The World Is Our Coastline!

By Scott C. Truver

Indeed, broad understandings blossomed between Commandant Admiral Robert Kramek and Chinese officials on expanding the Coast Guard's contacts with the Chinese Navy. Already, the Coast Guard is committed to at least one search-and-rescue exercise (SAREX) each year with the Chinese in Hong Kong, and discussions of expanded joint activities—especially training in Coast Guard seagoing humanitarian and emergency response capabilities—have been under way. On 29 May 1998, Admiral Kramek retired and was relieved by Admiral James M. Loy.

Unique Capabilities and Contributions

In fact, the Coast Guard provides critical and unique capabilities for accomplishing key missions and tasks that attain U.S. international security and foreign policy goals. As a humanitarian, regulatory, and law-enforcement agency—as well as a military service—the Coast Guard has multidimensional capabilities that respond to a range of regional and global needs and challenges, and thereby safeguard important U.S. interests—and those of our allies and friends. There are compelling reasons to do so. If transnational dangers—including drug-smuggling, illicit migration, and gun-running-can be attacked at their sources through focused Coast Guard involvement in international forums, country-to-country discussions, and links with foreign coast guards and navies-then the potential for actual dangers to materialize near our coasts or in the United States will decrease materially.

White-hulled Coast Guard ships, less threatening than larger, more heavily armed haze-gray warships, increasingly are carrying out exercises and training with other nations, especially the components of the former Soviet Union. Admiral Kramek returned from a trip to Ukraine and other newly independent states in 1997 and confirmed a variety of mutual interests that bring day-to-day Coast Guard contacts with foreign navies: fisheries and resource law enforcement; search and rescue; maritime interdiction; river and waterways management; port activities and maritime transportation safety; environmental safety and pollution control; and emergency response. The Coast Guard is in direct contact with a broad range of national, regional, and international governmental and private organizations, many of which normally would not welcome a close relationship with the other U.S. military forces.

During the 1990s, Coast Guard international engagement activities have reaped great benefit for the United States and other countries. The Coast Guard has enabled and supported the ratification of bilateral interdiction treaties with several Caribbean nations, authorizing and establishing counter-narcotic cooperative patrols. Admiral Kramek served as the President's Senior Military Advisor at the May 1997 Caribbean Summit in Barbados. Because of the special focus of the summit—regional security, collective counternarcotics initiatives, and other anticrime issues—and the Coast Guard's broad acceptance by the Caribbean nations, the President's national security advisors recognized the Coast Guard as the key federal agency. "The Caribbean is a region that sees the U.S. Coast Guard as a friend," Admiral Kramek acknowledged. "We know the people, we know the geography, and, most importantly, we understand the maritime challenges that the Caribbean nations face. Together, with our combined forces and regional cooperation, we will close the ring around the traffickers."

The Coast Guard also is working closely with the Mexican Navy to keep pressure up against drug movements on both sides of the Gulf's waters. Since mid-1997, they have been collaborating to interdict the "shark boats "high-speed, low-profile boats that speed up the Gulf of Mexico and dump loads of marijuana on Texas beaches for pickup and eventual distribution. The Mexican Navy and government are sensitive about this cooperation because they are concerned about right-wing political reaction in Mexico. In March 1996, for instance, Secretary of Defense William Perry announced plans for joint U.S. Navy-Mexican Navy exercises, which were met with outrage and created political controversy in the Mexican press and resulted in the cancellation of the plan. More recent requests for permission for drug-surveillance aircraft to overfly Mexican territorial seas and land areas were rejected as infringements on Mexican sovereignty.

But today, the Coast Guard and the Mexican Navy term the nascent cooperation "coincidental operations" that do not require formal agreements. The cooperation has extended to training in search-and-seizure techniques and the establishment of a new communication system that allows the Coast Guard and Mexican Navy to communicate at the tactical level—ship-to-ship and ship-to-aircraft—across the borders at sea and on land. On at least five occasions through October 1997, when U.S. Coast Guard cutters and patrol boats stopped pursuing drug-smuggling craft as they sped back into Mexican territorial seas, the Mexican Navy was on scene, ready to complete the interdiction.

