Coast Guard Commandant: Demand ‘Never Been Higher’
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
WASHINGTON — The new Coast Guard commandant said the service is increasingly stretched to meet the demand for its services.
The “demand for Coast Guard services has never been higher,” said Adm. Karl Schultz said Aug. 1 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
Schultz, who succeeded Adm. Paul F. Zukunft on June 1, said he sees the demand unrelenting in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific, increasing in the Arctic region, and even potentially in the South China Sea.
He sees the Coast Guard as the seaward extension of U.S. border control efforts, with the service bringing the “away game” to the drug and migrant interdiction efforts, now focused on the Eastern Pacific, where 85 percent of the drug traffic now flows. In 2017, the service interdicted 223 metric tons of illegal drugs and 600 smugglers.
He noted that the more successful the service’s efforts are, there is a corresponding reduction in drug war violence in the Central American countries that are the main channels for drugs heading for the United States. He said that Honduras experienced a 30 percent reduction in its homicide rate.
Schultz is focusing some of his attention on the Arctic and reaffirmed the nation’s need for three heavy icebreakers, for which funding has yet to be locked in by Congress. The Coast Guard has only one heavy icebreaker, the four-decade-old Polar Star, on which the service devotes herculean efforts to keep in operation.
“There is increasing demand for the Coast Guard up there,” he said, noting that even China is asserting itself as an Arctic nation.
Schultz said there is some discussion internal to the Coast Guard of designating a new polar icebreaker as a “polar security cutter.”
The commandant also said he has had discussions with Navy Adm. Philip S. Davidson, commander, Indo-Pacific Command, about how the Coast Guard could assist in protecting U.S. interests in the Pacific region, although Schultz said it was premature to make those determinations but that some application of Coast Guard forces could be made in the coming calendar year.
“There is a request for forces out there,” Shultz said. “I think you will see some Coast Guard presence in that part of the world. The question is, what is the right application of our capabilities. It’s a very broad problem set. … The Coast Guard could bring some unique capabilities in building partner capacity in places like Vietnam. We have ongoing relationships helping the Vietnam coast guard establish itself. They’re on a tremendous growth cycle.
“In the Oceania region, there are places where helping them protect their interests, tempering that Chinese influence, is absolutely essential,” he said.