Long on talk, short on substance. That summarises virtually every get-together of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in the past decade. And as long as the sacred mantra of non-interference in the internal affairs of others remains the scaffolding holding the group together, that is the way it is destined to remain. But it is at the yearly regional forum when other countries from the Asia-Pacific and Europe get together to discuss security matters, that the weaknesses are most apparent. Not once, in two years of financial crisis, sectarian violence, ethnic conflicts and territorial disputes has the group been willing or able to exert any authority, to foresee looming problems or to intervene to try to stop trouble from spreading. In Bangkok this week, the three advocates of a more muscular organisation - Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore - won a small concession from the other seven. But given the background to the disparate collection of regimes involved, the old stumbling block remains. Unspecified 'emergencies' can be handled by the agreed 'troika'. International policy may be determined by them, though only with the consent of all 10. Intervention in domestic issues is, as ever, taboo. Sceptics will be tempted to view the move as doomed before it starts, but there is some slight reason for optimism. It is, after all, an admission that the present system is not working, and that Asean's credibility is diminished by its lack of teeth. If the arrangement works, it may encourage members to move on to higher things. Whatever its shortcomings, it is the regional forum that brings these concerns out into the open. At such meetings - however little they achieve outwardly - useful behind-the-scenes discussions can take place on a range of contentious issues. Asean's forum is not ready to be written off yet. But it will take bolder measures than these before it becomes a real force to be reckoned with globally.