Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert admitted recently that the Navy currently has no ships in SOUTHCOM due to budget constraints.
United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) is a joint force containing all branches of the U.S. military—the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard—that exists to defend U.S. interests and citizens in Central America, South America, and some of the Caribbean.
Swift, a vessel of the 4th Fleet, was the only Navy vessel conducting counter-drug missions in SOUTHCOM. Since its return on May 23, there have been no Navy surface assets in SOUTHCOM, marking the first time in decades that no Navy surface ships were performing patrols in SOUTHCOM.
Citing the current state of the Pentagon’s budget and the drastic magnitude of cuts being contemplated by the U.S. armed services, SOUTHCOM has no solid schedule for surface assets conducting detection and monitoring operations.
While the Navy cannot legally board and interdict vessels like the Coast Guard, its presence in the region contributes intelligence and information sharing with its sister sea service that help both work better. Budget cuts will impact this partnership and weaken both the Navy and the Coast Guard’s ability to protect U.S. borders from threats such as terrorism and organized crime.
Amidst a myriad of other maritime threats to U.S. interests around the globe, lawmakers cannot afford to lose focus in a vast region such as SOUTHCOM. Congress can fulfill its responsibility to provide for the common defense by making a greater commitment to a global Navy.
Sarah Wallace is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.