Book Review: Small Boats, Weak States, Dirty Money

Small Boats, Weak States, Dirty Money: Piracy and Maritime Terrorism in the Modern World, by Martin N. Murphy

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Columbia University Press in exchange for a review. I requested this book directly from them after it was highly praised by an author whose work I previously reviewed for the Naval Historical Institute. No bribery or corruption was necessary for a good review.]

In Small Boats, Weak States, Dirty Money, British scholar Martin Murphy seeks to untangle a difficult set of problems: what sort of threat do piracy and maritime terrorism present to the world and its shipping, what evidence suggests that terrorists and criminals might work together in some fashion, and what can be done about these threats? It is a book so meticulously researched that after more than 400 pages of heavily footnoted material the book places its substantial bibliography in an online .pdf [1] rather than making an already long book even longer. If one has a personal, academic, or professional interest which would require a knowledge of piracy, the vulnerabilities of ocean-borne shipping networks, or maritime insurgency and terrorism around the world, this book is an essential read.

There are many strengths to this work which combine to make it a seminal work in its field. Key to its strengths is a keen attention to detail, a richly humane approach to the victims of piracy and terrorism, and a sense of nuance and precision that allows the author to avoid overly sweeping pronouncements while keeping close to the evidence at hand in providing deeply insightful case studies of the regional components of the piracy and maritime insurgency/terrorism picture. Whether Murphy is talking about corrupt Indonesian police officials engaging in piracy on government vessels, or the horrors of continual rape and exploitation of Vietnamese boat people on a Thai island, or the efforts by anti-Israeli groups or the Tamil Tigers to exploit the sea in their search for greater military capability and a way to attack their opponents in a potentially vulnerable area, Murphy manages to put a human face on an often neglected problem while keeping his arguments and discussion firmly backed by excellent research.

During the course of this lengthy and deeply fascinating work, Murphy explores why so few massive maritime terrorist incidents have occurred–largely because landlubbers tend to ignore coastal matters and because the existing kidnapping and routine acts of piracy in many parts of the world have simply not attracted the attention of most people. The author also presents some of the ways in which terrorism and piracy share common interests and common threats, as terrorists use criminal means (including the trafficking of humans, drugs, and arms) to finance operations, as both criminals and terrorists use corruption and the chaos and anarchy of weak states to gain freedom of operation and secure bases of operation where they are safe from interdiction. The author, in light of these threats, urges greater cooperation between nations to deal with these common threats, urges flag states (nations which allow ships to put their flags on ships) and coastal nations to take their responsibilities seriously, and urges resilience to replace complacency concerning vulnerabilities in the systems of transportation we depend on in our world. The advice of this book is timely, the arguments of the book sound, and the evidence both deeply disturbing and well-researched. This book deserves to be read by those whose interests lead them into a deeper understanding of logistics and supply networks and the threats they face from both criminal and terrorist enterprises.

[1] This bibliography can be found, for those who are interested, at

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History, International Relations, Military History and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Book Review: Small Boats, Weak States, Dirty Money

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