Transparent Sea: Managing Cooperation in the South China Sea

  • September 17, 2016
  • Colonel Rory A. Crooks

In the words of author Robert D. Kaplan, “the South China Sea is the future of conflict.” With vital national interests at stake and frequent military activities occurring in close proximity, parties involved in the South China Sea must develop ways of managing tensions that inevitably accompany sensitive interactions. While all military confidence building measures (CBM) generate a degree of improved communication, transparency of intent, and predictability, the magnitude of beneficial outcomes beyond these becomes a function of how well interests align between the parties. To achieve sustainable success, CBM activities must meet a short list of prerequisites and must trend toward inclusivity by building on small successes. Norms established through multiple successful CBM iterations between a small number of partner militaries serve as a baseline for incrementally including other militaries. Deliberately including key militaries in this process ultimately contributes to stability in this volatile region.