One does not need Generational Dynamics to see that the world is becoming increasingly unstable, and is far less stable than it was 15 years ago. Still, some people think that world wars have been abolished, and one person recently wrote to me saying that a world war can't happen because country leaders are "rational actors"!! There's no way to predict the scenario that will start World War III, since there are so many possibilities, but we can look at the scenarios that started previous wars and try to learn lessons from them.
# WW II did not begin with the Anschluss of Nazi Germany and Austria, nor did it begin with the Nazi invasion Czechoslovakia. Hitler was using the "salami slicing technique" of one conquest after another, each one thought to be too small to trigger an all-out war. Nonetheless, when the Nazis invaded Poland, Britain felt it had to intervene.
Today, China is using the same "salami slicing technique" in the South China Sea and elsewhere, as it plans to take control of their entire region and control all access to it. At some point, China will take a step too far, and Vietnam or the Philippines or India or Australia or the United States will feel obligated to oppose the Chinese.
# Another example is that North Korea is using a kind of "salami slicing technique" to develop a nuclear-tipped ICBM that could reach American soil. At some point, North Korea may conduct one more nuclear weapon test or one more ballistic missile test that will cause the US or China to decide to do something to stop further nuclear development, and that could trigger a war.
# However, a "small action" doesn't always trigger a world war. There are numerous examples; US invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11, US invasion of Iraq over fear of WMDs (58 year hypothesis), Israel's invasion of Lebanon because of Hezbollah's actions (58 year hypothesis), Saudi Arabia's invasion of Yemen, the proxy war in Syria, Russia's invasion and annexation of Crimea, Russia's invasion of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and so forth.
The Pacific theatre of WW II began when Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and other American targets. Today, China may decide to launch a direct attack on the US and/or India.
# Some country (China) could trigger one of America's mutual defense treaties. The United States has some sort of mutual defense treaty with many countries: Japan, South Korea, Israel, Taiwan, the Philippines, the Marshall Islands, the ANZUS agreement with Australia and New Zealand, a special treaty with Iceland, and the NATO agreement with all of Europe.
*) These kinds of situations would not have triggered a war during the 1990s because that was a generational Unraveling period, when the world was still being run by the Silent generation, survivors of World War II who had the sense to make sure it wouldn't happen again. Today, in a generational Crisis era, those generations of sensible survivors are all gone, and nationalism and xenophobia are increasing rapidly in countries around the world, so that situations like those described above could easily trigger a world war.
# There's one more possibility that's rarely mentioned because most people have the mistaken belief that Russia and China are allies. But they're only allies in the sense of "honor among thieves," where they support each other in the invasion and annexation of other countries' territories, following Hitler's example in 1939.
The Russians and the Chinese have hated each other at least since the 1200s. The 1206 victory of the Mongols over the Han Chinese still has enormous impact on Chinese thinking today. Han Chinese adopted much from Mongol culture, and many aspects of the two cultures merged, culturally, not ethnically.
After the Mongols conquered the Han Chinese, they went on to attack the Russians. The Russian culture definitely did NOT merge with the Mongol/Chinese culture, and those hatreds exist today. In fact, Russia and China did have a border war in 1969, though it didn't last long. But today, in a generational Crisis era, it could spiral into full-scale war.
In 2014, Russia held the massive Vostok military exercises in the Far East, explaining that the military drills were necessary to prepare for war with the United States. The assets deployed during this exercise were more consistent with preparing for a defense of the Far East, a region that America would be unlikely to invade if it wanted to invade Russia at all. The only state actor that against which such a defense is needed is China. So it appears that Russia and China claim that they're each preparing for war with the United States, but they're also preparing for war with each other.
In early June 2017, Russian media reported the powerful road-mobile 9K720 Iskander-M missile system was installed in Russia's Eastern Military District. This joins three other major missile installations that took place in 2013, 2015 and 2016, respectively. These installations have very limited ability to strike American or Japanese targets. Their only logical purpose is to strike China.
So it seems evident Russia is preparing for war with China, and that could be the trigger for World War III.
# As I've been saying for years, Generational Dynamics predicts that the world is headed for a Clash of Civilizations world war pitting the United States, the West, India, Russia and Iran versus China, Pakistan and the Sunni Muslim countries.... National Interest