Confidence-Building Measures

Michelle Maiese

September 2003

"In 1991, India and Pakistan re-ratified an agreement signed after the 1972 war which involves a communications hotline between commanders governing troop maneuvers, joint patrols of common borders, and a pledge not to launch preemptive attacks." -- from the Toolbox of the Practitioners Guide for Conflict Prevention and Mitigation, from Creative Associates International, Inc.

It is thought that such hotlines help to reduce the likelihood of crises and build confidence among conflicting parties.

Objectives of Confidence-Building Measures

Limiting or reducing the level of fear among parties in conflict is essential for building confidence and a sense of security. Confidence-building measures (CBMs) aim to lessen anxiety and suspicion by making the parties' behavior more predictable.

CBMs are agreements between two or more parties regarding exchanges of information and verification, typically with respect to the use of military forces and armaments. Some measures attempt to make military capabilities more transparent and to clarify the intention of military and political activities. Others establish rules regarding the movement of military forces, as well as mechanisms for verifying compliance with such rules.[1] Such agreements are meant to build trust among the conflicting parties and limit escalation. While a single CBM is unlikely to prevent conflict or contribute to peacebuilding, a series of such agreements can allow for an increased sense of security. In time, such measures may even lead to changed understanding of a country's security needs.[2]

Some common CBMs are agreements meant to give each party assurance that the other is not preparing for surprise military action or pursuing policies associated with such future action. Such agreements provide a way to avoid misunderstandings about ambiguous events or perceived threats, and play an important role in instilling a sense of stability and security. Mutual confidence is crucial to reducing the likelihood of violent confrontations. In addition, such measures can allow for new institutional arrangements that pave the way for more peaceful relations.

Finally, confidence-building measures can be crucial tools in preventive diplomacy. Parties who mutually recognize existing boundaries and work together to build confidence are far less likely to enter into deadly conflict.

CBMs typically rely on tools for maintaining direct and quick communication and monitoring among governments and military forces. Such communication measures include hotlines, regional communication centers to assist parties in crisis management, and regularly scheduled consultations among officials of the armed forces.

These measures can be initiated by individual governments, non-state actors, or third parties such as the U.N., regional organizations, or other states. They are useful in both interstate and intrastate conflict, and are most effective during the early stages of a conflict. However, they can be helpful at any stage of conflict to the extent that they reduce tension and limit any further escalation.

Military and Diplomatic CBMs

Confidence-building measures can be military, diplomatic, cultural, or political. However, military and diplomatic measures are the most commonly used in building confidence among parties involved in protracted conflict.

In the short term, CBMs aim to alter the parties' inaccurate perceptions of each other's motives and to avoid misunderstandings about military actions and policies that might otherwise provoke violent conflict. Over time, CBMs can pave the way for more stable political and diplomatic relations, transform the parties' ideas about their need for security, and even encourage moves to identify shared security needs.[3]

Some CBMs create points of contact and interaction between parties, allowing for greater "openness" with regard to their military capabilities and activities. These information-exchange mechanisms increase transparency, which in turn reduces the risk of violence caused by miscalculation or miscommunication. If parties have extensive knowledge about the activities of the other side, they are unlikely to go to war unnecessarily.

Such efforts to increase transparency often pertain to the size, composition, movements, and use of the parties' respective military forces and armaments. These military and diplomatic CBMs include the systematic exchange of information about military missions and arms buildup, as well as prenotification requirements for military movements, troop exercises, or missile tests.[4] The opportunity for firsthand observation of the other party's equipment or military exercises might also help to increase transparency.

For example, the Helsinki Final Act inaugurated a series of East-West confidence- and security-building measures from 1975 to 1990. These included notification and access agreements for reducing the risk of surprise attacks, increased restraints on military maneuvers, and regulation of dangerous nuclear activities.[5]

Once treaties have been made, there must be mechanisms in place to make parties feel confident that the other side is upholding their side of the agreement. Such verification includes on-site arms inspections and aerial inspections to monitor military deployment. Other measures that might be used are technical monitoring systems placed at or near sites, radar and satellite surveillance systems located outside the monitored country, and monitored checkpoints through which weapons must pass.[6]

Such verification processes bring the parties who have signed a treaty into a cooperative relationship with each other. This can lead to a new sense of mutual trust and increased understanding.[7]

Hotlines and Crisis Control

In addition to prenotification of upcoming military activities or training exercises, parties might build confidence through the use of direct telephone lines between military commanders. Hot lines can help to improve communication between the adversaries and prevent crises. Such communication allows for openness and transparency, both of which are essential to building confidence and trust between parties.

