Two recently published articles suggest greater cooperation and coordination between the Navy and Coast Guard. Both were written by a Marine, Captain Walker D. Mills, USMC, an infantry officer currently serving as an exchange officer in Cartagena, Colombia.
- “White Ships for the Gray Zone,” appeared in the February 2020 edition of the US Naval Institute Proceedings. (Unfortunately behind the “members only” pay wall)
- “CNO’s Design Week, Integrate with the Marines…And Who Else?” was posted on the CIMSEC website on 26 Feb.
The Proceedings article talks about ways the Coast Guard could contribute to a rules-based international order in the Western Pacific but points out that the Coast Guard is underfunded and points to this as a reason given for not assuming a greater role in the Western Pacific. I don’t think he is saying these arguments absolutely preclude a greater Coast Guard role in the Western Pacific, but he does present the argument.
The CIMSEC post, points out that the Chief of Naval Operations’ recent FRAGO (shortened form of fragmentary order. An abbreviated form of an operation order) directing increased coordination between the Navy and Marine Corps missed an opportunity to highlight the reality of continuing cooperation between the Navy and Coast Guard.
“Some observers have raised objections to including the Coast Guard in the U.S. response to Chinese belligerence and encroachment in the South China Sea – it has repeatedly been a focus of commentary without generating a consensus. Generally, these objections are based on the small size and meager funding that the Coast Guard has and how the Coast Guard would be unprepared if a shooting conflict broke out in the region. Both of these are reasons why the CNO needs to plan for and mention the inclusion of the Coast Guard in his guidance to the force and make them a part of the larger conversation. Ignoring the Coast Guard, minimizing their potential contribution, or leaving them out of the discussion entirely would only serve to exacerbate these two issues.”
The CNO dedicated part of his FRAGO to guidance on building “alliances and partnerships” internationally – but it is just as if not more important to build partnerships and interoperability between sister services and other U.S. agencies. The CNO’s FRAGO is a far cry from the level of Coast Guard inclusion that permeated the 2015 Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower. While CNO Gilday obviously does not have the statutory authorities to direct his FRAGO at the Coast Guard – he can make it clear to his sailors that he views the Coast Guard as playing a critical role in the Navy-Marine Corps-Coast Guard team. That would be moving toward a truly integrated national maritime architecture and force structure. This direction will be critical for preserving U.S. primacy at sea and enforcing rule of law in the global commons.