On Point: Enemy Proxies Will Target America's Coasts

by Austin Bay
December 20, 2023

Last week's column addressed Iran's proxy attacks on the world economy and the wallets of individual Americans.

Quick summary: Attacks targeting merchant vessels quickly raise the cost of merchant shipping insurance -- a major cost consideration in every cargo shipped by sea. To absorb the increase, shipping costs rise.

To the delight of Tehran's ayatollahs, its Houthi proxy sea war inflicts economic damage on its Western enemies, including the U.S.

Kansas has no seacoast, but like everyone else Kansans pay a literal price. Eventually, the cost of goods and services in Kansas climbed. Kansas exports a lot of agricultural products. The cost of shipping these products internationally rises, which cuts farmers' profits.

But that damage is slow -- felt over time. To many Americans, the Red Sea remains safely distant. Houthi missiles hitting freighters and U.S. Navy ships shooting down Iranian suicide drones -- that's stunning televised imagery but it occurs in faraway places.

Discussing subjects like "marine hull war business insurance" and "detailed risk analysis" in "Listed Areas" (see last week's column)? Glazed eyes.

But this is one way Iran and China wage incremental war on America's economy and will to fight.

The cynical argue only Pearl Harbors and 9/11s drive Americans to take effective collective action. Battleships burning, toppled skyscrapers, dreadful loss of American life. After those shocks glazed eyes see galvanizing threat.

The U.S. Navy and Air Force are powerful forces protecting North America. Unfortunately, they have global commitments.

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) -- a great institution -- is tasked with defending America's sea borders. But the USCG is overworked and under-resourced -- meaning it doesn't have the ships and aircraft to adequately patrol America's seacoasts, much less protect them.

We know U.S. seaports are vulnerable to terrorist/saboteur attacks. An enemy nuclear weapon hidden in a hold was a Cold War fear. But here's a hard fact: U.S. coasts are vulnerable to proxy attacks using 21st-century unmanned air and sea vehicles launched a hundred miles offshore.

The U.S. has 12,480 miles of coastline -- equivalent to about half the Earth's circumference at the Equator. Twenty-three U.S. states have ocean coastlines. Alaska (No. 1) has the longest: 6,640 miles. Florida (No. 2): 1,350. New Hampshire (No. 23): 13.

America's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) extends out 200 nautical miles. The seabed is immensely valuable -- minerals, food. Oil and gas platforms off the shores of Louisiana (No. 5), Texas (No. 6) and other Gulf states provide nearly 20% of America's daily energy requirements.

In 1942 these platforms did not exist, otherwise, they would have been easy targets for Nazi U-boats. Today they are easy targets for Russian and Chinese subs or for terrorist/proxy forces.

In a column written earlier this year, I argued enemies could use pirate proxies: 21st-century pirates -- cartelista marine thieves -- already operate in the southern Gulf of Mexico (Bay of Campeche). They are right on the sea border. They might work for Iran -- if the price is right.

That column discussed the limits of state authority offshore and estimated 90% of our Gulf of Mexico energy assets are unprotected by government-permitted firepower. Individual states have authority out to 11 miles. Beyond that, the USCG has authority -- a lot of it. But it doesn't have the ships, planes, and personnel to protect the coasts, much less the continental shelves within our EEZ.

What to do? Here's a solution I like: Allow states and corporations to hire private maritime security firms operating offshore security patrol vessels. Let them provide police security and firepower to protect offshore assets. Make the firms' Coast Guard auxiliaries and subject to USCG regulation as well as state control.

This is an old idea. In early WWII the Navy and U.S. Coast Guard had to focus on blue-water combat missions. So, Washington deputized private craft to patrol the coasts, looking for U-boats and saboteurs. Ernest Hemingway aboard his fishing boat is the most famous example.

For a larger payoff -- in case of WWIII -- require the private outfits to operate long-range patrol ships that the U.S. Navy could employ in a war with Communist China.

Read Austin Bay's Latest Book

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


On Point Archives:

On Point Archives: Current 2023  2022  2021  2020  2019  2018  2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010  2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002  2001



Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close