Many countries have implemented programs for increased communication. For example, in 1991, North and South Korea adopted hot lines and made agreements for prior notification of military maneuvers. In that same year, India and Pakistan reratified an agreement for a communications hot line between military troop commanders.[8]

William Ury has advocated a joint crisis-control center where trained staff from each nation would communicate by telephone, computer, or face-to-face, and would work together to forestall or monitor crises.[9] These diplomatic and military officers would exchange and clarify information, and would have the opportunity to question the authenticity of the data presented by the other side. Such a center could clarify the meaning of suspicious events, coincidences, or military movements. It could also allow parties from each side to engage in dialogue and get to know each other. Finally, it could serve as a powerful symbol that the parties are cooperating with each other and could ease public hysteria in times of crisis. The joint crisis-control center is based on the idea that as the conflict escalates, communication between the involved parties must also "escalate."[10] Such communication helps to provide reassurance and avoid dangerous misunderstandings.

Parties can also develop emergency safety procedures to reduce uncertainty about what to do in crisis situations. Agreed-upon procedures for handling accidental air intrusions, ground intrusions, and incidents at sea can help to keep situations from escalating out of control.

Through "hands off holsters" actions, parties can make it clear to each other that they are not positioning themselves to strike.[11] For example, they can refrain from raising their level of alert or from taking direct military action. In addition, each side can exchange lists of what they perceive to be threatening activities. This enables each side to better understand what actions the other side finds particularly frightening. They can then avoid those actions, or explain what they are doing in a way that reduces fear.

Gradual Reduction in Tension (GRIT)

Confidence building measures can also aid in de-escalation. Gradual Reduction in Tension (GRIT), a term coined by Charles Osgood, refers to those strategies whereby mutual tension and fear can be interrupted and the de-escalation process begun through conciliatory moves. One of the parties announces and initiates a series of small cooperative moves, and invites the other side to reciprocate. These moves are continued whether or not there is immediate reciprocity.[12] If the opponent does respond positively, the first party can make a second concession, which sets a "peace spiral" in motion. If the first initiative is ignored, on the other hand, it can be followed by a second or even a third attempt. These concessions should be designed to build trust and indicate a willingness to cooperate, but should not be terribly costly. These disarming moves can allow for a step-by-step process of conflict de-escalation.

Anwar Sadat's trip to Jerusalem in 1977 is an example of confidence building through GRIT. Before his trip, hostility and suspicion between Egypt and Israel was very high, and several wars had already occurred. Sadat announced that he wanted to visit Jerusalem to increase trust and to diminish tensions between the two nations.While this conciliatory move cost him very little, it greatly improved his image and helped to reduce tensions between the two countries. It also helped pave the way for the historic Camp David Accords a year later.[13]

Cultural and Political CBMs

Cultural and political CBMs can help to promote stability and inspire confidence in the established government. This is especially important in the context of intrastate conflict or civil war.

Cultural CBMs aim to demonstrate a government's sensitivity to local cultures and show respect for traditional authorities. Such measures might include refraining from repressive laws on language or religion, allowing traditional authorities some role in local affairs, and demonstrating respect for local practices.[14]

Political CBMs build confidence in the political system through such measures as power sharing, electoral reform, and power decentralization. Such democratization methods foster political inclusion and allow for political exchange and learning among parties in conflict.

[1] "Confidence-Building Measures in South Asia " The Henry L. Stimson Center. [on-line] available at:, accessed on January 30, 2002.

[2] "Military Measures: Confidence and Security-Building Measures (CSBMs)" Creative Associates International, Inc. [on-line] available at:, accessed on January 30, 2003.

[3] "Military Measures: Confidence and Security-Building Measures (CSBMs)" Creative Associates International, Inc. [on-line] available at:, accessed on January 30, 2003.

[4] "Confidence-Building Measures in South Asia " The Henry L. Stimson Center. [on-line] available at:, accessed on January 30, 2003.

[5] "Military Measures: Confidence and Security-Building Measures (CSBMs)"

[6] James Brown, "Introduction," in Verification: The Key to Arms Control in the 1990s. eds. John G. Tover, James Brown, and William K. Cheek. (Washington: Brasseys US, Inc., 1992), xvii.

[7] Brown, xix.

[8] "Military Measures: Confidence and Security-Building Measures (CSBMs)"

[9] William Ury, Beyond the Hotline (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1985), 59.

[10] Ury, 82.

[11] Ury, 81.

[12] Louis Kriesberg, Constructive Conflicts: From Escalation to Resolution. (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998), 211.

[13] "Step-by-Step De-escalation (GRIT)" International Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict. [on-line] available at:, accessed on January 30, 2003.

[14] "Military Measures: Confidence and Security-Building Measures (CSBMs)"


Use the following to cite this article:
Maiese, Michelle. "Confidence-Building Measures." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: September 2003 <>.

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