By that he meant, the terrorities south of the United States in the Western Hemisphere: Latin America, South America and the Carribean.
"You will be engaged in this world in a variety of ways," Stavridis said. But the biggest challenge, he said, won't be narcotics or a totalitarian regime but poverty.
Stavridis, who is the dean at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, spoke to the corps of cadets as part of the academy's leadership lecture series. From 2009 to 2013, he served as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's 16th Supreme Allied Commander Europe. He retired from the Navy in 2013.
Stavridis' talk was on the "21st Century challenge and opportunity in the Western Hemisphere."
Poverty, Stavridis explained, is profoundly at the basis of the other challenges facing "this world to the south" such as drugs, corruption and violence.
He offered advice to the cadets sitting in the audience at Leamy Hall as they thought about "their role in the world to the south."
Learn a language like Spanish or Portuguese, read, watch movies, "study and learn about this region because many of you will spend time there," Stavridis said. He also emphasized the importance of using social media to "tell our story" and to connect with those in other parts of the world.
Beyond that, Stavridis said, "our solutions in this part of the world must be multinational, probably more so than anywhere else in the world. This is a part of the world where unilateral action by the United States is generally counter-productive."
On the screen behind him, Stavridis projected an image of a statue of a semi-submersible that sits in front of the headquarters of U.S. Southern Command in Doral, Fla.
"When I was the commander there, we caught this particular semi-submersible. This was a small one, had about two tons of cocaine on it," he said. "I put it out in front of the headquarters."
People remarked about how great it was that the statue was on display, that it was like a trophy, he recalled.
"That's not why it's there," Stavridis said. "It's not a trophy. It's our reminder that the people we are up against are smart. They are innovators. They wake up every morning thinking about how to overcome our efforts in this case on interdiction."
Stavridis challenged the cadets as they prepare to launch their careers in the Coast Guard to "think about innovation."
"Think about this world to the south and how you can come up with the next big idea," he said.
But he didn't want the cadets leaving with the sense that this could be done solely through "soft power," such as reading books about South America, Latin America and the Carribean written by authors in that region, learning the languages spoken there and watching movies that depict the culture.
"We count on the Coast Guard and the Navy to provide hard power when we need it, and sometimes we need hard power," Stavridis said, emphasizing the importance of finding the balance between the two.
Monday's event was put on in conjunction with the U.S. Naval Institute and with support of the William M. Wood Foundation.