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Welcome Aboard. Pacific Ocean—Commander, Carrier Strike Group Five Rear Adm. James D. Kelly describes flight operations to Japanese Navy Rear Adm. Isamu Ozawa, a distinguished visitor on board the conventionally powered aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk. Military exchanges like this serve as confidence-building measures.
Welcome Aboard. Pacific Ocean—Commander, Carrier Strike Group Five Rear Adm. James D. Kelly describes flight operations to Japanese Navy Rear Adm. Isamu Ozawa, a distinguished visitor on board the conventionally powered aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk. Military exchanges like this serve as confidence-building measures.
(US Navy photo by Airman Jimmy C. Pan)
Port of Call. Chinese sailors man the rails aboard the destroyer Qingdao as they arrive in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 2006. Military exchanges like this go a long way toward building trust between nations. Known as confidence- and security-building measures, such activities can alleviate specific friction points and contribute to a stable and sustainable peace among the Asia-Pacific community.
Port of Call. Chinese sailors man the rails aboard the destroyer Qingdao as they arrive in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 2006. Military exchanges like this go a long way toward building trust between nations. Known as confidence- and security-building measures, such activities can alleviate specific friction points and contribute to a stable and sustainable peace among the Asia-Pacific community.
(US Navy photo by Joe Kane)
Asia-Pacific
Pacifying the Pacific
Confidence- and security-building measures can foster stable, productive relations between the United States, China, and Japan

The continuing security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region is largely contingent on enhanced cooperation between the region’s three dominant powers: China, Japan, and the United States.

While in many respects the United States, China, and Japan have enjoyed a reasonably stable regional system in recent years, it is equally true that shifting power dynamics in the region have created a situation that is highly ­fluid and remains vulnerable to pressure for confrontation and possibly conflict. There is a need to address the new and changing realities of the Asia-Pacific region.

While creating strong and capable regional architecture that can accommodate the interests of the major powers of the region is a laudable long-term goal, it is unlikely to transpire soon. Absent such an institutional “shock absorber”—and with the close operating proximity of the US, Japanese, and Chinese militaries in the region—the need for increased confidence- and security-building measures (CSBMs) is compelling. CSBMs can alleviate specific tensions, misunderstandings, and friction points in relations. As such, they would contribute to a stable, pacific, and sustainable Asia-Pacific community.

Fostering confidence—and reducing misperceptions in the military field as well as historical, cultural, and political issues—is a key objective and necessary building block for achieving peaceful, stable, and cooperative regional relations.

The Role of CSBMs
The definition of CSBMs
varies from the traditional narrow focus on operational military activities to a broader interpretation which encompasses an array of political, diplomatic, military, and even economic action that builds confidence and trust between the participating countries. Setting up crisis communication “hot-lines,” for example, or sharing data on military capabilities are classic examples of CSBMs. Confidence building is most frequently seen in the process of communication between governments, and can be furthered by both formal and informal measures that address, prevent, or resolve uncertainties on political, military, and other issues. Such measures can reduce the possibility of accidental, incidental, or inadvertent war as well as managing problems that might otherwise lead to confrontation.

Moreover, many of the activities embodied by CSBMs contain a strong implied normative framework that is consistent with the sort of multilateral solutions-oriented diplomacy that is at the heart of Stanley Foundation goals and values. CSBMs can play important roles in delegitimizing the use of force to resolve disputes. They can also marginalize and control certain weapons systems. And CSBMs may even support trilateral and multilateral fora designed to reach common decisions and to adjudicate disputes. Buy-in to a CSBM regime may therefore have the appearance of being small, technical, and incidental. However, as the Helsinki experience in Europe in the 1970s and 1980s illustrated, such a regime can contribute to broader and more far-reaching political or diplomatic change.

Workshop Aims to Foster Cooperation
Over the past year, the Stanley Foundation has convened a trilateral workshop with US, Japanese, and Chinese participants to develop a concrete and realistic menu of CSBMs that can be considered by the three countries. If implemented, they would contribute to reducing the dangers of misunderstanding, miscalculation, and conflict, and to the misapprehension of military activities.

There are, of course, areas where significant disagreement between the participants in the project remains. The working group, however, has broad agreement on a basic goal: improving strategic communication and security cooperation between the United States, Japan, and China through a frank and open exchange of ideas to foster receptivity and recognition of the need for confidence building at various levels between the three powers.

Considerable discussion in the working group was devoted to exploring traditional transparency and communication CSBMs. Given the nature of the Asia-Pacific region, naval CSBMs are also being discussed, with ­participants pointing to issues like port visits, strengthened communication channels at sea, exchanging students at naval academies, developing joint exercises, and an Incidents at Sea Agreement as the focus of a robust naval CSBM regime.

Some of the CSBM measures under consideration by the trilateral working group might be proposed in the short term under current conditions. Others might be implemented in a series of steps over a somewhat longer period of time. Still others might require a higher level of cooperation than currently exists. But by creating a mutually reinforcing virtuous cycle of cooperative interactions, progress on the first two levels will help achieve this higher level of cooperation.

A Path to More Productive Relations?
All participants agreed on the rising importance of nontraditional CSBMs in helping to build stable and productive trilateral relations in the region. Although many discussions in this area remain unsettled, some suggested that it’s easier to start CSBMs in nontraditional security areas—cooperation on natural disaster warning and response, for example—and then expand to a trilateral CSBM regime that covers more contentious traditional security issues at a later time.

Lastly, working group participants all acknowledged that domestic politics and policies in the respective countries complicate the ability to coordinate coherent foreign policies. However, this should not produce insurmountable obstacles to the creation of CSBMs.

There are few illusions that CSBMs, in themselves, can create a sustainable and enduring cooperative regional framework and melt away the issues of contention between the United States, China, and Japan. But, during a period of power transition when uncertainty about intentions, misapprehension, or even an accident could spark an unwanted and unintended confrontation, the development of a robust trilateral CSBM regime can also play a key role in stabilizing the region.


— Michael Schiffer
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