“SHOWING UP IS HALF THE BATTLE: U.S. MARITIME FORCES IN THE INDIAN OCEAN” –War on the Rocks

War on the Rocks has a good treatise on the growing importance of the Island nations of the Indian Ocean and why the US should take more interest. The author contends that while forming a new First Fleet Command, something the Navy is contemplating, would be a good start, there is much more that needs to be done, and the Coast Guard has an important part to play. The author mentions the Coast Guard fifteen times in the article. I have reproduced the portion of the article specific to the Coast Guard below, but read the entire article for context.

When USCGC Hamilton escorts the first two Webber class WPCs to Bahrain, hopefully Hamilton will have some time to do some capacity building in the Indian Ocean. Perhaps PATFORSWA will also be involved in a continuing effort.

A Coast Guard Initiative

Finally, Washington should look to its Coast Guard in maximizing its interactions with small island nations. While the Coast Guard plays a significant role in training Pacific island nations’ maritime forces, they are rarely seen in the Indian Ocean. As with the Pacific, the islands of the Indian Ocean, too, face similar non-traditional security issues as their primary challenges. Interactions between, and trainings conducted with, the Coast Guard and Indian Ocean island nations might carry more value at the operational and tactical level. Recognizing resource constraints and its limited capacity to deploy in the region, Coast Guard initiatives can come in the form of training and capacity building efforts. Many island nations such as Maldives, Mauritius, and Comoros have a coast guard tasked with both law enforcement and defense of their sovereign territories. Given the nature of their primary threats — such as illegal fishing, drug smuggling, and human trafficking — training with the U. S. Coast Guard will be a significant step forward for many of the island nations of the Indian Ocean. Such engagements could also help offset an overreliance on military trainings in Beijing, including interpretation of customary law and the U.N. Convention for the Law of the Sea. Chinese interpretation of customary and international laws at Sea are notably different than those of the U.S. and its allies.  However, these interactions should be extended to islands and littorals across the region, instead of limiting them to Sri Lanka and Maldives only.

The U.S. Coast Guard could potentially utilize some of its lessons and experiences from the Pacific in interacting with, and training, the islands of the Indian Ocean on a range of issues from law enforcement to surveillance to disaster response. Washington could perhaps borrow from its interactions as a member of the Pacific Quad, prioritizing engagements with island nations and their security concerns as a model for the Indian Ocean too. If the Coast Guard is to take on this additional mission, it will require additional resources, which may require a willingness to cut some Department of Defense resources previously devoted to ground wars in the Middle East and redirect them to the Coast Guard.

An Indian Ocean deployment leveraging all its maritime forces allows Washington to address two immediate concerns in the region. First, it would provide a singular node, or a specific agency, tasked with engaging with the region as a whole to bridge the gap resulting from the divided combatant commands. Second, a burden-sharing model with close partners and allies leveraging the Coast Guard and the Marine Corps aids the already extended U.S. Navy and its role in the Indian Ocean. This could help conceptualize a framework that allows Washington to deploy and engage its maritime forces in the region in a meaningful and, more importantly, an achievable way.

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