Reviewing 2034: The Next World War

BOOK REVIEW: 2034: A Novel of the Next World War

By Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis

Reviewed by Martin Petersen

THE REVIEWER — Cipher Brief Expert Martin Petersen is the former Director of the Office of East Asian Analysis and the Office of Asian Pacific and Latin American Analysis in the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence.  All opinions and statements are his own.

BOOK REVIEW — It is 2034.  China is a major naval power intent on expanding its military dominance out to the first island chain.  Israel has lost the Golan Heights, and Iran is a major power on the Middle East stage.  India has assumed world power status.  And Putin, though in his dotage, is intent on expanding Russian control over the near abroad.  The US…. well, we are still a power to be reckoned with, even if not the power we once were.

By the last page of this page turner, the reader will have been treated to at least three major naval engagements, a cyber pearl harbor, Russian aggression, Iranian meddling, and the use of nuclear weapons.

2034: A Novel of the Next World War is not a techno-thriller in the Tom Clancy style.  Much of the action happens “off-stage” like a Shakespearean play.  The characters are a bit wooden—courageous admirals and pilots, dedicated NSC staffers, crafty foreigners, and a vain National Security Advisor.  But they are there to do what they are supposed to do, which is move events along without a lot of personal introspection.

You are not going to read 2034 for the characters, but for the scenario the authors lay out.  China is rich and its leadership is a combination of hubris and aggression.  The United States has been damaged by weak leadership, and old alliances like NATO have lost their way.  2034 is a crisis that the United States faces alone.  The global tectonic plates are shifting.

The authors paint a picture where Chinese and Indian superiority in cyber put them in the driver’s seat and the dependence of the US military on technology is a huge vulnerability.  A question pondered by experts in cyber defense is whether the U.S. has already had its Cyber Pearl Harbor.  The authors start there and project forward.

Is 2034 “credible?”  In 1925, British author Hector Charles Bywater published The Great Pacific War, which predicted a surprise Japanese attack on the United States, albeit in the Panama Canal Zone.  And Admiral Yarnell in the February 1932 war games demonstrated how a surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor could happen.  The Japanese high command reputedly read the Bywater book and Yarnell’s superiors dismissed his findings.  One can only hope Ackerman and Stavridis are not as prophetic as Bywater and Yarnell.

This book earns a prestigious four out of four trench coats for its clear warning.


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