Nobody can predict the future. But if a writer is supposed to write what they know, then Admiral James Stavridis’ new book, 2034, A Novel of the Next World War, co-written with Elliot Ackerman, channels his decades of military experience into a future where US-China tensions have spilled into military conflict. And with current trends, that future isn’t looking so farfetched.
Stavridis, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, told The Cats Roundtable that 2034 is rooted in the growing certainty among experts that China “has become much more assertive than really at any time in their long, long history.”
“We’re going to have to find a way to deter them, and the best way to do that is through a strong military” Stavridis explained. “So we wrote the book with an idea toward showing people how challenging a war between the US and China would be about ten to fifteen years from now.”
2034 is intended to spark debate on how best to respond and “avoid a war with China,” Stavridis told The Cats Roundtable, and the admiral knows firsthand the idea isn’t stranger than fiction.
In 2021, Beijing continues to assert its territorial claims to the South China Sea, where close-calls between the US and China make the possibility of a conflict there a “realistic scenario.”
The Chinese military’s posturing overseas has its roots in the unfolding dynamics in China, where Stavridis explained the Chinese Communist Party had made promises to its people and wouldn’t let “anybody stand in the way.”
“They have now such an enormous population that they have to maintain a strong economy,” he told The Cats Roundtable. “They’ve made commitments to the people of China that they will be raised out of the poverty that they have been in, and that they will become middle class and upper-middle class.”
While the US has a leading role in preventing China from bullying its neighbors, Stavridis noted it was the ties that bind us to the region that will ultimately see through the outcome of the looming threat posed by Beijing’s ambitions.
“Part of our strategy needs to be working with allies like Japan, Australia, India, New Zealand,” he emphasized.
While set in a grim tomorrow, the real power of 2034 lies in how it can shape today. With the approaching meeting between US officials and their Chinese counterparts in Alaska next week, Stavridis told The Cats Roundtable he hoped Biden’s team would stand in “deterrent fashion.”
But if Biden officials were to read 2034, Stavridis believed they would understand they need to show strength to discourage China from its current trajectory.
“What they’re looking for is a president who will allow them to move on the South China Sea, continue to muscle Taiwan, to push Vietnam around,” Stavridis said. “Who will back down when China threatens US companies inside of China. They respect strength, and whether it’s a President Trump or a President Biden, I think that our leader must show strength to China.”
Listen to the interview below