In the year 2034, the United States and China become embroiled in a series of military conflicts that escalate into a devastating tactical nuclear war. Other countries — including Russia, Iran and India — get involved. Suddenly, the world is on the verge of World War III.

This is the scenario described in "2034: A Novel of the Next World War," an engrossing work of speculative fiction by NATO’s former supreme commander, Adm. James Stavridis, and Elliot Ackerman. The book is part of a growing chorus now warning that a clash between the world’s current rising power and the incumbent one is almost unavoidable.

Graham Allison of Harvard University has dubbed this phenomenon the Thucydides Trap, recalling the ancient Greek historian’s observation that, “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.”