The Era of Coast Guards

The United States’ use of instruments of national power is often constrained by a focus on diplomatic, informational, military, and economic approaches, with a strong emphasis on the military and diplomatic elements and typically less weight on informational and economic measures. However, the often-neglected financial, intelligence, and law enforcement elements of national power offer critical means for the United States and its allies and partners to meet strategic objectives in the Indo-Pacific, especially given China‘s frequent use of these approaches to subvert international norms. As the United States strives for a free and open Indo-Pacific, the foundations of international law need to be reinforced as the bedrock of global relationships. In particular, sustained enforcement of established maritime legal principles is the best approach that democratic societies can employ to reestablish the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific.

This paper describes how a combined maritime force (CMF) of international coast guards and maritime law enforcement agencies, under the leadership of the U.S. Coast Guard, might institute a shared vision focused on the enforcement of maritime law and international norms. First, it discusses China’s gray zone tactics and why such tactics call for a CMF. Next, it defines CMF and discusses the potential benefits of such a force. Then it explains in more detail what such a force would look like in terms of its focus areas, leadership, and membership. It concludes with a brief discussion of next steps.

Funding for this research was provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations. The research was conducted by the Infrastructure, Immigration, and Security Operations Program within the RAND Homeland Security and Defense Center.

This commentary is part of the RAND expert insight series. RAND Expert Insights present perspectives on timely policy issues. All RAND Expert Insights undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND’s publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.

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