The Reuters news report Exclusive: U.S. prepares high-seas crackdown on North Korea sanctions evaders - sources begins with the sentence:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration and key Asian allies are preparing to expand interceptions of ships suspected of violating sanctions on North Korea, a plan that could include deploying U.S. Coast Guard forces to stop and search vessels in Asia-Pacific waters, senior U.S. officials said.

This is a recent report, and so I'm asking only if this would be "consistent with the US Coast Guard's traditional mandate." How far away from Hawaii and Alaska does the US Coast Guard's activity or jurisdiction usually extend into Asia-Pacific waters during peacetime (which may itself be an ambiguous term in this case)?

The report continues:

Some U.S. officials believe the risk could be minimized if Coast Guard cutters, which carry less firepower and technically engage in law-enforcement missions, are used in certain cases rather than warships.

The Coast Guard declined to address whether it might deploy ships to the Asia-Pacific region but acknowledged its ties to countries there. “Future ship deployments would depend on U.S. foreign policy objectives and the operational availability of our assets,” said spokesman Lieutenant Commander Dave French.

The article goes on to say:

The effort could target vessels on the high seas or in the territorial waters of countries that choose to cooperate. It was unclear, however, to what extent the campaign might extend beyond Asia.

and later:

But U.S. officials said privately that such action, especially the use of boarding crews, would be decided on a case-by-case and with utmost caution.

Some U.S. officials believe the risk could be minimized if Coast Guard cutters, which carry less firepower and technically engage in law-enforcement missions, are used in certain cases rather than warships.

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    I do not know what such mandate is, but certainly there is precedent, as the Coast Guard was deployed in Vietnam and formally there was not a declaration of war.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Feb 25, 2018 at 18:09
  • @bytebuster I'm not sure I am reading this correctly, but did someone propose such an edit (fix) (which seems to me to be quite reasonable), and did you then reject it? i.sstatic.net/gvPHT.png
    – uhoh
    Commented Feb 25, 2018 at 23:21

3 Answers 3


I'm asking if this would be "consistent with the US Coast Guard's traditional mandate." How far away from Hawaii and Alaska does the US Coast Guard's activity or jurisdiction usually extend?

This is specifically within the Coast Guard's mandate. There is no rule limiting their jurisdiction to Alaska and Hawaii.

Whereas the other four branches of the U.S. armed forces are strictly military in nature and exist for the purpose of carrying out war against America's enemies, the Coast Guard actually reports to the Department of Homeland Security rather than the Department of Defense during peacetime. Although they're most known for their search and rescue operations (particularly in the Bering Sea and Hawaii), their mandate is to enforce U.S. and international maritime law. As such, the Coast Guard's duties include pretty much anything a regular police force would be tasked with, only with military authority and backing. They can operate anywhere in the world they are ordered to.

Among their law enforcement duties, they are responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes that occur in both domestic and international waters. Mostly this means things like poaching, smuggling, drug trafficking, piracy, etc. But they do have the authority (usually pursuant to international treaties or the support of international efforts) to detain and inspect any seagoing vessel that is suspected of carrying any kind of contraband material, and in this case, that includes sanctioned materials bound for North Korea.

The purpose of using the Coast Guard for this activity is because it's a peacekeeping mission at its core. If a boat is found supplying contraband material to North Korea (in violation of sanctions by all its neighbors and of the UN), the idea is to seize it or turn the boat back, not blow it out of the water.

Additionaly, any country can enforce the law of the sea in international waters. A number of treaties including the UN Convention on The Law of the Sea. International waters are governed mostly by Convention on the High Seas.

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    It would be nice to add references to a post where you affirm that U.S.A. owns the control of all the international waters in the world.
    – motoDrizzt
    Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 8:20

The US Coast Guard is the fourth branch of the US armed forces, so they can be used in any situation that any of the armed forces would engage in. Being less heavily armed than more dedicated warships, and being painted in international coast guard colors (white with diagonal red stripe) rather than warship gray, they don't tend to be the first ships called in for major naval actions, but they are both capable and authorized to carry out military missions.

This tends to be the case of the coast guard units of all major nations... not only are they a rescue and maritime police force, but they are part of that nation's armed forces, and will join in military operations if so ordered. China has sent some of its coast guard ships on anti-piracy operations against Somali pirates.

The authority under which this will be carried out would be the UN sanctions.

A Coast Guard cutter is less intimidating than, say, a guided missile frigate, and also less expensive to operate. Coast Guard boarding crews aren't quite as heavily armed or as aggressive as Navy SEALs, so the case by case basis would involve the potential level of threat. It is also possible that N Korean special forces on the ship may oppose the boarding, so that scenario can't be discounted... N Korea is known to take aggressive military actions without regard for the consequences, at least on a small scale.

Interesting story about the US Coast Guard... In May, 1941, after sinking the HMS Hood, the Bismarck escaped the shadowing British cruisers with a night maneuver. The next day, well on its way to the Bay of Biscay and Luftwaffe air cover, it was discovered by an RN Coastal Command Catalina aircraft, which led to the final battle. Less well known was the fact that the Catalina was being operated by a US Navy crew on loan to Coastal Command, the US being a neutral nation at that time. Even less well known is how the Catalina knew where to look for the Bismarck. It had been alerted by USCGC Modoc, that had encountered the Bismarck, but being a neutral ship, the Bismarck had not attacked it, leaving it intact to radio the contact... in distinct violation of the neutrality laws.

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    Count the number of armed services again. Correct your errant belief on the employment of the Coast Guard. Commented Feb 25, 2018 at 18:36
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    There are four major service branches - technically, the Marines are part of the Navy but I suppose one could say that five exist. USCG vessels were routinely used for convoy escort and antisubmarine work in WW2, and they participated in the Normandy invasion as well. Plus Vietnam. USCG members are members of the US military.
    – tj1000
    Commented Feb 25, 2018 at 20:14
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    @Drunk Cynic The USCG is an element of the military at all times. Members are considered part of the combatant forces of the United States and cutters are warships. Members are military personnel even though they are not DOD.
    – cpast
    Commented Feb 25, 2018 at 21:06
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    For instance, under the provision of federal law governing the armed forces, "The term “armed forces” means the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard." Command of a mixed unit ordinarily goes to the highest-ranking officer, regardless of which branch of the military they're in, so USCG officers can command. Coasties are under UCMJ discipline and are entitled to combatant status under IHL. There's no sense relevant to this question in which they are not military (there are some administrative things, but those aren't relevant to the question).
    – cpast
    Commented Feb 25, 2018 at 21:17
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    @DrunkCynic The Posse Comitatus argument is something that sounds good only if you don’t think about it at all. The PCA applies only to the Army and Air Force, and it doesn’t even ban using them as law enforcement (it just limits it to cases authorized by some other law, of which there are many). It doesn’t apply to the Navy or Marines; only DoD policy restricts their use to cases explicitly authorized by federal law or by the Constitution. Nor does it apply to the Coast Guard, and in any event, the Coast Guard’s statutory LE authority would override the PCA.
    – cpast
    Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 5:17

In addition to the excellent answers already, including the one that I have accepted, here is a specific example:

Washington Post's Watch a Coast Guardsman leap onto a moving ‘narco-submarine’ full of cocaine. There is a video (also here) showing the coast guard shouting authoritatively at the submarine in bad Spanish, then jumping on top of it and banging on the hatch as it continues to move along the surface.

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