the US into a Cold War which never erupted into an all-out pitched battle.

But this does not mean the threat of a huge war has simply disappeared because there have been previous times in history when peace reigned for a very long time before being shattered by a bloody conflict.

Braumoeller added: ‘We do see a decrease in the rate of conflict initiation at the end of the Cold War, but that’s about the only good news.

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‘Other than that, for the last 200 years at least, I can find no downward trend in the incidence or deadliness of warfare. If anything, the opposite is true.

‘People think of huge wars, like the world wars, as something extraordinary, something that has some cause that is distinct from other wars.

‘The profound tragedy is that the most deadly, catastrophic wars are a lot more ordinary than we would think.

‘They result from a series of decisions by people who don’t want to stop fighting. That makes them vastly more dangerous than we realize.’

In his book, Braumoeller calculates just how deadly the next war could be.

Once an armed conflict has caused more than 1,000 deaths in battle, there’s roughly a 50%% chance it will be as devastating as the 1990 Iraq War in which 20,000 to 35,000 fighters were killed, he found.

There’s a 2%% chance that such a war could end up being as devastating to combatants as World War I.

That’s roughly the probability of drawing three of a kind in a five-card poker game

And there’s about a 1%% chance that ‘its intensity would surpass that of any international war fought in the last two centuries’.

‘This is pretty bleak. Not only has war not disappeared, but it would be frighteningly easy to have much larger wars than any we have ever seen in history,’ Braumoeller said.

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