As one of the speakers on the opening panel at this workshop organised by the Vienna office of the International Peace Institute, I gave an overview on confidence-building measures at elite level.

Starting with the observation that confidence-building measures (CBMs) have the objective to prevent, manage and resolve crises that are likely to escalate into violent conflicts between states or between states and non-state actors, I emphasised that for them to be effective, they require transparent and verifiable actions by the immediate conflict parties in order to establish more predictable, mutually assuring patterns of behaviour. CBMs can thus be unilateral, bilateral or multilateral depending on the nature of the conflict. They are often facilitated and supported by third parties, including regional and international governmental and non-governmental organisations. CBMs can be military, diplomatic, political, or cultural in their nature and they can be applied equally in conflicts between, across, and within states.

Understanding the utility of CBMs requires considering that their purpose changes over time in a conflict cycle. In the short term, they aim to arrest an escalating crisis before the outbreak of major violence or to stabilise an immediate post-ceasefire situation. In the medium term, CBMs are meant to increase contact and trust between conflict parties and socialise them into a new approach to addressing their dispute. In the long term, they can play a crucial role in paving the way to, and sustaining, a meaningful conflict settlement.

Following a wide of range of illustrations of these general points, my talk concluded noting that confidence-building is an essential element of any sustainable conflict settlement process. It often requires a leap of faith to take the first step and equally to reciprocate. International, third-party efforts can facilitate and support CBMs, but they do require skilled, determined, and visionary leadership on the part of the immediate conflict parties: skills to know and understand the domestic and international constraints under which an opposing leader is operating, determination to persevere through the inevitable setbacks, and vision to inspire political support at home and abroad for a sustainable settlement.