Definition of a World War

Resolved–that any war that involves countries or major battles or confrontations in three or more continents is a world war, and should be classed as such.

By this definition, we are currently in World War V.

Below is a list of wars with their traditional names, and proposed names to recognize their nature.

French and Indian War (1754–1763) -----> World War I
[Note: This war involved European powers fighting in North America and Asia.]
World War I ---->World War II
World War II ---->World War III
Cold War ----> World War IV
War on Terror ----> World War V

For those who don’t think that the Cold War was a real war, much less a world war, I would submit that the Vietnam War was actually a confrontation between the US and USSR.

For those who don’t think that the War on Terror is a real war, much less a world war, please remember that it has involved North American and European powers (primarily the US and UK) fighting in Asia.

What about the Napoleonic Wars? Confrontations in Asia, Europe, Carribean and Africa (at the least).

Alexander fought in Thrace before his conquest of Persia and Egypt, thus fighting on three continents.

The Eighty Year’s War (1568–1648), pitting Spain and Portugal against Netherlands (and its ally England) was arguably fought on as many as five continents! During this war, the King of Ceylon invited Netherlands to come help defeat the Portuguese which they did. The Dutch also attacked Portuguese holdings in Africa (Angola and Axim). A naval war was waged in the Americas; and of course there was fighting in Europe.

Since the Eastern Mediterranean adjoins three continents, there may be lots of little wars there that qualify.

Pretty much all of the European wars 1700-1815 would qualify, as they usually involved at least some attacking of overseas colonies in North and South America. The war of Spanish Succession, to pick a random example, had figthing in Europe and the two New World continents.

And a lot of classical wars happened in the Eastern Mediterranean and thus involved fighting in Europe, Asia Minor and Africa, even though the actual area the fighting was over wasn’t that large an area.

Using you definition, even without edge cases like the “war on terror”, I think you’ll find forty or fifty “world wars”.

They have Roman numerals after the name. There’s only been 2. And the first one was classified retroactively.

I had never considered this issue before.
Considering the relative propinquity of Europe, Africa and Asia, the three continent rule would come into play for most major conflicts.

So, what then do we use as a metric for a ‘world war’?
A hot war that involves (directly or indirectly) the majority of the planet’s inhabitants?
Would any war fulfill these requirement?

I don’t think we need a “metric”. World War is just the name used for two particular wars. It doesn’t need to or actually suggest the existence of some sort of classification scheme for wars.

Whenever the Ottomans fought either the Spanish (Africa), Austrians (Europe) or Persians (Asia), any of the other two would say “let’s us hit them now that they’re busy.”

The Crimea was more far-flung than most people remember, since the Royal Navy lobbed shells at the Russians in Kamchatka (having played Risk as kids, they pretty much had to), Kronstadt, and up in the White Sea.

WWI & WWII get called I & II because it was fought by nations on all the contients (don’t forget that Jan Smuts could have stood South Africa pat if he’d wanted), not wherever on the globe the combatants encountered each other.

(BTW, there’s also an informal naming of the First and Second Hundred Years War between Great Britain and France; the Second from 1689 to Waterloo)

Why? Continents are mostly arbitrary landmasses. Much more sensible to simply require a fixed number of nation-states.

I agree that there have been more than two world wars by most attempts at a general definition.
And that the definition doesn’t make much sense any more as if, say, China, India and Pakistan had a full blown nuclear war it would probably be considered WWIII because it would have huge knock on effects for the whole world.

But some here I think are stretching the standard definition.

3 wars happening one after the other on three continents is not a world war; they need to be happening in parallel. And Europeans and Americans joining to fight in a third continent is still just a war on one continent.

Here’s my “World War” checklist, derived 26 seconds ago (which is why it’s so short):

  1. Multiple continents involved
  2. The large majority (if not all) of the worlds Great Powers must be involved militarily

Another way (thinking off the top of my azz) to measure whether or not a conflict is a “World War” is to find out what % of the globe’s GDP is dedicated to fighting and supporting this war. Greater than, say, 15-20% and I think we’re in World War status. Even if it’s just on one continent, a conflict that eats up 20% of global GDP would affect almost everyone on the planet.

I, unfortunately, have no idea how to measure this. (Well, I know how to measure this, but this isn’t a term paper, it’s an internet post. :wink: )

FWIW, people in the biz do refer to “system-wide” wars or conflicts — the point being that all/almost all the top players in the international system got involved, and the outcome inherently would change the structure of power in the international system, and yes, the list of system-wide wars is much longer than the two World Wars. But you’re right, “World War” is just a name, not a technical term. Also, no matter how you define “system-wide” or “world”, the “War on Terror” isn’t a war at all, and so shouldn’t make the list.

How about the Islamic Wars of the seventh century? Definitely a hot war and they spread from France to India.

I wasn’t aware of that war. I guess it would certainly qualify.

I hadn’t really thought about the Middle East. I would like to amend my definition to add a requirement that at least one combatant or area of conflict be at least 2,000 miles from the others.

But what if you have a number of nations that are small in either population or land area fighting each other? I think such a definition would be among the more useless attempts.

Yes. With his definition Europe and the Middle East would have having centuries of world war.

I say stick to the current definition. It’s just naming. When people agree some war is a world war in the future, we’ll have our next one.

The “War on Terror” is a joke. It’s no more a world war than the Malayan emergency.

You could as readily argue that WW1 and WW2 are merely a continuation, with periods of less intense warfare between, however just about the whole of the 20th Century is just one long war, hard to find any time that world peace actually broke out.

Some combatants changed sides, Italy + Japan + many of the Balkan states, some were in and out quite quickly and rejoined at later dates, enemies changed identities completely such as Russia and China and in turn managed to select adversaries with whom they were formerly allies.

I calculate that by your fairly loose criterion, we are currently simultaneously engaged in World Wars 67, 68, and 69 (we skipped World War Thirteen because it would have been unlucky).

The term “World War” itself wasn’t coined until after WWII, and the reason for that appellation was the global nature of both conflicts. Even then, the “Great War” didn’t really qualify, as the vast majority of the action took place in the European theater.

In order to have an actual “World War,” there would have to be belligerents distributed around the globe, or at least belligerents fighting in every area (or most areas) of it, and it all would have to be part of the same conflict. Only WWII seems to actually qualify in this regard; I think it would be more accurate to refer to WWI as “The Great War” and WWII as “The World War.”