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A Review of U.S.-USSR Confidence-Building Measures During the Cold War


Ge Jun, a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) officer and researcher, argues that as U.S.-China tensions worsen, Beijing should pursue confidence-building measures (CBMs) with the United States to improve its security environment. Ge draws on CBMs conducted by the United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War to suggest how the effectiveness of such efforts can be maximized, highlighting the importance of private communication channels, ensuring concessions are roughly equivalent, and first exploring other areas of cooperation to build up strategic trust.

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The concept of “confidence-building measures” can be traced back to 1913 in Europe, when the practice of inviting observers from different countries to observe one’s own military exercises and training emerged. In the 1920s, a Norwegian strategic analyst defined this as a tool for “communicating credible evidence to prove that the feared threat does not exist.”1 In 1973, at the preparatory meeting of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in Helsinki, the term “confidence-building measures” (CBMs) was proposed by Belgium and Italy and included in the Helsinki Final Act, named Document on Confidence-Building Measures and Certain Aspects of Security and Disarmament.2 Generally speaking, CBMs can be understood in a broad sense and in a narrow sense. In a broad sense, CBMs mainly refer to a series of arrangements aimed at delaying an arms race, reducing hidden dangers of conflict, and weakening suspicion at all levels among countries through the establishment of institutionalized exchanges and information exchanges in the economic, political, diplomatic, and military fields and comprehensive and multi-field positive interactions among the government, business communities, academic communities, and the public. In a narrow sense, CBMs mainly refer to all formal or informal unilateral, bilateral, or multilateral military and political measures adopted among countries to build trust in the military and security fields and with the aim of preventing and resolving uncertainties among countries.3

“建立信任措施”概念最早可追溯到1913 年的欧洲,当时出现了邀请不同国家观察员观摩本国军事演习和训练的做法。20世纪20 年代,一位挪威战略分析家将其定义为“传达可靠证据以证明不存在所担心的威胁”的工具。1973 年赫尔辛基欧安会预备会上,“建立信任措施”( Confidence-Building Measures,简称CBMs) 一词由比利时和意大利两国提出,并列入《赫尔辛基最终议定书》中,定名为《建立信任暨特定层面安全与裁军文件》(Document on Confidence-Building Measures and Certain Aspects of Security and Disarmament )。总的来说,建立信任措施存在广义与狭义两个方面的内容。其中,广义的建立信任措施主要指通过经济、政治、外交、军事领域的机制化交流与信息沟通,在政府、商界、学界和民众间建立全方位、多领域的良性互动,以延缓军备竞赛、减少冲突隐患、削弱国家间各个层面的猜忌为根本目标的一系列安排措施。狭义的建立信任措施主要指国家间在军事领域与安全领域建立信任所采取的所有正规的或非正规的致力于防止、解决国家间不确定因素的单边的、双边的或多边的军事和政治措施。

I. Background to US-USSR CBMs


During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union signed a number of agreements covering the military, political, economic, and other fields. These agreements constituted the framework of CBMs between the United States and the Soviet Union. US-USSR CBMs had a specific strategic background, which can be summarized in the following four aspects.


(i) Changing Balance of Power between the U.S. and USSR

(一) 美苏力量对比发生变化

During this period, the United States was mired in the quagmire of the Vietnam War, and it carried heavy political, economic, and diplomatic burdens. The hegemony of the United States and its role as the world’s police force was under serious challenge. Specifically, the relative decline of U.S. power was manifested in three aspects: weakening economic hegemony, decline in political hegemony, and loss of nuclear monopoly. The weakening of U.S. economic hegemony was mainly reflected in the dollar crisis and the continuous concessions made by the United States in several rounds of GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) negotiations. More importantly, the dominance of the U.S. dollar in the world had been shaken. The decline of U.S. political hegemony was mainly reflected in the fact that the unquestioned leadership of the United States in the Western world was broken, and its aggressive policies and power politics were often strongly condemned by socialist and developing countries. The loss of the U.S. nuclear monopoly was reflected in the successive acquisition of nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China, and especially the rapid development of Soviet nuclear weapons, which caused the United States to lose the nuclear advantage it had enjoyed in the early days of the Cold War.

这一时期,美国陷入越战泥潭,在政治上、经济上和外交上背上了沉重包袱。美国的霸主地位和世界警察作用受到严重挑战。具体来说,美国力量的相对下降体现为经济霸主地位削弱、政治霸主地位下降、核垄断地位丧失三个方面。美国经济霸主地位削弱主要体现为美元危机和关贸总协定的几轮谈判中美国不断做出让步,更为重要的是美元在世界上的统治地位发生了动摇; 美国政治霸主地位下降主要体现为美国在西方世界说一不二的局面已被打破,而其推行的侵略政策和强权政治更是经常遭到社会主义和发展中国家的强烈谴责; 美国核垄断地位丧失体现为苏联、英国、法国和中国先后拥有核武器,尤其是苏联核武器发展迅速,使美国丧失了冷战初期的核优势。

Compared with the United States, the strength of the Soviet Union had developed rapidly, which had enhanced its confidence in seeking status as a world power. Specifically, the development of Soviet power was mainly reflected in three aspects: rapid economic growth, a substantial increase in military strength, and expansion of international influence. In terms of the economy, from 1951 to 1971, the average annual growth rate of the Soviet Union’s national income, industrial output value, and agricultural output value all surpassed those of the United States, and its output of dozens of industrial products approached or exceeded that of the United States, ranking first in the world. In terms of the military, Brezhnev invested substantial manpower, material, and financial resources in the construction of armaments, especially the fastest possible development of nuclear weapons, and won an advantage in the strategic balance of power over the United States. In terms of politics, the Soviet Union held frequent international activities and launched fierce diplomatic offensives, which won it a certain international reputation and expanded its international influence.

