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to condemn President Obama's proposed budget restrictions, arguing they would leave his service overstretched and outdated.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."
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."
1. Unsatisfied with his shrinking force and aging fleet, Adm. Robert Papp, Coast Guard commandant, broke ranks with his Joint Chiefs colleagues by saying his service could use more ships and people to fight drugs and terrorism. Is the Coast Guard properly stocked for its national-security mission?
- No 83%
- Yes 17%
"As a military person myself, I've always wondered how the Coast Guard got by on its shoestring budget. Adm. Papp is right. His service needs more ships and people because it is a true first line of defense for the U.S."
"Admiral Papp oversees a declining fleet of obsolete Coast Guard ships."
"[These are] ships that would qualify for Social Security. If he had said his service was in good shape--that would have been news."
"This is one organization that works."
"Given the shifting threats facing the nation and the growing importance of keeping our waterways secure and open, the status quo is inadequate."
"But, then again, neither are the other services."
"The Coast Guard should examine the Navy's new LCS concept to see if it would meet future needs."
"It is part of the commandant's job to argue for more; it is part of the political authority's job to weigh such requests against other national priorities."
"Over the past decade, the Coast Guard has expanded its overseas operations; these properly should be carried out by the Navy, which indeed needs more ships."
2. North Korea's high-profile satellite launch fizzled, dealing a serious embarrassment to the regime of new leader Kim-Jong Un. Do you expect him to take action to save face, such as ordering a new, provocative move like a nuclear test?
- Yes 87.5%
- No 12.5%
"North Korea seeks international attention through provocative actions. They are the mouse that roared."
"Given the North's long track record of calm restraint, what could possibly go wrong?"
"Provocative moves are a standard part of North Korean statecraft."
"Yes, but the timing and actions coming out of North Korea between now and then will reveal more about the direction the country is heading in and its internal power struggles."
"It's noteworthy that North Korea admitted that the satellite failed to achieve orbit; not the whole truth, but more than usual. Still, it's too much to ask for them to swallow failure without trying a new move."
"Despite foreign incentives and pleadings, North Korea may test a nuclear device to overcome perceptions of weakness. This pattern should be no surprise. In October 2008, the United States removed North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism; in April 2009, a North Korean space launch suffered a third-stage failure; and in June, North Korea conducted a nuclear test. Only if and when the United States, in coordination with Japan and South Korea, shoots down a rocket will North Korea pay attention to the international community, or will China rouse itself to put real pressure on North Korea."
"The regime needs to perpetuate its myth of invincibility. It urgently needs a big 'success.' "
"The North Korean leader will have to do something to save face, and it will likely not be very pretty. U.S. and South Korean forces should be on high alert."
"But will do some face saving."
National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign-policy experts.
Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Kit Bond, Stuart Bowen, Paula Broadwell, Mike Breen, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Wendy Chamberlin, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Robert Danin, Richard Danzig, Paul Eaton, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Daniel Goure, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Donald Kerrick, Rachel Kleinfeld, Lawrence Korb, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, James Lindsay, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kevin Nealer, Michael Oates, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Matthew Sherman, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Tamara Wittes, and Dov Zakheim.
This article appears in the April 24, 2012 edition of NJ Daily.