Most of the doomsday budget-cutting talk has focused on the Pentagon—and rightly so, as cuts being bandied about will unquestioningly turn the United States into a second-class military power.

The worst news, however, is that the cuts could have an even more disastrous impact on homeland security, in particular the U.S. Coast Guard. The service is coming under great pressure to curtail replacing its fleet of large cutters, the most capable and critical asset in the Coast Guard fleet. Cutting this force—in conjunction with the reductions in the Navy—will mean the U.S. will lose the capacity to ensure freedom of the seas and even the means to fully protect the sovereignty of U.S. waters.

In a recent video interview, the Coast Guard’s Vice Admiral Robert Parker explains the impact that the replacement ship for the larger cutters—the National Security Cutter—would have on the service’s ability to protect America’s sovereignty at sea and conduct a range of missions, from humanitarian operations to supporting the Navy.

As one maritime security expert argues, investing in the Coast Guard (USCG) may be the most cost-effective means to protect U.S. interests, particularly in the Pacific, where America faces increasing competition from China. “For the USCG to play a lead role in shaping a maritime security regime,” he concludes, “it needs a significant bolstering of its resources and capabilities….The USCG can not field a Third World Navy to deal with 21st century requirements.”

Even in these budget-constrained times, “[s]peeding up Coast Guard modernization is one of the most valuable contributions Congress can make to enhance homeland security. It’s time for the House and Senate to come together and give Coast Guard funding the priority it deserves.”