相对美国而言,苏联的实力得到了较快发展,增强了其谋求世界大国地位的信心。具体来说,苏联力量的发展主要体现为经济快速增长、军事实力大幅增强、国际影响扩大三个方面。经济方面,1951~1971 年间,苏联国民收入、工业产值和农业产值的年均增长都超过了美国,几十种工业产品的产量接近或超过美国而居世界首位。军事方面,勃列日涅夫把大量人力、物力和财力投入军备建设,尤其是核武器发展最为迅速,赢得了对美战略均势。政治方面,苏联国际活动频繁,外交攻势猛烈,赢得了一定的国际声誉,扩大了国际影响。

Generally speaking, at this stage, the balance of power between the United States and the Soviet Union had undergone changes in terms of the economy, politics, and military affairs. Especially in the military field, a strategic equilibrium between the United States and the Soviet Union had been formed.


(ii) Deeper Understanding of Nuclear Weapons on the Part of the U.S. and USSR

(二) 美苏对核武器的认识逐步加深

In the early days of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union rapidly developed strategic nuclear weapons. Especially after Eisenhower’s “massive retaliation strategy” was introduced, the United States and the Soviet Union fell into an unhinged nuclear arms race. In the 1960s, both sides possessed massive nuclear arsenals, which consumed large amounts of human, material, and financial resources, while also creating a tense situation in the world. With the escalation of the US-USSR nuclear arms race, the danger of a nuclear war was constantly increasing. Especially after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the leaders of the two countries came to the profound realization that, in the nuclear age, in the event of a full-scale war between the United States and the Soviet Union, the consequences would be unimaginable and could lead to disaster for the entire human race. On this point, the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union reached a consensus, which was the basis for dialogue between the two sides. At the same time, the arms race affected the economies of both sides to varying degrees. In particular, the economic development of the Soviet Union was seriously unbalanced. There is no doubt that the arms race, including the nuclear arms race, cost both sides dearly. In addition, since the 1950s, people all over the world strongly opposed the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and this peace movement continued to swell. As a result, nuclear arms control became a necessity and CBMs became a top priority.

冷战初期,美苏迅速发展战略核武器。尤其是艾森豪威尔“大规模报复战略”出台后,美苏两国陷入了疯狂的核军备竞赛之中。20 世纪60 年代,双方都拥有庞大的核武库,消耗了大量的人力、物力和财力,同时也给世界造成紧张局势。随着美苏核军备竞赛的步步升级,爆发核战争的危险在不断增大。尤其是在古巴导弹危机之后,两国领导人都深刻认识到,在核时代,一旦发生美苏全面战争,其后果不可想象,可能导致整个人类的灾难。在这一点上,美苏两国领导人达成了共识,这是双方开展对话的基础所在。同时,双方的经济都不同程度地受到了军备竞赛的影响,特别是苏联的经济发展出现了严重的失衡。毫无疑问,包括核竞赛在内的军备竞赛使双方都付出了高昂的代价。此外,自20 世纪50 年代以来,世界各国人民也强烈地反对核武器的扩散,和平运动不断高涨。因而,核军备控制成为必要,建立信任措施也成为重中之重。

(iii) Changes in the International System

(三) 国际体系发生变化

In the early days of the Cold War, most of the countries in the world were in the post-war recovery stage. They were mainly striving to build a stable social order and promote national economic development, so their enthusiasm for participating in international affairs was not high. By the 1960s, this situation changed. The national power of Western Europe and Japan was gradually recovering, and they hoped to implement an independent foreign policy. The third world was growing stronger and demanded a greater role in international affairs. In short, the international system at that time already presented a multipolar trend, and the external conditions for the United States and the Soviet Union to formulate strategies were changing. In addition, both the United States and the Soviet Union were affected by disturbances in the external environment. The United States was seriously troubled by the Vietnam War, which was “a nightmare of sudden anguish, thwarted hopes, and disillusionment” for the United States. In order to make up for the economic and political losses caused by the Vietnam War and prevent the country from becoming involved in similar troubles again, the United States decided to moderate its relationship with the Soviet Union and embarked on measures to build confidence with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union suffered persistent problems in the triangular relationship between China, the United States, and the Soviet Union. In the 1970s, Sino-Soviet relations deteriorated and became severely confrontational, while Sino-U.S. relations gradually thawed. In order to reverse its unfavorable position in the triangular relationship, the Soviet Union actively promoted the détente with the United States, thereby accelerating the process of CBM negotiations.

