Coast guarding

[Sent to the Khmer Times on 26 March 2019. Not published.]

I suppose I should not have been surprised to read in Tuesday’s Khmer Times that a US Coast Guard ship was one of two US military vessels sailing between China and Taiwan in order, as a US military statement put it, to show “US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific”.

Maybe it’s a problem that I tend to take words literally. I expect a “coast guard” to be a military or other body that guards a country’s coast. So I expect the US Coast Guard to guard United States coasts.

Silly me! There’s nothing in the phrase to say that a country’s coast guard has to guard its own coasts. What’s wrong with the US Coast Guard guarding the coasts of China, or North Korea, or Iran, or any other country that has a coast?

That might make landlocked countries such as Switzerland or Kazakhstan or Chad feel secure, but they shouldn’t forget that the US also has a National Guard. And, as with coasts, the nation to be guarded by the US doesn’t have to be the United States. It’s true that, only last year, President Trump used the National Guard to guard the US from a hostile invasion by refugee children, but in the recent past, a number of US National Guard units have also been used to guard Iraq against the activities of its citizens.

Guarding is a serious business, and it can happen anywhere. Especially in places not on good terms with Washington.

But, in the spirit of guarding, shouldn’t other countries share some of the burden of guarding the world’s coasts (of which there are quite a lot)? While the US is guarding China’s coasts, why not have another country guard US coasts?

For example, in the waters between Florida and Cuba, or between Florida and the Bahamas – which are wider than the distance between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan – wouldn’t it be helpful of China to send some military vessels to demonstrate a commitment to a free and open Caribbean-Atlantic?

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