National Press Club

Coast Guard Commandant calls for more Arctic ships to protect national security

December 7, 2018 | By Chris Teale | chris.teale55@gmail.com

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

If the United States is to protect its national security interests in the Arctic, it needs to fund more ships for the U.S. Coast Guard, the service's Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said Thursday at a National Press Club Headliners Luncheon.

Schultz said the rise of Russian and Chinese influence in the region is troubling, given the rich natural resources available in the region like natural gas, oil, minerals and fish; and the two countries' accelerated building of ships like Icebreakers. The U.S. Coast Guard has just two available, and Schultz said that is not enough to stay strong in the region.

"If we're not present, if we don't own the environment today, guess who owns it tomorrow?" he said. "Our competitors."

The Coast Guard funding is in that part of the fiscal 2019 budget that has yet to be negotiated by President Donald Trump and congressional leaders. Trump asked for $750 million, but talks are being complicated by his threats to shut down part of the government unless Congress uses taxpayer dollars to fund a border wall that he said Mexico would pay for.

The deadline for passing a spending bill is Dec 21, and Schultz said that the proposed allocation would let the Coast Guard buy new ships.

Even so, Schultz warned that may still not be enough to prevent the United States falling behind, given contracting rules that would prevent a contract to build a new Arctic ship being built until the third quarter of next year.

He said that the United States needs "more skin the game" to accelerate those timelines, especially as the Chinese Coast Guard has appeared aggressive in staking the country's rights to new territories and international waters.

"The Arctic isn't emerging. The Arctic is now," Schultz said.

In addition to the hard power of adding needed new ships, Schultz pointed to the "very pragmatic relationships" the Coast Guard is trying to maintain with both Russia and China in various areas of maritime policy, including on illegal fishing. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard continues to carry out Operation Arctic Shield, a seasonal mission to protect the country's maritime interests in that region, while others do similar work.

"Those pragmatic relationships based in this Great Power model, I hope there's space in there to cooperate where we can," Schultz said. "We absolutely do that."