For all the headlines and Chinese pique that freedom of navigation operations in the South and East China seas generate, their strategic value is actually pretty limited. But one such operation carried out two weeks ago was different. On March 24, the USS Curtis Wilbur, a guided missile destroyer, cruised through the Taiwan Strait. For the first time in the waters, sailing alongside the destroyer was a U.S. Coast Guard cutter. The vessel, the USCGC Bertholf, is a 4,600-ton National Security Cutter that was sent to the Western Pacific in early March. It’s set to be replaced in the coming by months by another Legend-class cutter. This has raised an important question: Will the U.S. send its Coast Guard into the South China Sea next? The Coast Guard could help fill holes in existing U.S. strategy in the Western Pacific, but it would mark a substantial shift in U.S. tactics and appetite for risk. And as it stands, there’s little evidence that the U.S. “white hulls” will be attempting
Will the US Coast Guard Enter the South China Sea ‘Grey Zone?’
An incursion into the area by the U.S. Coast Guard could cause an escalation the U.S. would rather avoid.