“The appetite for the product is huge in the U.S.,
but the demand for cocaine has gone down somewhat
in recent years,” he said.
He added that putting more resources, cutters, at sea
will increase the likelihood that the service can stop
smugglers before they reach shore, thus making drug
busts more successful and cost-effective.
The commander said having additional ships in the
water is more effective than beefing up land personnel
because once they reach land, it’s harder to track where
the drugs are going, making them more time-consuming
Lee emphasized that the strategy is focusing on any
kind of illegal activity, but noted that cocaine is simply
the largest moving product.
Another reason the strategy was implemented is the
Coast Guard’s newest additions to the fleet: the National
Security Cutter (NSC), Fast Response Cutter and, eventually, the Offshore Patrol Cutter. There will be fewer of
these ships than those they are replacing. For instance,
Lee said the older ships were taking care of a vast array of missions
across all Coast Guard districts, but
once the service started drawing
down the number of cutters it was
decided an increased emphasis on
the Western Hemisphere would be a
better use of available resources.
“We are focusing more exclusively on the region. Not totally,
but more exclusive,” Lee said.
It was a tough trade-off, taking
cutter hours away from other districts, but he said the way the new
fleet and budget is constructed, the
Coast Guard is trying to reduce
risks where it can — such as the
Western Hemisphere — and accept
more risk in other areas.
“We want to go after the TOCs
and this strategy puts more on us
to do that mission,” Lee said.
Another component of the strategy is maintaining, even increasing,
the number of partnerships the
Coast Guard has with allied nations.
More than half of the nations the
United States has free-trade relations
with are in the Western Hemisphere.
“Partnerships are very important, and even more important now.
Our resources are limited and we
need force multipliers,” Lee said.
In the years ahead, the Atlantic
Area commander said he would
measure the success of the strategy
based on being able to put a bigger
dent into the TOC landscape.
“If I can prove that we have
brought disorganization to organized crime, to some degree, then I
have met my mission.” ■