The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) accounts for about one-quarter of the staff of the Department of Homeland Security. Its role in protecting the homeland is vital. During Hurricane Katrina, the service rescued some 30,000 people, making it one of the most important responders in one of the nation’s largest disasters. In conducting its maritime security missions, USCG plays just as important a role in safeguarding the security of American interests overseas. It partners with the U.S. Navy in every part of the world. If it were a Navy, it would be one of the largest fleets in the world. Sadly, it is also one of the oldest.

The White House is poised to make the bad state of the service’s aging fleet worse, cutting back even further on the anemic plans to refurbish and replace aging vessels. This disaster in the making will have consequences nowhere worse than in the Pacific, where the oceans are as big as U.S. interests. “The Pacific region is changing dramatically, and these changes generate a compelling need for the USCG to play a major role in the region for the foreseeable future,” writes defense expert Robin Laird on the site Second Line of Defense. “There is a need for a new strategy and a new paradigm; so that our nation can benefit from the USCG’s unique abilities to enhance maritime security in the region.”

But rather than worry about problems like a rising China, the White House is more concerned with shrinking the Coast Guard. “Whilst the Administration is reducing the numbers of USCG cutters in the Pacific and arguing against the full number of replacement cutters and the building of a new Offshore Patrol Cutter, the need for an expanded USCG capability is going up,” writes Laird, “This is yet another disconnect between words and deeds.”

Laird argues investing in USCG may be the most cost-effective means to protect U.S. interests in the Pacific. “For the USCG to play a lead role in shaping a maritime security regime,” he concludes, “it needs a significant bolstering of its resources and capabilities…. The USCG can not field a Third World Navy to deal with 21st century requirements.”