In the midst of all the impeachment news was a Maritime Safety Information Bulletin issued by the Coast Guard concerning the Russian vessel Viktor Leonov, an intelligence surveillance ship that has been prowling the East Coast. The vessel has been in international waters, which while annoying to the United States is in fact very legal. However, unlike in previous years, this year it decided to behave in an unsafe manner. The bulletin spelled it out pretty clearly:
The United States Coast Guard (USCG) has received reports indicating that the RFN VIKTOR LEONOV (AGI-175) has been operating in an unsafe manner while navigating through USCG Sector Jacksonville’s Area of Responsibility. This unsafe operation includes not energizing running lights while in reduced visibility conditions, not responding to hails by commercial vessels attempting to coordinate safe passage and other erratic movements. Vessels transiting these waters should maintain a sharp lookout and use extreme caution when navigating in proximity to this vessel.Maritime Safety Information Bulletin, U.S. Coast Guard
The VIKTOR LEONOV’s operations should be a lesson as to why we build and maintain a Navy and Coast Guard. Navies aren’t cheap…the 2019 budget for the Navy alone is $194.1 billion dollars. In comparison, the United Kingdom spent about $79 billion on their entire military. The cost of not building a Navy is far worse though. The VIKTOR LEONOV is only a surveillance vessel, but she is likely preparing the battlespace for any future conflict in the Atlantic. The only credible deterrent to her operations is a solid response from a Navy, which she has received since entering the Western Atlantic.
Countries without Navies can’t enforce their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). Every country is given exclusive rights over resources within 200 nautical miles of their coast. While that sounds nice in theory, in reality other countries are quick to take advantage of any countries inability to patrol their EEZ. China is exploiting EEZs to illegally fish in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, as far away as South Africa. Small nations are struggling to keep out the hoardes of Chinese fishermen, who bank on China’s use of economic power to stop any action against their illegal fishing. China has also shown its willingness to illegally drill in another countries waters for oil, which it did in Vietnam in 2014. Even the United Kingdom illegally used waters for fishing, fighting three different “Cod Wars” with Iceland before recognizing Iceland’s EEZ.
A Navy isn’t cheap, but its cheaper to have one than watch another nation plunder your resources. It’s better to fight in waters far away from the Western Atlantic than on your own door step. As tensions continue to rise between the US and peer competitors, the Navy and Coast Guard will be the first to push back against any attempts at aggression on our shores.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, US Coast Guard, or any other government agency.