Security Studies Program Seminar

The Coast Guard and US Security

Vice Admiral Thad Allen
Chief of Staff, United States Coast Guard

April 28, 2004

Coast Guard is a multi-faceted agency. We have lots of things going on. I'm going to talk about three things: what's going on in maritime security, the transition to Homeland Security, and then the DOD - DHS interface.

As a very brief overview of our history, we were founded in 1790 out of an appropriation bill that funded 10 cutters to compose the "Revenue Marine," but we were actually conceived in Federalist Paper 12 which called for a few armed vessels to be "sentinels of the laws." The continental Navy was disbanded after the Revolutionary War, so when the Quasi-War with France broke out in the mid 1790s, these 10 cutters were the only combat ships available to the nation. The Coast Guard has fought in every American war since then.

The Coast Guard operates under a variety of legal authorities, depending on whether we're operating under the "rule of law" or the "law of war." The foundation is Title 14, which designates the Coast Guard one of the armed services. Today, however, most actions fall under the 1917 Espionage Act. As commander of the 7th District, I also employed the 1950 Magnusson Act to seal off Vieques.

There are four maritime legal boundaries that the Coast Guard makes use of. Out to 12 nm is the Territorial Sea, part of the country itself. Out to the 24 nm is the Contiguous Zone, and out to 200 nm is the Exclusive Economic Zone. Past 200 nm are the High Seas. Out to 200 nm, the Coast Guard may board any vessel, any time. We can also board vessels in other countries' EEZ so long as we have permission of the Master and the host country. On the high seas we can board a vessel if it is engaged in activities that are generally regarded as violations of international law that can give rise to boarding — slavery, piracy, and the like.

The Coast Guard has a dual character. It can operate as a law enforcement agency in a homeland security role, or it can transition to a military force in a homeland defense role. It will transition between the two based upon the situation. Our current Maritime Security Strategy provides four overarching goals: awareness, prevention, protection, and response. Within each goal we look to identify authorities, capabilities, our capacity, and our potential to form partnerships. Under awareness, we're looking to enhance maritime domain awareness. There is no maritime equivalent of NORAD, but this is an important issue that is currently getting a lot of focus. Under prevention, we're looking to create and oversee a maritime security regime. A review of this regime is going on right now. Starting July 1, no foreign flagged vessel will be allowed into our port areas unless their host country has a security regime in place. Under protection, we want to increase our operational presence and enhance deterrence. And lastly, under response, we have formed three strike teams, the Coast Guard equivalent of Marine Corps' CBIRF.

America has 95,000 miles of coastline and 361 ports. Of those, 55 ports deal with petrochemicals or are otherwise considered critical. We're currently performing a security assessment in each of those ports. The water is different, however. It's ubiquitous. With flippers, a mask, and an oxygen tank, you can go anywhere. After 9/11 we closed New York harbor. I reopened it two days later, but it wasn't because I felt the security concerns had subsided. There were two weeks of heating oil left in Albany, NY. The energy sector drove that decision and others. That port and others are absolutely necessary to the functioning of our economy, but they're also incredibly vulnerable. If a ship were sunk in the channel of the Port of Houston, it would have an immediate impact on gas prices and everything else. Our strategy cannot function in isolation.

In my opinion, the transition to DHS is a merger and acquisition, a startup, and a hostile takeover all rolled into one. Depending on where you are in an organizational history, your needs are different. Some components are brand new and have no stability associated with them. Others were transferred intact, like the Coast Guard. For instance, an agency like Customs and Border Protection is essentially a new entity with the assets of two former agencies that happened to have like functions. Now when the bill creating DHS was passed, there was a statutory timeline that made it impossible to confirm any new political appointees to run the department. So we plucked appointees from other departments that had been confirmed for other jobs. These appointees came from all over. Also, all of these agencies that are a part of DHS have historically had their own use-of-force doctrine as well as their own doctrine to manage their finances and IT. We need some commonality if we're going to work together. In this respect we're trying to take some cues from the Department of Defense.

I want to finish off by making a summary of the distinctions between security and defense. Security falls under Title 14 and requires probable cause to act, in which case one must use the minimum force necessary to ensure compliance. Defense falls under Title 10, and given a finding of hostile intent, permits preemptive action. It sounds like an easy distinction, but in practice it's not so clean cut. One of the ideas being considered to simplify the transition between the two is to designate the Coast Guard commander in each ocean the Joint Task Force commander of the naval component of Northern Command. This would allow the Coast Guard to act in either capacity and draw on defense resources as necessary.

rapporteur: David Blum

back to seminar schedule, Spring 2004