WW III in 2034

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

In the year 2034, there will be war between China and America. It starts with an incident in the South China Sea. The war will encourage Russia, Iran and India to take advantage of the situation.

The novel 2034 has two co-authors. Elliot Ackerman is a former White House Fellow and Marine and served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor and the Purple Heart. He has written several novels and a memoir. He has been nominated for the National Book Award.

Admiral Jim Stavridis spent more than 30 years in the US Navy, rising to the rank of a four-star admiral. He was Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and previously commanded US Southern Command, overseeing military operations throughout Latin America. He holds a PhD from the Fletcher School of Diplomacy and Law at the Tufts University, where he recently served five years as dean. He has also previously published nine books including Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans.

While the book centers mainly on naval conflicts, much of the book is focused on the decision-making and behind-the-scenes that explain how the many events ended in a war. The illustrious background of the two authors explain why the events and characters in the book have such authenticity.

The other really interesting characteristic of the book is that it narrates the behind-the-scenes and decision-making at the highest levels of all the five major protagonists – America, China, Russia, Iran, India.

Most of the books and novels I have read on similar topics have focused on the American point of view. That is why I was really interested when the book centers on the Chinese characters which expose the Chinese point of view.

The book opens with the China Navy baiting an American destroyer flotilla and destroying three of the six ships in the flotilla. Here is an excerpt from the book of Chinese Defense Minister Chiang explaing to Lin Bao, a Chinese senior naval official, the purpose of their provocation in the South China Sea:

“This is what [Admiral] Ma Qiang does not understand… He wasn’t sent to sink three American warships; that was not his mission. His mission was to send a message. If the entire flotilla was destroyed, if it disappeared, the message would be lost. Who would deliver? Who would tell the story of what happened? But by sparing a few survivors we will be able to send our message more clearly. The point here is not to start a needless war but to get the Americans to listen to us, to respect the sovereignty of our waters.”

Several scenes follow, with the Americans and Chinese assessing their next steps after the Americans sent carrier strike forces instead of negotiating. It would seem the Chinese underestimated the American response. However, the Chinese were still confident that they would eventually force the Americans to leave the South China Sea and abandon Taiwan. Here is a partial explanation by Minister Chiang:

“But our strength is what it always has been – our judicious patience. The Americans are incapable of behaving patiently. They change their government and their policies as often as the seasons. Their dysfunctional civil discourse is unable to deliver an international strategy that endures for more than a handful of years. They’re governed by their emotions, by their blithe morality and belief in their precious indispensability. This is a fine disposition for a nation to survive as we have through the millennia… And where will America be today? I believe in a thousand years it won’t even be remembered as a country. It will simply be remembered as a moment. A fleeting moment.”

In the novel and perhaps in real life, China mistakes democracy, freedom of speech and the press as symptoms of a dysfunctional society. On the  other hand, time and again America believes that an authoritarian state like China will, sooner or later, undergo political instability and its people will adopt democracy just like Taiwan.

The Americans underestimate the nationalist fervor and feeling of superiority of China. The result is that both sides end up escalating the conflict way beyond the Cold War. Both nations suffer very heavy damage and lose their world power status.

A side story is how Russia exploits the war between China and America for its purposes. There is a scene where a top Russian naval officer is explaining to an Iranian observer that the invasion force they were witnessing was to “reclaim ancestral territories.” These territories were presently part of Poland. Kolchak, the Russian officer, explained that while the world’s attention was diverted to the Far East, Russia would use that crisis to their benefit. He explained that the Americans were in no position to object.

He explained: “As for the Chinese, they understand our actions intuitively. In their language the word for ‘crisis’ and ‘opportunity’ are one and the same… We carve this slice [of territory] from Poland and connect it to us [Russia] through Belorussia. The Poles will complain but they won’t really miss it. And it sews up a tiny ribbon around Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.” All the Baltic states would now belong to Russia.

The escalation of the conflict between China and America happens step by step, and the novel’s authors explain each step and the decision-making process to the reader as if you were actually witnessing a geopolitical process that ends in nuclear conflict.

Most of the scenarios are believable – conflict over the South China Sea; war over Taiwan; use of tactical nuclear weapons and cyber warfare. It is a novel worth reading, especially the ending. It is a novel that could become reality even before 2034.

*      *      *

Young Writers’ Hangouts via Zoom on May 8 & 22, 2-3 p.m. with Write Things alumni Mica Magsanoc & Sean.

Writefest 2021, our annual six-session workshop, runs from May 17-28 (MWF, 3-4:30 p.m.)

Contact writethingsph@gmail.com. 0945.2273216

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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