The USCG and the Pacific

By Robbin Laird

Whilst the Administration is reducing the numbers of USCG cutters in the Pacific and arguing against the full number of replacement cutters and the building of a new Offshore Patrol Cutter, the need for an expanded USCG capability is going up.  This is yet another disconnect between words and deeds.

The Pacific region is changing dramatically, and these changes generate a compelling need for the USCG to play a major role in the region for the foreseeable future. There is a need for a new strategy and a new paradigm; so that our nation can benefit from the USCG’s unique abilities to enhance maritime security in the region.

The framing and execution of a new strategy by the USCG in the Pacific is part of the paradigm shift facing the USCG.  For the USCG to play the lead role in shaping a maritime security regime, it needs a significant bolstering of its resources and capabilities.

The need for a new strategy by the USCG in the Pacific AOR is rooted in four key developments:

  • Current presence activities and missions must be restructured into the building blocks for a maritime security regime in the region.  Here the challenge is to leverage current activities to create persistent knowledge and presence in the region allowing the USCG to shape an effective maritime security effort.
  • The dramatic upsurge in maritime trade and with it the growing recognition of the threat of maritime terrorism.  Terrorism functions as a virus within the trading system; creation of a more effectively managed trading system with a core security component is crucial to the emergence of a maritime security regime.
  • Growth in shared interests of key states – allies, partners and exporting states – in forging a collaborative security regime.  They have their own approaches, capabilities and concept of operations.  Maritime security is viewed as a law enforcement effort by the key players in the region.  These players are not looking for a pure play military response to maritime security requirements.  The challenge of creating a collaborative security regime in the Pacific rests upon commercial collaboration and law enforcement cooperation.  It is not a military activity as such.  Security is a multiple-sum game, not a zero-sum game.  It is not an activity, which nation-states can create by themselves, but requires the full participation by commercial sectors and the forging of shared interests.
  • Chinese economic growth and development is central in the region and increasingly globally.  At the same time, China challenges the U.S. militarily in the region.  Finding a proper balance between shaping China’s emergence as a great power and engaging China in the creation of multiple-sum security regimes is at the heart of the challenge of building stability in the region.  The USCG can play an important role is anchoring a collaborative security regime which can, in turn, form the bedrock to reinforce the collaboration needed among allies to provide for a sound defense approach towards China as well.

For U.S. security to be met in the maritime domain of the Pacific, the USCG needs to be transformed, in effect, into a lead agency in shaping a maritime security regime.  This effort will require the collaboration of the various stakeholders in maritime trade, commerce, and security.

Yet the Administration approach is to subsume the USCG within the commonalities of the Department of Homeland Security.  The Administration is dangerously close to threatening the real ability of the USCG to meet its Title X or military obligations.  As one senior DHS official mentioned recently, “The USN can do many of the missions which the USCG is doing in the Pacific.”  But this misses the point: Neither the USCG nor the USN have the assets available for the Pacific mission.  And in many cases, the USCG has unique competencies to play the required role in the Pacific mission sets.

For the USCG to play a lead role in shaping a maritime security regime, it needs a significant bolstering of its resources and capabilities.  The USCG started its life in the late 18th Century as the Revenue Cutter Service.  It is now becoming in the 21st Century, in effect, the Maritime Security Service.  The special qualities of the Pacific region require the USCG to have assets, which have greater endurance, range and survivability than assets in other AORs, which in turn, reinforces the significance of the USCG’s efforts for modernization of its aging legacy assets.  The USCG can not field a Third World Navy to deal with 21st century requirements to become an architect of a new maritime security regime.

 

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