World War 3 likely in next 5-10 years, think most Britons

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
February 01, 2024, 11:38 AM GMT+0

Most also think nuclear weapons would be used if WW3 did break out

In a speech in January the defence secretary, Grant Shapps, said that we are “moving from a post-war to pre-war world”. In the same speech he suggested that in five years' time the UK could be facing conflict in multiple theatres, including Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

New YouGov data shows that most Britons are now braced for WW3, with 53% thinking it is likely that there will be another world war in the next 5-10 years.

Only 31% of Britons think another global conflict is unlikely within that timeframe, including just 8% who think it is “not at all likely”.

With a general election on the horizon, expectations of war are clearly cross-partisan. Most 2019 Conservative voters (57%) and half of 2019 Labour voters (51%) think war is likely in the coming years.

Which countries would be involved in World War 3?

Thirty years on from the end of the Cold War, the top two countries that Britons expect to be participants in a future global conflict continue to be the USA and Russia. Eight in ten think that the USA would be involved – on the same side as the UK, at 81% – while a similar 80% think that Russia would be involved, although on the opposing side to the UK.

Fewer think that Iran (68%), China (64%) and North Korea (64%) would be involved, all on a different side to the UK.

If WW3 did break out, most Britons expect that the UK would find itself allied with France (68%) and Germany (63%), as well as Poland (59%) and Australia (57%).

The results must be approached with some caution. Geopolitical knowledge of the public tends not to be particularly strong, with up to 49% answering “don’t know” for some countries. Likewise, not-insignificant minorities of people suggested that friendly nations like Israel (17%), South Korea (15%) and Japan (13%) would feature on a different side of the conflict to the UK.

Who would win World War 3?

Britons tend to expect that the West would prevail in the most likely scenarios against Russia and China (or both).

Were the West and its allies to come into conflict with Russia and its allies, by 44% to 13% Britons think we would emerge triumphant.

There is likewise a strong margin that expect that the West would beat China and its allies (38% to 15%) if they were the adversary in WW3.

In the event that there West were to take on both Russia and China at the same time, there is less confidence. While the most people still expect that the West would win, the margin is lower, at 31% to 21%.

For each question 43-48% of Britons answered "don't know".

Would World War 3 see the use of nuclear weapons?

The second world war ended with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and most Britons think that the next war would likewise feature the use of nuclear weapons.

Almost six in ten Britons (59%) think it is likely that nuclear weapons would be launched in a third world war, including 19% who think it is “very likely”. By contrast, only 24% think it is unlikely, including just 6% who think it very implausible.

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