The Coast Guard has trained maritime forces of emerging democracies in the Republic of Georgia, Colombia, Bolivia, and Haiti; deployed cutters to eastern Europe to share information with local ministries and maritime forces; and engaged Russia's Federal Border Service to increase multifaceted maritime cooperation in the North Pacific. Since 1986, the Coast Guard has deployed more than 5,000 Mobile Training Teams to more than 65 countries; has trained about 2,000 students in host-country facilities and another 300 international students in Coast Guard schools in the United States each year; and has hosted a dozen or so cadets enrolled full-time at the Coast Guard Academy.

All such activities contribute to the security and economic prosperity of the United States, as well as nations that are essential to regional stability and peace. As Rear Admiral Jay A. Campbell, U.S. Navy, then-Director for Plans and Policy (J5), European Command, said following the 1995 deployment of the Dallas (WHEC-716) to the Mediterranean and Black Seas, the Coast Guard is "the right force to reach the majority of these navies, especially the Partnership for Peace navies. What these countries need and can afford is Coast Guard-type missions and associated force structures. The Coast Guard is an excellent example of how to merge together an agency with military and civilian duties." The cutter Legare (WMEC-912) completed a two-month deployment to the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas in 1997, which included exercises with U.S. and allied forces and numerous good-will port visits. [See pages 4849.]

The Coast Guard also has played important roles in supporting U.N. sanctions halfway around the world. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDets) conducted many thousands of searches of ships suspected of violating U.N. embargoes. During the embargo of the former Yugoslavia, Coast Guard LEDets served in U.S. Navy surface warships and provided the law-enforcement and search expertise necessary to conduct boardings and to detect contraband. Such Maritime Interdiction Operations also were conducted by Coast Guard LEDets riding Navy warships in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. The Coast Guard was so successful in this important forward-presence mission that the cutter Morgenthau (WHEC-722) deployed to the Persian Gulf to assist the U.S. Central Command's enforcement of U.N. embargoes against Iraq. This, too, was a resounding success, and generated a request from Central Command for another cutter deployment in 1998; in February, the cutter Chase (WHEC-718) was en route to the Gulf.

Similarly, Coast Guard deployments to the annual Central/South American UNITAS exercises, port security unit exercises in South Korea, numerous mobile training team visits, and hundreds of port calls have demonstrated clearly that a continuous program of forward deployments by Coast Guard assets provides nontraditional support to regional and theater engagement strategies of the Unified Commanders-in-Chief.

Active and Acceptable Presence

A forward-deployed posture of active presence that integrates U.S. Coast Guard forces completely with the more traditional military forces of the Navy and Marine Corps will generate enhanced efficiencies and greater benefits than one that focuses solely on hard-pressed Navy and Marine Corps elements. Indeed, in some situations, Navy and Marine Corps forces may be barred from participating, as Coast Guard cutters continue to be invited as the hallmark of "acceptable" presence.

For example, during the Haitian political crisis of the early 1990s, international media watched as a volatile crowd turned away a U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship from Port-au-Prince; meanwhile Coast Guard cutters returned illegal Haitian migrants rescued on the high seas to Portau-Prince without incident or provocation—or media notice. These low-visibility port visits provided an important communications channel to Haitian political and security officials and were a vital element in the overall U.S. diplomatic response and support to the United Nations' attempt to restore democracy to Haiti. In 1998, the Coast Guard remains the lead U.S. service for the Haiti MultiAgency Maritime Initiative, which focuses on improving Haiti's maritime infrastructure and security.

For these reasons, the Coast Guard will execute important missions in the nation's international engagement areas:

  • Serve as a multimission maritime service role model and help build stable and effective maritime services in allied and friendly countries
  • Facilitate access to maritime, humanitarian, environmental, and law-enforcement agencies in foreign governments
  • Serve as the lead maritime agency in international safety and navigation and marine environmental conferences and forums
  • Work with foreign navies and coast guard services in training and operations
  • Support the United States' peacetime forward-presence, humanitarian, and crisis-response operations

Key elements of U.S. national security strategy are to promote democracy abroad, to build trust and friendship among former adversaries, and to promote economic prosperity at home and overseas. The same transnational dangers that threaten U.S. interests at home will be felt by established and emerging democracies abroad. The Coast Guard's involvement in eliminating regional security threats, promoting regional cooperation, and protecting maritime interests are crucial in a global policy of engagement and active presence.

