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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Geoffrey Till – The strategic importance of islands

This SemText summarises Geoffrey Till’s talk at CSIS Jakarta regarding the strategic uses and importance of islands in Southeast Asian maritime security.

Since 2013, China had embarked on a mission to create artificial islands in the South China Sea. In their view, these islands are markers of sovereignty; they mark Chinese influence over the maritime expanse of the South China Sea. Based on satellite data compiled by CSIS AMTI, many of these islands are already equipped with military installations. 

So, one question that could be asked: What’s up with islands? That is what Professor Geoffrey Till addresses in his lecture. I took the liberty of adding some points to his explanation, as he typically delivers his lectures in a very general manner. 

Simply put, there are two main parts of the lecture. First, he talked about the geographic importance of islands and how they contribute to maritime power. Second, he focuses on the emergence of new technologies and how this encourages a shift from “open ocean” operations to the littoral. This is supplemented with a review of trends in naval development in the Indo-Pacific, though it wasn’t too in-depth.

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THOUGHTS AND COFFEE #5: Indonesia’s Global Maritime Fulcrum: An Updated Archipelagic Outlook?

This article was originally published in The Diplomat, 17 December 2016.

Download the PDF here.


The previous Archipelagic Outlook strategy was inward focused; the new policy looks beyond Indonesia’s borders.

A recently published document titled Buku Putih Poros Maritim Dunia [Global Maritime Fulcrum White Paper] finally brings an authoritative voice to Indonesia’s Global Maritime Fulcrum (GMF) vision. The objective-oriented, 53-page publication constructs a narrative on the importance of the seas to Indonesia, the future trajectory of the GMF as Indonesia’s maritime vision, and the possible ways to achieve those ambitious ends.

Although the concept of the GMF was christened by President Joko Widodo, the policy objectives stated in the GMF White Paper are still largely rooted in the Archipelagic Outlook (Wawasan Nusantara). The GMF White Paper lists the Archipelagic Outlook as one of six fundamental principles on which the GMF is supposed to be founded. Is the GMF just really the Archipelagic Outlook with a new coat of paint? Or is it a shift from its predecessor?

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Le’ Notes #6: Naval warfare and maritime strategy

This post discusses naval thought and maritime strategy from the three renowned thinkers: Mahan, Corbett, and Till.

Ah, maritime strategy. One of those niche areas where I actually didn’t have to read anything for the week’s lecture since I got the basics down. And no, despite the featured image of the Kagero-class destroyer Amatsukaze, I won’t be touching anything Kantai Collection related. I just find Amatsukaze cute, that’s all.

Despite humans being seafaring creatures for a large portion of history (this was especially true for ancient Indonesians and Polynesians), naval thought only became a “real science” when Mahan started out describing elements of naval power. From thereon, we’ve seen naval thought and maritime strategy develop over the years, from warships to merchant fleets.

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