Confidence and Security Building Measures in Southeast Asia's Maritime Domain
Maritime Incidents and Escalation in the Asia-Pacific

Confidence and Security Building Measures in Southeast Asia's Maritime Domain

In this report, Dr Collin Koh, Research Fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, analyses the effectiveness of three major multilateral CSBMs in the region: the Guidelines for Air Military Encounters (GAME), the proposed Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (CoC), and the Code on Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES). He proposes recommendations on how to apply lessons learned from these CSBMs to the South China Sea – a region that many experts have identified as a major geopolitical flashpoint given the territorial disputes involving China and ASEAN member states.

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Dr Koh observes that most CSBMs in the Southeast Asian maritime domain are bilateral in nature, and mostly within the categories of information and communications measures. Multilateral mechanisms are few and far in between, even though ASEAN member states often build multilateral security cooperation on pre-existing bilateral initiatives. The report finds that several issues stand in the way of establishing effective multilateral CSBMs in the region: CSBMs are difficult to enforce, are time-consuming to produce, and are complicated by the national interests of extra-regional actors such as the United States. According to Dr Koh, however, CSBMs have and will continue to play an important role in keeping the region safe and conflict-free. Despite being difficult to create and enforce, CSBMs are the building blocks for establishing mutual trust and addressing interstate differences, especially when it comes to territorial and sovereignty issues.

In the report, Dr Koh makes the following recommendations:

  • Use existing initiatives or promulgated mechanisms such as GAME, CoC, and CUES as building blocks for bolder regional attempts to derive a more robust and broader CSBM framework.
  • Expand regional codes of conduct such as CUES to coastguards and irregular forces or develop a separate, equivalent code (such as COPs).
  • Develop codes of conduct that account for the complex geopolitics of the region and the diversity of stakeholders, as opposed to a “one-size-fits-all” framework.

The report is the second in a series of APLN publications on Maritime Incidents and Escalation in the Asia-Pacific.

About the Author

Dr Collin KOH is Research Fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies which is a constituent unit of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, based in Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He has research interests on naval affairs in the Indo-Pacific, focusing on Southeast Asia. Collin has published several op-eds, policy- and academic journal articles as well as chapters for edited volumes covering his research areas. He has also taught at Singapore Armed Forces professional military education and training courses. Besides research and teaching, Collin also contributes his perspectives to various local and international media outlets and participates in activities with geopolitical risks consultancies.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the funder nor of the project partners, their staff or boards.

Image Description: Map of Southeast Asia

Image Courtesy: iStock/Tanarch. Edited on Canva.

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