14 Feb 20
Posted by: BRIAN TRIM

That The War for Muddy Waters is derived from the author’s PhD thesis is quickly evident in the writing style. Tallis, an experienced naval analyst, aims to provide a conceptual framework for maritime security, which he identifies as something of a Cinderella task for the blue-water focussed USN. His proposed model is Broken Windows Theory and he espouses it earnestly, if in an occasionally awkward fashion. For those unfamiliar, Broken Windows Theory is a sociology model that found considerable favour in New York City in the 1980s, prompting a shift – arguably not an enduring shift – towards a community-focussed style of policing that is broadly familiar in the UK. In short, the model identifies that crime is a symptom of wider disorder, that it is a multi-dimensional problem, and that the context of the community in which it occurs is important. Its prescription is to address low-level disorder – such as graffiti and window-breaking – to improve every-day human security and build trust between the community and the police.

To illustrate the applicability of the model to maritime security, Tallis examines the November 2008 Lashkar-e-Taiba terror attack in Mumbai. He identifies that the attackers arrived by boat, having hijacked an Indian trawler at sea. Though their arrival was noticed, Tallis asserts that entrenched poor governance in the littoral zone off Mumbai allowed the danger to pass unremarked. This is an interesting hook for his idea. Regrettably, he follows it with a rather dense section on USN doctrine, liberally sprinkled with acronyms, in which he shows that security in the littoral zone is poorly addressed in the doctrine. Though your reviewer is unfamiliar with the niceties of USN doctrine, Tallis’ argument fits very well with Global Strategic Trends 6, which identifies the risk that governance may fail in coastal mega-cities. Increased urbanisation is a recognised trend, particularly in states where natural cycles of droughts, storms and the like are now being amplified by climate change. As littoral populations grow, disorderly competition for resources will intensify security challenges.

Having set out his case, the balance of the book comprises three case studies that illustrate the multi-dimensional aspects of criminal activity in the littoral, together with the impact of those activities on communities. The most comprehensive of these is the Caribbean, but the Gulf of Guinea and the Malacca Strait are also considered in some detail. Tallis encompasses a very wide breadth of problems, particularly in the Caribbean. The links between smuggling (drugs, money, arms, people) are amply illustrated and wider consideration of banking governance is convincing. His case starts to feel more tenuous when he takes in possible movements of terrorists via drug smugglers’ networks. This is acknowledged as a nod to prevailing US security discourse. He carefully places each security challenge in the Broken Windows model by exploring second and third order effects.

Overall, Tallis sets out a convincing case. He offers a balanced critique of Broken Windows Theory (arguably misapplied, it forms part of the justification for Stop-and-Search policing) but is clear in his application of the model. The writing style is occasionally laboured but an active reader can safely skim where necessary. Further, the book would be greatly improved by replacing the entirely irrelevant photographs with some good quality maps. That said, this book is topical. As we approach forward basing of OPVs and T31e, it should inform the preparation of any estimate that focusses on littoral maritime security. Readers bound for such operations would find it particularly interesting, while those setting out the navy’s case for enduring forward presence may find it useful.