Military Confidence Building Measures: How to make them work


National defence is about deterrence and preparing for the worst. But if the key objective is to do everything possible to avoid the actual use of weaponry, it is vital to invest in increasing trust levels with countries in the region and beyond. This should be a core undertaking of any government.



In the short term, CBMs aim to adjust between two or more States possibly inaccurate perceptions of motives, to avoid misunderstandings about military actions and policies, and to foster cooperation and inter-dependency. Over time, CBMs can pave the way for more stable bilateral relations, transform ideas about national requirements for security, and even encourage steps to jointly identify shared security needs.



  • CBMs are voluntary by definition: a government only commits to those it wants to commit to.
  • CBMs can be decided on unilaterally, or agreed to bilaterally, regionally or multilaterally.
  • CBMs can be concluded before, during, or after conflict.
  • CBMs are situation-specific. Measures adopted in one situation to increase trust between different sides, may not work in another.
  • CBMs do not necessarily require a shared assessment of a security situation.
  • CBMs do not require equality in military capabilities.
  • There is no correlation between the number of CBMs a State engages in, and that State’s levels of security and stability.
  • CBMs can only be successful if the States concerned share a desire to avoid escalation or conflict. States will in particular engage in practical CBMs when they deem the expected rewards of their role-change to be greater than the political costs.
  • One CBM may work just as well as a package of CBMs. There is no prescribed approach: any measure can be started with. Importantly, if carried out successfully, practical CBMs can be expanded upon and can generate the possibility of further improved trust and more comprehensive agreements.
  • The procedures through which CBMs are established, maintained and reviewed, are essential: it is the development and application of joint procedures which facilitates mutual understanding and comprehension.
  • Most CBMs have some – usually modest – financial costs associated with them. Assistance and cooperation may further enhance the effectiveness of some CBMs. However, CBMs will be most successful when all sides are able to display full national ownership on them.



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