Three Reasons World War III Is Not Going to Happen Anytime Soon

Nine wars have been predicted to erupt since the early 1990s, and all have failed to materialize. That's a result of trade, the interconnectedness of financial markets, and supply chain integration.

Parag Khanna: There have been about nine major wars that have been predicted in the last 25 years.  But interestingly none of them have escalated to the level of a major regional war or a global conflict that we would describe as a World War III.

And I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we are not just interdependent in terms of trade.  Because as we all know Britain and Germany traded a fair bit with each other prior to World War I breaking out 100 years ago.  But not only do we have trade interdependence today, today we have a large amount of financial integration.  We hold a lot of each other’s debt in terms of treasury bonds, corporate bonds.  We are very invested in each other’s economies.  There is also supply chain dispersal.  We now manufacture goods in even our own rival’s countries.

The United States and the Soviet Union didn’t trade a whole lot with each other.  Today not only do the United States and China trade a great deal with each other but many American goods are of course made in China.  Walmart, America’s largest retailer makes most of its goods in China.  If a war between the U.S. and China were to suddenly break out tomorrow that would probably mean very bad news for the bottom line of America’s largest retailer.

So we are much more careful of course about stumbling into conflict because we not only have nuclear deterrence, of course, and we have the lessons of the past.  Those are all intellectual factors and strategic factors. We also have the trade interdependence.  We also have the financial integration.  We also have the supply chain dispersal.  And we have the allure of the size of the markets of our rivals and competitors.  Most of the American Fortune 500 generates more revenues from abroad than from home.  It doesn’t want to fight wars with the countries on which it depends for its exports and for its revenues.

Leaders are wisely making these cost benefit calculations and saying, “Yes, I have national pride at stake.  Yes I believe that my country has been aggrieved historically by this rival.Yes we want to win in the relationship with them and in the race with them. We want to do all of those things but it’s not worth the price of actually going into all out warfare.”

I wish that our institutions were to embed this kind of integration and wisdom that prevents a World War III from breaking out.  We always have to be afraid that that can happen.  And all of those things that we’re doing correctly – the supply chain dispersal, the financial integration, the trade interdependence.  Even the demographic integration between countries – let’s do a lot more of that.

Nine wars have been predicted to erupt since the early 1990s, and all have failed to materialize. They have neither become the regional-scale conflicts predicted by international affairs experts, nor have any resulted in the much-fabled World War III. And conflicts which have occured, from the civil war in South Sudan to America's occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, were predicted by no one.

As a whole, says Parag Khanna, the world has become a more peaceful place, but not for the reason typically given: trade. Plenty of nations that have traded with each other have gone to war. European nations, for example, consistently traded goods for generations for becoming the wellspring of two major armed conflicts. Today, says Khanna, there are additional reasons we don't go to war.

Financial interdependence is one. More than ever before, countries hold one another's debt in the form of currency reserves, all backed by the American dollar. Acting aggressively has become too financially risky for even the wealthiest countries. Another deterrent against war is "supply chain integration," i.e. the companies of one country making goods in another. Were a (trade) war to break out between the US and China, for example, a corporation like Walmart would have more to lose than the American economy could accept.

Countries that lack trade ties, financial interdependence, and supply chain integration — places like South Sudan and Afghanistan — have become ripe for war in the new millennia. There is perhaps no greater argument for continued economic progress than the protection of marginalized populations in all corners of the globe.

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How do 80-year-old 'super-agers' have the brains of 20-somethings?

Most elderly individuals' brains degrade over time, but some match — or even outperform — younger individuals on cognitive tests.

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At some point in our 20s or 30s, something starts to change in our brains. They begin to shrink a little bit. The myelin that insulates our nerves begins to lose some of its integrity. Fewer and fewer chemical messages get sent as our brains make fewer neurotransmitters.

As we get older, these processes increase. Brain weight decreases by about 5 percent per decade after 40. The frontal lobe and hippocampus — areas related to memory encoding — begin to shrink mainly around 60 or 70. But this is just an unfortunate reality; you can't always be young, and things will begin to break down eventually. That's part of the reason why some individuals think that we should all hope for a life that ends by 75, before the worst effects of time sink in.

But this might be a touch premature. Some lucky individuals seem to resist these destructive forces working on our brains. In cognitive tests, these 80-year-old "super-agers" perform just as well as individuals in their 20s.

Just as sharp as the whippersnappers

To find out what's behind the phenomenon of super-agers, researchers conducted a study examining the brains and cognitive performances of two groups: 41 young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 and 40 older adults between the ages of 60 and 80.

First, the researchers administered a series of cognitive tests, like the California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT) and the Trail Making Test (TMT). Seventeen members of the older group scored at or above the mean scores of the younger group. That is, these 17 could be considered super-agers, performing at the same level as the younger study participants. Aside from these individuals, members of the older group tended to perform less well on the cognitive tests. Then, the researchers scanned all participants' brains in an fMRI, paying special attention to two portions of the brain: the default mode network and the salience network.

The default mode network is, as its name might suggest, a series of brain regions that are active by default — when we're not engaged in a task, they tend to show higher levels of activity. It also appears to be very related to thinking about one's self, thinking about others, as well as aspects of memory and thinking about the future.

The salience network is another network of brain regions, so named because it appears deeply linked to detecting and integrating salient emotional and sensory stimuli. (In neuroscience, saliency refers to how much an item "sticks out"). Both of these networks are also extremely important to overall cognitive function, and in super-agers, the activity in these networks was more coordinated than in their peers.

Default Mode Network

Wikimedia Commons

An image of the brain highlighting the regions associated with the default mode network.

How to ensure brain health in old age

While prior research has identified some genetic influences on how "gracefully" the brain ages, there are likely activities that can encourage brain health. "We hope to identify things we can prescribe for people that would help them be more like a superager," said Bradford Dickerson, one of the researchers in this study, in a statement. "It's not as likely to be a pill as more likely to be recommendations for lifestyle, diet, and exercise. That's one of the long-term goals of this study — to try to help people become superagers if they want to."

To date, there is some preliminary evidence of ways that you can keep your brain younger longer. For instance, more education and a cognitively demanding job predicts having higher cognitive abilities in old age. Generally speaking, the adage of "use it or lose it" appears to hold true; having a cognitively active lifestyle helps to protect your brain in old age. So, it might be tempting to fill your golden years with beer and reruns of CSI, but it's unlikely to help you keep your edge.

Aside from these intuitive ways to keep your brain healthy, regular exercise appears to boost cognitive health in old age, as Dickinson mentioned. Diet is also a protective factor, especially for diets delivering omega-3 fatty acids (which can be found in fish oil), polyphenols (found in dark chocolate!), vitamin D (egg yolks and sunlight), and the B vitamins (meat, eggs, and legumes). There's also evidence that having a healthy social life in old age can protect against cognitive decline.

For many, the physical decline associated with old age is an expected side effect of a life well-lived. But the idea that our intellect will also degrade can be a much scarier reality. Fortunately, the existence of super-agers shows that at the very least, we don't have to accept cognitive decline without a fight.

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