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The U.S. and Japan Sailed Out on a New Stage of the Coast Guard Alliance

by Daisuke Komatsu

Did you hear the whistle signaling the dawn of a new cooperative relationship between the United States Coast Guard (herein after called “USCG”) and the Japan Coast Guard (herein after called “JCG”)? Vice Adm. Michael McAllister, commander of USCG Pacific Area, and Vice Adm. Yoshio Seguchi, vice commandant for operations of JCG, signed a historic document to further strengthen their ties to address the current serious international security environment on the 18th of May 2022. 

The Signing Ceremony of the USCG and JCG MOC Annex

Historically, the USCG and JCG have taken a long voyage in the same boat since JCG was established in 1948. Since then, both coast guards have enhanced their cooperative engagements and signed a memorandum of cooperation to boost the strong relationship in 2010. Based upon this MOC, they have conducted a high-level bilateral meeting annually to share information and to affirm common interests.

The world is now facing a paradigm shift in the economic and security realms, such as COVID-19’s impact on human activities and unilateral attempts to change the rules-based international order by force in the East China Sea and South China Sea. Both sides, under these circumstances, began to recognize the need to modify the MOC to be more practical and concrete in order to carry out joint operations to maintain and develop a Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP).

On the 18th of May 2022, the two Vice admirals formally signed additional Annexes of the MOC to expand cooperative engagements in order to enable both sides to conduct a joint operation called SAPPHIRE. “SAPPHIRE” is an acronym for “Solid Alliance for Peace and Prosperity with Humanity and Integrity on the Rule of Law based Engagement” and is regarded as a “precious gem that is an emblem of integrity and affection found throughout the Indo-Pacific” region. The additional Annexes consists essentially of three parts, (combined operations, personnel exchange, and capacity building support for foreign coast guards) which embodied the core elements of the MOC in 2010. 

In the part regarding combined operations, they agreed upon a mechanism of combined operations and exercises to respond appropriately to contingencies such as cases of maritime distress and other regional natural disasters. The combined exercises are expected to reinforce mutual understanding through shared principles, tactics, techniques and procedures to cope with all manner of contingencies or future operation. They have already conducted a combined search and rescue exercise off the coast of San Francisco on the 20th of May, and also coped with actual maritime distress during a combined counter-narcotics exercise off the coast of Guam on the 7th of June based on the annex. 

A combined exercise based on the Annex

The part regarding personnel exchange encourages academic exchange and training as well as capacity building. Professional exchange and academic exchange and training are keys to promote open communication between the two coast guards. The new scheme of academic exchange and training will provide faculties of the USCG Academy and the JCG Academy with better academic, educational, and training experiences for their cadets.

The additional Annex, uniquely and interestingly, let the USCG and the JCG turn their eyes even towards foreign coast guard agencies in the shape of capacity building. Previously, the two leading coast guards in the world had for a long time separately provided capacity building support for recipient coast guards. In order to provide more effective and adequate capacity building support by deconflicting asset transfers to recipients, the two coast guards share their own initiatives and identify recipient nations. 

Furthermore, they are expected to conduct capacity building as a joint initiative, coordinating program and training implementation for recipients. They dispatched their capacity building expert team to the Philippines simultaneously to provide skills of towing other vessels and fire control from the 12th to 25th of June.

The first attempt of joint capacity building for the Philippines Coast Guard

The acclaim for the MOC ANNEX signing ceremony reverberated across the maritime corridor running from the Arctic Ocean to the Sea of Japan, through the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean.  In line with the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific region, the role of a coast guard alliance between the U.S. and Japan is increasingly important to realize a FOIP. The two coast guards will involve Australia and India as well as other nation states with shared values to expand their vigorous efforts in maintaining the status quo in the region.

A bunch of smiles seen among the US, Philippines, and Japan Coast Guard officials leading a FOIP

July 2022

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