Many are clearly "coast guard-type" challenges, and U.S. allies and friends can benefit from the Coast Guard's unique expertise. The Coast Guard's access to people, agencies, and organizations has been far broader than that of a more traditional, "navy-to-navy" international mission. When a cutter visits a foreign port in 2020—as in 1998—people from all walks of commercial, maritime, and law-enforcement life will come on board. They will see the unique blend of civil and military functions that the Coast Guard carries out on a daily basis. These characteristics will facilitate U.S. presence and diverse activities in countries where they otherwise might be difficult to accomplish with purely military assets.

Most of the world's navies operate primarily in coastal and contiguous seas. Many of these navies—including most of the Chinese Navy's assets—are "coast guards" in all but name. They are called upon to conduct numerous peacetime missions and tasks, in addition to their wartime functions, that mirror those of the U.S. Coast Guard. The U.S. Coast Guard always has "owned" the shallow-water regions and has developed the systems, tactics, and doctrine that are important enablers for other nations' maritime forces intent on carrying out similar peacetime missions and tasks, which, like those of the Coast Guard, have important military, defense, and regional stability applications. Speaking at a fall 1997 conference sponsored by the Center for Naval Analyses, Admiral Joseph Prueher, Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Command, acknowledged this and underscored that he was trying to incorporate and integrate the Coast Guard into his plans and operations.

Thus, there are important benefits of Coast Guard international engagement and enlargement operations and a posture of active and acceptable presence overseas. They:

  • Demonstrate firm U.S. political, military, and economic commitments to allies and friends
  • Help to underwrite regional stability
  • Enhance U.S. access to and familiarity with overseas operating areas
  • Facilitate coalitions in future emergencies
  • Promote interoperability between U.S. and foreign maritime forces
  • Nurture regional stability and deterrence
  • Provide timely and nonthreatening initial-response capabilities to a variety of crises
  • Complement the more robust warfighting capabilities of the Navy and Marine Corps

Bold Imagination?

The demand for high-profile overseas presence by U.S. forces will not diminish in the years ahead. This need will almost certainly increase as natural disasters, humanitarian crises, nation-building, peacekeeping and enforcement, and threats to U.S. interests generate even more calls for active U.S. engagement and involvement in regions far from the U.S. coastlines.

But the Navy and Marine Corps increasingly are challenged in their ability to meet all commitments for forward presence, especially as active and reserve forces are downsized to meet stringent affordability constraints. Numerous official and other projections show the U.S. fleet at no more than 300 ships, perhaps including only 100 multimission, high-end cruisers and destroyers, by the year 2002—a spectacular implosion from the Cold War 600-ship Navy of the mid-1980s. Personnel and operating tempo guidelines inevitably will be stretched to the limits as the Navy attempts to do as much—if not more—with less. Retention and readiness, already under strain, can only suffer under anticipated fiscal and operational environments. The ultimate result may be what U.S. Representative Ike Skelton described last spring as "a hollow force, a poorly trained, ill-equipped, and demoralized military," cultivating an atmosphere in which critical U.S. interests and friends could go begging.

The Coast Guard's 40-some high- and medium endurance cutters and several hundred seagoing patrol boats can help overcome the constraints the Navy will continue to face. And, as the Coast Guard looks to the future and acquires a new-design cutter that will be a key element in the service's "Deepwater Integrated System," there will be even more prospects to support the nation's international security policies and programs while continuing to meet diverse maritime challenges at home.

"Now is the moment to be farsighted as we chart a path into the new millennium," the President's May 1997 National Security for a New Century intones. "As borders open and the flow of information, technology, money, trade, and people across borders increases, the line between domestic and foreign policy continues to blur. We can only preserve our security and well-being at home by being actively involved in the world beyond our borders." The U.S. Coast Guard offers a great opportunity to be farsighted and imaginative in how these goals are achieved, as was underscored by the December 1997 report of the National Defense Panel. Indeed, the nation's smallest military service can generate big international dividends that must not be discounted as the United States charts its course into the 21st century.

Dr. Truver is the Executive Director, Center for Security Strategies and Operations, TECHMATICS, Arlington, Virginia.


Mr. Maxwell is the Deputy Commander, Human Systems Integration Directorate, Naval Sea Systems Command, and Mr. Bost is the Technical Director, Human Systems Integration Directorate, Naval Sea Systems Command.

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