America already has excellent border security. It’s called the United States Coast Guard. Though the service does more to secure the border than any xenophobic wall ever could, President Donald J. Trump is pushing a plan to cut the Coast Guard’s budget from $9.1 billion to $7.8 billion in 2017, a 14 percent hit, according to The Washington Post.
In an effort to pay for the massive border wall Trump wants to build across the southern border, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), drew up a proposal that would also cut the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Transportation Security Administration budgets by 11 percent each to $4.5 billion and $3.6 billion, respectively. Though those agencies serve critical security services and shouldn’t be touched, the Coast Guard will be hit the hardest.
White House officials said Tuesday that it was too soon to read too much into the bill as it is still being deliberated, the Post reported. But the initial draft provides a good look into Oval Office priorities and what services it values less than others. Clearly, the Coast Guard is the lowest on the totem poll and has been for quite a long time.
For starters, because the Coast Guard is not part of the traditional military structure—it is under the Department of Homeland Security, not Defense, and before 9/11 it was under the Department of Transporation—and since its service members aren’t deployed to fight wars in the Middle East its value may not be as readily apparent as the Army, Navy or Air Face. Make no mistake, however, the Coast Guard is a critical service—especially for the kids of things the new administration says it aims to do.
Part of Trump’s proposal would include deactivating Maritime Security Response Teams (MSRT). This is a unit that conducts counterterrorism patrols in ports and sensitive waterways that catch the kind of criminals that Trump claims he wants to keep out of the country. It is not clear, exactly, what would replace the MSRTs, but their absence would be noticeable. In September, the Coast Guard caught a “narco submarine” (The name sounds funny but it shouldn’t surprise you that that’s an actual thing) carrying more than 5,600 pounds of cocaine in the Pacific Ocean off the Central American coast. The drugs were valued at $73 million.
Deactivating MSRT would signal to criminals that there is a weak spot in the border to exploit, and it’s a maritime one. From the Post:
Rick “Ozzie” Nelson, a former Navy helicopter pilot and national security expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that the decisions would effectively sideline the service in missions in which it could be the most effective.
“If they’re not there to do it, who is there to do it?” Nelson said of port security. “We’re not going to put destroyers and frigates off the coast to protect those ports. That’s a Coast Guard mission and capability.”
In 2012, 80 percent of drugs entering the U.S came through maritime routes. So, if Trump were serious about catching drug dealers, he would invest more money into the Coast Guard, not lessThe main search and rescue service for America’s waters is the Coast Guard. If a boat goes adrift or is sinking, they are the service that comes to the rescue. Not the Navy, Army or the Marines.
In fact, the service rescuing an injured snowmobiler in an isolated part of Canada, a boater 18 miles off the coast of Clearwater, Florida after his boat’s engine stopped, and a teen whose car ended up in a Michigan lake—all within days of each other. In 2015, for example, it is estimated that the Coast Guard responded to 2,500 incidents and saved more than 200 lives. And while not considered truly military like the Army and others, it is the service that civilians are most likely to encounter in their routines out on the water.
One of the most under-appreciated national security issues is that of the Arctic Circle, a prime area of concern for the Coast Guard. I have written extensively on the need for Congress to invest in icebreakers, of which America only has one; the Coast Guard says it needs six icebreakers to fulfill its patrol, rescue and surveillance needs in the region.
Comparatively, Russia has more than 40 icebreakers and have made militarizing the Arctic Circle and exploiting natural energy resources under the terrain’s icy waters a major national priority.
As the region becomes more of a commonly used trading route and tourist destination, the Coast Guard’s capabilities will become more important than ever. The Arctic is one of the most dangerous and difficult terrains to navigate and takes extensive training and resources to master, though doing so will be extraordinarily challenging for the Coast Guard if it does not get the icebreakers it needs to regulate any conflicts that could arise on fields of ice only those vessels can handle. It doesn’t appear that Congress has the vision to realize how important it is to equip the Coast Guard with the hardware it needs to prepare for the eventuality that the Arctic will be a major port region some day.
But President Trump isn’t thinking about the future or border security, in a practical sense. As Michael Dear, author of Why Walls Won’t Work: Repairing the U.S.-Mexico Divide, put it in POLITICO, a wall will not deter drug cartels. The president is pushing for this wall because he is evoking fear of “rapists” and “bad hombres,” even though there is no quantifiable connection between crime and illegal immigration. Beyond all racist rhetoric, this budget puts at stake a vital service that has been proven to save lives outside of law enforcement and anti-terrorism situations as well.
The wall won’t keep America safe. The Coast Guard does already.