Transparency and confidence building

Transparency and Confidence Building Measures help to prevent conflict by providing States with practical tools to exchange information, build trust and reduce tensions at the bilateral, regional or global level. Such measures help reduce excessive or destabilizing accumulations of arms and prevent misperceptions, miscalculation and escalation between States. Ultimately, they contribute to the creation of favourable conditions for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Mandated by the General Assembly, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (ODA) has developed a set of transparency and confidence-building instruments, including the UN report on Military Expenditures, the UN Register for Conventional Arms and the UN Repository of Military Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs). In addition, through Action 23 of the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament, Securing Our Common Future, ODA seeks to advance regional dialogue on military confidence-building.

Military Confidence-Building Measures

Military Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs) are an important tool in the conflict prevention and resolution toolbox. Military CBMs are any unilateral, bilateral or multilateral procedures involving national defence organizations that can include, amongst others, communication and coordination measures, observation and verification measures, cooperation and integration measures, military constraint measures, and training and education measures.

In the short term, CBMs aim to adjust potentially inaccurate perceptions of military-strategic motives between two or more States, to avoid misunderstandings about military actions and policies, and to foster security cooperation and inter-dependency. Over time, these measures contribute to conflict prevention by stabilizing regional and bilateral relations, transforming ideas about national requirements for security, and encouraging steps to jointly identify shared security needs. By enhancing confidence and trust and by improving military stability, military CBMs can facilitate arms limitations and disarmament and promote conducive conditions for sustainable development.

Through a biennial resolution, the General Assembly requests the Secretary-General to engage with interested Member States and regional organizations on developing and advancing military CBMs, strengthening understanding of this topic and providing substantial and procedural advice and assistance. The General Assembly also mandated the establishment of a Repository of military CBMs, containing the most tested and trusted measures.

The United Nations Disarmament Commission in its 2017 Report recommended States to consider a set of practical CBMs in the field of conventional weapons, including the establishment of direct channels of communication, reciprocal appointment of points of contacts, periodic exchange of information and the notification of troop movements and military maneuvers and military constraint measures.

The importance of confidence-building measures to reinforce trust among Member States and the role that regional organizations and frameworks can play in this regard is also recognized in the Secretary-General’s Policy Brief on A New Agenda for Peace.

Furthermore, through Action 23 of the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament, Securing Our Common Future, ODA seeks to advance regional dialogue on military confidence-building.

More on military confidence-building measures.

Practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional arms

In 2017, the United Nations Disarmament Commission adopted consensus recommendations for transmittal to the General Assembly on practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional arms (A/72/42).

The practical confidence-building measures recommended by the 2017 session underscore the importance of disarmament measures for the maintenance and enhancement of regional and international peace and security. The recommendations acknowledge the benefit of confidence-building measures to, inter alia, defusing tensions, promoting cooperation among States, enhancing dialogue and greater transparency and promoting progress in conventional disarmament and arms control. The Commission recommends that States consider measures such as periodic exchange of information and notifications; enhancement of cooperation, including through financial and technical assistance; and support to seminars and workshops that promote transparency, dialogue and awareness-raising.

Transparency Instruments

First established in 1981, the UN Report on Military Expenditures (MilEx) offers a platform for States to share information regarding their annual military expenditure. The Report aims to increase transparency, build confidence and, ultimately, facilitate a reduction of military spending. 

In 1991 the General Assembly created the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms (UNROCA), allowing States to report to the United Nations their arms imports and exports and thereby help determine whether excessive or destabilizing accumulations of arms are taking place. Such openness about armaments may encourage restraint and contribute to early warning and preventative diplomacy.