Confidence-Building for Peace Formalized in the Mid-1970's, Confidence-Building Measures Involve Nations Sharing Military Information. the Measures Have Gained in Importance Worldwide since the Cold War's End

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ALMOST unnoticed outside military circles, United States military aircraft have helped keep the peace for two decades along one of the tensest borders in the world.

Part of an operation dubbed "Olive Harvest," the high-tech, low-profile reconnaissance flights have monitored implementation of a 1974 disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria, providing information impartially to each about the size and movement of the other's forces. Part of a wider UN peacekeeping operation, the flights have helped the two old adversaries maintain a remarkable incident-free peace.

Though not known as such when they were begun, the overflights are part of a lengthening list of "confidence-building measures" (CBMs) that have come to play an increasingly important role in cooling tensions in trouble spots around the world.

Ranging from information exchanges on troop movements to "hot lines" between political leaders, CBMs helped keep the cold war from turning hot. Forced by the end of the cold war to find solutions on their own, nations are learning that CBMs can be an essential first step in resolving regional disputes.

"During the cold war it was easier for adversaries to rely on powerful patrons than to resolve regional security issues," says Michael Krepon, president of the Henry L. Stimson Center, a foreign-policy research institute in Washington. "Now that they're on their own they're turning increasingly to CBMs to reduce tensions in their regions." Promising diplomatic tool

"The 1990s will be the decade of confidence-building measures," Mr. Krepon predicts. "It's the wave of the future."

One of the most promising diplomatic tools of the post-cold-war era, CBMs pre-date World War I, when European nations invited foreign observers to witness military exercises.

The first systematic use of CBMs dates to the mid-1970s when massive armies, poised on a hair trigger, stared at each other from opposite sides of the Iron Curtain.

In Helsinki, in 1975, the Western nations and the then-Soviet-bloc nations agreed to a series of rudimentary measures, including prior notification of large military exercises, that set the precedent for military cooperation.

Eleven years later, in Stockholm, they carried CBMs a step further by calling for obligatory on-site inspections and exchanges of information on military activities to reduce the risks of accidental war or surprise attack.

A third stage in the evolution of CBMs in the context of East-West relations was reached in Vienna in 1990, when the European nations agreed to exchange detailed information of military forces, weapons deployments, and military budgets. The effect has been to regularize and deepen patterns of cooperation.

These measures did not end the cold war, but they did help create an atmosphere of trust that made it easier for superpower negotiators to agree on dramatic cuts in nuclear and conventional arms once the Soviet Union collapsed.

"There has been a widespread recognition that these measures helped pave the way for the breakthroughs in East-West arms-control negotiations," Krepon says.

Designed mainly to preclude inadvertent conflict and to keep lines of communication open during times of bellicose rhetoric, Europe's success with CBMs is being emulated by other states with cool or non-existent relations. India and Pakistan as examples

Mired in a nuclear arms race and conflicting claims to the border state of Kashmir, India and Pakistan, for example, have instituted regular meetings between their foreign secretaries, agreed to notify each other of aerial border incursions, instituted hot lines between military commanders, and initiated joint patrols along the borders of Punjab and Rajasthan.

The pattern of consultation now even includes regular dialogues between Indian and Pakistani journalists, businessmen, and scholars. …