Confidence-building measures (CBMs) were developed between military alliances during the Cold War to avoid nuclear attacks by accident. They have widened into other areas, military and non-military. This site focuses on the weapons-related CBMs.
Transparency in armaments
Confidence and trust grows when States are open about their military capacities and plans. That is why every year they can report their military expenditures to the UN, as well as their recent imports and exports of weapons.
Sharing views on confidence building
Apart from these UN reporting mechanisms, many other military CBMs exist. They can be divided into three groups:
Information exchange measures
These seek to enhance the mutual understanding of national military capabilities and activities. They also facilitate regular communication to avoid surprise or unsought military confrontations. Examples include the reciprocal appointment of military points of contact, the establishment of a hotline between top generals, the exchange of military information on national forces and armaments, and advance notification of military manoeuvres and activities.
Also the unilateral notification of reduction and disposal of weapons and ammunition may be seen as such a measure.
Observation and verification measures
These aim at generating trust by allowing participating States to monitor each other’s military facilities and activities. Observation measures assist in corroborating that a party’s military activities are of a non-aggressive nature and that they are organized only in the context of military activities, or of planning for such activities, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations. Examples include the invitation of observers to monitor major military exercises and missions to evaluate on site the information provided by a Government on its military units and equipment.
Inspections modalities may include verification on the ground and photography from aerial observation flights.
Military constraint measures
These are designed to limit the capacity of parties for surprise military attacks.
Examples include restrictions on the number and scope of major military exercises, limitations of troop movements, de-alerting, and the establishment of demilitarized and weapon-free zones.
Agreeing on CBMs in a region
Most confidence-building measures between States have been agreed to in regional, subregional or bilateral contexts. The great variety of such measures underlines the importance of tailoring them to the particular security concerns of States within a region.
Regions and subregions wishing to develop regional confidence-building measures in the field of conventional arms may build upon existing measures with a global reach, such as the Standardized Instrument for Reporting Military Expenditures or the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms. They could, for instance, conduct regular bilateral or regional discussions on information provided by States from their region to these global instruments and on the strategic considerations underpinning the policy decisions reported therein.