Coast Guard not ready for national-security mission, insiders say

U.S. Coast Guard Commandant, Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr. U.S. Coast Guard Commandant, Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr. Kerry Maloney/AP

A large majority of National Journal's National Security Insiders agreed with Coast Guard Commandant Robert Papp, who broke ranks with his fellow military chiefs to condemn President Obama's proposed budget restrictions, arguing they would leave his service overstretched and outdated.

Though the Joint Chiefs of Staff have all backed the president's budget request for their services, Papp last week said the $10 billion budget for the Coast Guard presents a “challenge” to cut 1,000 people from his 42,000-member force. The admiral even suggested that the nation would have to cut back on Latin American drug interdiction in order to have enough resources to protect Alaskan oil interests in the north.

"Papp's statement reflects the reality that the Coast Guard has been under-resourced for growing, vital missions for at least the past decade," one Insider said. "Hopefully, Papp's statement will wake up the congressional and executive branches."

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Papp oversees a declining fleet of obsolete Coast Guard ships, one Insider said. Another added: "[These are] ships that would qualify for Social Security. If he had said his service was in good shape--that would have been news."

One Insider said a recent tour of a Coast Guard facility in Florida revealed Coast Guard personnel with well-maintained but old equipment. "We have never provided for these men and women as well as we have DoD uniformed military," the Insider said.

Another Insider said the problem goes beyond the Coast Guard, which falls under the Department of Homeland Security. The Office of Management and Budget and the appropriators, the Insider said, do not support funding national-security capability for the Coast Guard. "This has been true since the creation of DH and even before. It needs to be fixed."

Others disagreed with Papp's tough stand. "Despite Adm. Papp's mutiny, he has missed the boat," one Insider said. "The ship carrying the trillions for the overhyped wars on terror and drugs has already sailed, leaving behind a country largely bankrupt."

Over the past decade, the Coast Guard has expanded its overseas operations, another Insider said. "These properly should be carried out by the Navy, which indeed needs more ships."

After North Korea's high-profile satellite launch -- and subsequent failure -- dealt a serious embarrassment to the regime of Pyongyang's new leader Kim Jong Un, 87.5 percent of Insiders said they expected him to take provocative action to save face.

Such action could include a nuclear test. "The U.S. had a dozen failures before a successful satellite launch, and Kim Jong Un also appears willing to go the distance," one Insider said. "And, like his father, he will continue to wave his nuclear trump card for all he can get from the West; it's the only card he has."

Saving face on the international stage is very important to North Korea, another Insider said. "While it was remarkable that the regime admitted the launch failure publicly, it's pretty clear they are determined to succeed in their efforts to project a powerful image. One way to do so would be to conduct a nuclear test, but the regime will wait for the inevitable diplomatic impasse before they do something of that magnitude."

As another Insider put it: "The last thing a rogue regime wants to lose is its street cred for being a rogue."

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