Le’ Notes #48: On the use of coast guards in Asia-Pacific

The coast guard—specifically the US Coast Guard—is usually the butt of jokes in the military. Their job is like the Navy, but with smaller boats, guns, and less action (even though there were some moments where the USCG did shine). 

Jokes aside, coast guards are an important asset in maritime security. They handle maritime security at home, dealing with the “small” stuff so the navy can handle the bigger threats out there in the high seas. The Coast Guard’s role is largely tied to law enforcement: policing territorial waters and keeping them safe from illegal fishing, pirates, human traffickers, and drug smugglers. Recently, coast guards have started to take on more expanded roles, particularly in East and Southeast Asia. The Chinese Coast Guard has been making headlines lately due to their increased presence (and aggressiveness) in the South China Sea which adds on to the regional tensions. This has been followed by the expansion of other coast guards, such as Japan, Philippines, and Vietnam.

As interest in and use of coast guards will likely increase in the near future, I’ll be reviewing the literature to understand how coast guards have been used as a tool of statecraft over the years. I’ll focus more on the Asia-Pacific, since that’s where coast guards are getting more attention.

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