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17. Department of State letter to the U.S. Coast Guard on use of armed vessels by the Coast Guard on the Great Lakes


United States Department of State Washington, D.C. 20520

Admiral David S. Belz
Assistant Commandant for Operations
Commandant (G-OPL-L)
2100 Second Street N.W.
Washington, DC 20593
ATTN: Lt. Kieserman, Room 3110

Dear Admiral Belz;

This letter is in response to your request for PD—27 concurrence from the Department of State that the Aqreement relating to naval forces on the American Lakes, done by an exchange of notes at Washington on April 28 and 29, 1817, and entered into force on April 29, 1817 (Rush—Bagot Agreement), does not prohibit the United States Coast Guard ("USCG") from deploying automatic weapons (M-6O and/or .50 caliber machine guns) aboard USCG vessels operating in U.S. waters on the Great Lakes.

We concur in the conclusion of the USCG legal advisor from the office of Law Enforcement that prior U.S. statements on the scope of the Rush-Bagot Agreement support the position that the USCG would not be prohibited from deploying automatic weapons (M—60 and/or .50 dauber machine guns) aboard USOG vessels operating in U.S. waters on the Great Lakes. But it is not clear that Canada has ever concurred with the interpretation that the Rush—Bagot Agreement does not apply to "revenue cutters."

We note that both countries have been tolerant of deviations from the Rush-Bagot Agreement born of contemporary developments. In each case, however, such deviations appear to have been amply documented in extensive exchanges of diplomatic notes and consultative letters that have publicly and demonstratively upheld the "spirit" of Rush—Bagot.

We understand the exigencies of the situation and the considerations that underlie the USCG proposal to deploy such weapons aboard USCG vessels, and we fully support USCG efforts to ensure maritime security on our northern border. However, while do not find that the concurrence of the Canadian side is required by the terms of the Treaty, it is our position that, based on (a) the record of prior notifications and consultations under the Rush-Bagot Agreement, (b) the need to preserve and promote an atmosphere of voluntary transparency and consultation with Canada, and (c) the overwhelming foreign policy interests of preserving both the spirit of the Rush-Bagot Agreement and the current positive U.S.-Canadian relationship, the United States should not arm USCG "revenue cutters" operating in U.S. waters on the Great Lakes without prior notification through official channels and consultation.

For the reasons provided in the attached paper, it is our position that the long—standing practice of prior notifications and consultations with the Government of Canada should be continued. Therefore we would not agree that the USCC may deploy these weapons unilaterally without additional notification to or consultation with the Government of Canada.

Recognizing the importance to the USCG of arming these vessels in the near future, we are ready to schedule consultations, of which the Coast Guard would be a part, with the Government of Canada at your earliest convenience. We look forward to working with you on this matter and achieving a satisfactory outcome.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me or Nancy Mason, Director of the Office of Canadian Affairs.


James Derham
Acting Assistant Secretary

Attachment: Arming united States Coast Guard vessels Operating in U.S. Waters on the Great Lakes

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