Indo-Pacific Strategy of the United States

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro and Japan Coast Guard Patrol Vessel Large Aso, transit together in formation during a maritime engagement in the East China Sea Aug. 25, 2021. U.S. Coast Guard members aboard the Munro deployed to the Western Pacific Ocean to strengthen alliances and partnerships and improve maritime governance and security in the region. (Photo courtesy of Japan Coast Guard)

The Whitehouse has issued a new Indo-Pacific Strategy, and it specifically mentions the US Coast Guard.

The document calls out China for its aggressive behavior,

This intensifying American focus is due in part to the fact that the Indo-Pacific faces mounting challenges, particularly from the PRC. The PRC is combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological might as it pursues a sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific and seeks to become the world’s most influential power. The PRC’s coercion and aggression spans the globe, but it is most acute in the Indo-Pacific. From the economic coercion of Australia to the conflict along the Line of Actual Control with India to the growing pressure on Taiwan and bullying of neighbors in the East and South China Seas, our allies and partners in the region bear much of the cost of the PRC’s harmful behavior. In the process, the PRC is also undermining human rights and international law, including freedom of navigation, as well as other principles that have brought stability and prosperity to the Indo-Pacific.

It recognizes the value and values of our allies and partners,

For centuries, the United States and much of the world have viewed Asia too narrowly—as an arena of geopolitical competition. Today, Indo-Pacific nations are helping to define the very nature of the international order, and U.S. allies and partners around the world have a stake in its outcomes. Our approach, therefore, draws from and aligns with those of our closest friends. Like Japan, we believe that a successful Indo-Pacific vision must advance freedom and openness and offer “autonomy and options.” We support a strong India as a partner in this positive regional vision. Like Australia, we seek to maintain stability and reject coercive exercises of power. Like the ROK, we aim to promote regional security through capacity-building. Like ASEAN, we see Southeast Asia as central to the regional architecture. Like New Zealand and the United Kingdom, we seek to build resilience in the regional rules-based order. Like France, we recognize the strategic value of an increasing regional role for the European Union (EU). Much like the approach the EU has announced in its Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, American strategy will be principled, long-term, and anchored in democratic resilience.

It calls for action in five areas:

  1. ADVANCE A FREE AND OPEN INDO-PACIFIC
  2. BUILD CONNECTIONS WITHIN AND BEYOND THE REGION
  3. DRIVE REGIONAL PROSPERITY
  4. BOLSTER INDO-PACIFIC SECURITY
  5. BUILD REGIONAL RESILIENCE TO TRANSNATIONAL THREATS

There is mention of the Coast Guard is in the section “BOLSTER INDO-PACIFIC SECURITY” on page 13.

We will also innovate to meet civilian security challenges, expanding U.S. Coast Guard presence, training, and advising to bolster our partners’ capabilities. We will cooperate to address and prevent terrorism and violent extremism, including by identifying and monitoring foreign fighters traveling to the region, formulating options to mitigate online radicalization, and encouraging counterterrorism cooperation within the Indo-Pacific. And we will strengthen collective regional capabilities to prepare for and respond to environmental and natural disasters; natural, accidental, or deliberate biological threats; and the trafficking of weapons, drugs, and people. We will improve cybersecurity in the region, including the ability of our partners to protect against, recover from, and respond to cybersecurity incidents.

Coast Guard roles presumably extend beyond interdiction and fisheries to include assistance with intelligence, port security, and maritime industry cybersecurity.

The strategy refers to ten lines of effort that are to be pursued in the next 12 to 24 months. The first is “Drive New Resources to the Indo-Pacific” (p.15),

Building shared capacity requires the United States to make new regional investments. We will open new embassies and consulates, particularly in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, and increase our strength in existing ones, intensifying our climate, health, security, and development work. We will expand U.S. Coast Guard presence and cooperation in Southeast and South Asia and the Pacific Islands, with a focus on advising, training, deployment, and capacity-building. We will refocus security assistance on the Indo-Pacific, including to build maritime capacity and maritime-domain awareness.

Sounds like this may include Coast Guard attachés attached to diplomatic staffs and possibly some new basing.

There is a second line of effort that will undoubtably involve the Coast Guard, “Partner to Build Resilience in the Pacific Islands” (p.17),

The United States will work with partners to establish a multilateral strategic grouping that supports Pacific Island countries as they build their capacity and resilience as secure, independent actors. Together, we will build climate resilience through the Pacific Region Infrastructure Facility; coordinate to meet the Pacific’s infrastructure gaps, especially on information and communications technology; facilitate transportation; and cooperate to improve maritime security to safeguard fisheries, build maritime-domain awareness, and improve training and advising. We will also prioritize finalization of the Compact of Free Association agreements with the Freely Associated States.

A Maritime Executive post, New U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy Singles Out China’s “Coercion”, notes,

In the security arena, the new strategy reiterates that the United States has maintained “a strong and consistent defence presence necessary to support regional peace, security, stability, and prosperity”, pointing to the South China Sea and the East China Sea as a priority. However, it is interesting that while the document underscores the importance of freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific, not a single paragraph mentions the US Freedom of Navigation Operations Program (FONOPS) carried out by the US Navy, which has stirred controversy. Conversely, the strategy emphasises the importance of the Coast Guard to lead maritime security cooperation in the region, in “advising, training, deployment, and capacity-building … including to build maritime capacity and maritime-domain awareness”. Indeed, in 2021, the US Coast Guard announced a joint maritime training centre with the Indonesian Coast Guard in Batam.

The emphasis on coast guard cooperation can be seen as a positive gesture since it will be less provocative and sensitive compared to a military presence in the region. And more importantly, coast guard operations in Southeast Asia are very much required to tackle maritime security threats such as illegal fishing.

Thanks to Paul for bringing this to my attention. 

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