Many meetings on the South China Sea are presented with a plethora of proposals for multilateral security cooperation. Few, however, have ever been implemented, and of those that have, even fewer have been effective, in that the security of all participating countries is better than what it would have been without the cooperation. We should accept this reality and examine why this is so.

The 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) was supposed to "enhance favorable conditions for a peaceful and durable solution of differences and disputes among countries concerned." It has failed to do so. Specifically, claimants were supposed to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability. . . ." They did not do so. The agreement was supposed to be a precursor and foundation for a binding robust Code of Conduct for the South China Sea (COC). This has not happened and a COC appears dead in the water.

In 2005, the U.S. chief of naval operations, Adm. Michael Mullen, proposed a multinational "thousand ship" navy under U.S. tactical command to provide maritime security in the 21st century. It has not been realized. In 2004, the United States proposed a Regional Maritime Security Initiative (RMSI) with an initial focus on situational awareness and information sharing in the Malacca Strait. This proposal was — to put it politely — ignored by Indonesia and Malaysia, and faded away.