Challenges to global maritime norms will lead the U.S. to rely more on the U.S. Coast Guard to ensure freedom of navigation, protect the flow of commerce and fisheries, work with partner nations to help protect their sovereignty and safeguard the environment, President Joe Biden said on Wednesday.

Biden pointed to China’s and Russia’s “disruptive actions” as well as technology in threatening the long-standing international “rules of the road” and behaviors that have kept open the sea lanes, enabled the peaceful sharing “in the natural bounty of the sea,” and allowed nations and their peoples to benefit economically.

Amid these challenges, Biden said the Coast Guard will have a central role to play globally in advancing U.S. interests.

“So, as we work together with our democratic partners around the world, both update the rules for this new age, to hold all of us accountable to living up to those rules, your mission, your mission will become even more global and even more important,” he told the Coast Guard Academy’s 2021 graduating class in New London, Conn. “You have an essential role in our efforts to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Biden didn’t mention his plans for the Coast Guard’s fiscal year 2022 budget request, which is expected to go to Congress on May 27. On April 12, the administration released its top-line budget request for the federal government but offered little detail overall and no clarity on the funding expectations for the Coast Guard.

The service’s high-endurance 418-foot Legend-class National Security Cutters have routinely been present in areas of the Indo-Pacific region the past few years, working with the U.S. Navy to conduct freedom of navigation operations in places like the South China Sea and to deter illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing by Chinese vessels of the western coast of South America and elsewhere. The service also homeports smaller cutters in Guam in the Western Pacific.

The president said the Coast Guard is also in demand globally.

“We’re fielding requests from other nations all across the Indo-Pacific that are eager to partner with our Coast Guard because of your reputation of professionalism and your unrivaled skill,” Biden told the 240 new officers. “The Coast Guard will be an increasingly central element to our engagement in the Indo-Pacific to protect lives, to preserve the environment, to safeguard sovereignty throughout the region.”

Biden also mentioned a new partnering agreement between the Coast Guard and Taiwan to focus on regional threats and conduct joint missions for humanitarian and environmental purposes. He called this and other Coast Guard partnerships “essential to building a muscled cooperation when distant water fishing fleets travel thousands of miles to strip maritime resources without regard to catch regulations or internationally established economic zones.”

Coast Guard NSCs and 154-foot Fast Response Cutters (FRCs) recently have also been operating in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Two FRCs that have operated recently with allies and partners in Europe are on their way to the Persian Gulf to begin replacing 110-foot Island-class cutters the Coast Guard operates in the region to protect commerce, patrol for illegal activities, deter aggressive behavior by Iranian small attack boats, and work alongside U.S. Navy vessels.

“Whether that’s the South China Sea, the Arabian Gulf, and increasingly the Arctic, it’s of vital interest to America’s foreign policy to secure unimpeded flow of global commerce and it won’t happen without us taking an active role to set the norms of conduct, to shape them around democratic values, not those of autocrats,” Biden said. “That’s why we’ll continue to support the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas, which outlines many of the key principles to ensure that our waters of our planet are not exploited by any one nation and are preserved for the benefit of all. But they’re being challenged now, all of it.”

Regarding the Arctic, Biden said “We the United States are an Arctic nation.” The Coast Guard operates annually in the Arctic and increasingly the U.S. military is conducting more exercises in the region.

Biden said the area “is rapidly growing in strategic importance” due to melting ice, which opens shipping lanes. He said the U.S. needs “modern icebreakers” and must also “stand shoulder to shoulder with those allies and partners who share our values, including indigenous communities where the keepers of traditional knowledge about the Arctic waters.”

The Coast Guard currently has two operational Polar icebreakers, the heavy icebreaker Polar Star and the medium icebreaker Healy. The Polar Star is typically used to conduct an annual resupply mission for a scientific mission in Antarctica and the Healy usually performs science missions in the Arctic.

The Coast Guard is in the early stages of acquiring at least three new heavy polar icebreakers to replace the aging Polar Star, which is undergoing an incremental service life extension. The service is also examining its future requirements for a new medium icebreaker fleet.