冷战初期,世界各国大都处于战后恢复阶段,主要致力于构建稳定社会秩序,促进国家经济发展,参与国际事务的热情并不高。20 世纪60 年代,此种局面发生了变化。西欧和日本国力逐渐恢复,希望推行独立自主的外交政策; 第三世界发展壮大,要求在国际事务中发挥更大的作用。总之,当时的国际体系已经出现了多极化的趋势,美苏制定战略的外部条件在发生变化。另外,美苏双方也都受到了来自外部环境的困扰。美国主要受越战的严重困扰,对美国来说,这“是一场苦恼发作、希望受挫和幻想破灭的噩梦”。为了弥补越战带来的经济和政治上的损失,避免国家再次卷入类似麻烦之中,美国决定缓和同苏联的关系,着手建立同苏联的信任措施。苏联则在中、美、苏三角关系中饱受困扰。20 世纪70 年代,中苏关系恶化和严重对立,中美接近和两国关系逐渐解冻。苏联为了扭转在三角关系中的不利地位,积极推进同美国的缓和,从而加速了建立信任措施的谈判进程。

(iv) Changing Conceptions of U.S. and USSR Decision-makers

(四) 美苏决策者观念发生变化

The conceptions of decision-makers often influence a country’s foreign policy and national strategy. Changes in the conceptions of decision-makers played an important role in the transition from fierce confrontation to détente between the United States and the Soviet Union, and from mutual criticism to CBMs.


The conceptual change among Soviet policymakers began with Khrushchev’s theory of “peaceful coexistence, peaceful transition, and peaceful competition.” Khrushchev believed it was possible to “achieve peaceful coexistence throughout the period until the social and political problems currently dividing the world are resolved.” 4 Khrushchev believed that a war between the two camps would be devastating, and there would be no winner in the end. Therefore, between peace and devastating war, the Soviet Union should choose peace, and it can only choose peace. Brezhnev inherited this idea and developed it further. He put forward a six-point peace program. The third point was the “prohibition of nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and bacteriological weapons, stopping nuclear tests, convening disarmament agreements among countries with nuclear weapons, and establishing nuclear-free zones” and the fourth point was to “stop the arms race and withdraw foreign military bases.”5 These clarified the goal of CBMs with the United States.


The shift in conception among U.S. policymakers began with Kennedy’s “Strategy of Peace.” The purpose of the “Strategy of Peace” was to use military strength as backing support, emphasize the use of peaceful means to strengthen the status of the Western allies, and conduct “peaceful evolution” with respect to the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. Although this strategy was an evolution of the “containment strategy”, it still had a relatively positive effect. Kennedy believed that through the efforts of the United States and the Soviet Union, they could find some “shared fundamental interests and goals” and should therefore “concentrate on those issues where agreement can be reached.” According to Kennedy, these “sprouts of common interest” were reflected in: escaping the heavy burden imposed by the arms race; neither side wanting a nuclear war; monopoly of nuclear weapons, not wanting too many countries to master nuclear weapons and have the ability to launch nuclear war; trying to develop their own economies and achieve more scientific achievements. 6 This view was inherited and carried forward by Nixon. In his speech at the 25th session of the UN General Assembly, he stated: “Détente is an agreement between nations with different interests. It does not mean that the United States and the Soviet Union have reached an agreement on all issues, but that although the two countries have differences on most issues, they want to reach an agreement on some issues and do not want to fight over any issue.” [Translator’s note: Many of the quotes of U.S. and Soviet leaders used in this article seem to be condensations or summaries rather than literal translations of actual speeches.]

美国决策者的观念转变始于肯尼迪的“和平战略”。“和平战略”的目的是以军事实力为后盾,强调用和平的方式加强西方盟国的地位,对苏联等社会主义国家实行“和平演变”。尽管这一战略是“遏制战略”的演变,但仍具有较为积极的作用。肯尼迪认为,美苏之间通过努力,可以找到某些“共有的基本利益和目标”,因此应该“集中力量,解决那些可能达成协议的问题”。肯尼迪认为,这些“共同利益的幼芽”反映在: 摆脱军备竞赛所造成的沉重负担; 双方均不希望爆发核战争; 垄断核武器,不希望太多的国家掌握核武器和具备发动核战争的能力; 力图发展自己的经济和取得更多的科学成就等。这种观点被尼克松继承并得以发扬,他在第二十五届联大的讲话中提出: “缓和是利益各异的国家间的协议,并不意味着美苏在所有问题上都达成了协议,而是意味着虽然两国在大多数问题上存在着分歧,但美苏想就一些问题达成协议,不想为任何问题而打仗。”

II. Main Content of U.S.-USSR CBMs


During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union issued numerous declarations and statements and signed many treaties and agreements. According to their purposes and functions, they can be divided into the following two main categories.


(i) Crisis Management and Control Measures

(一) 危机管控型措施

CBMs intended to regulate the behavior of both parties so as to effectively respond to and control crises and prevent the two countries from escalating the crises to a level that would result in an outbreak of war between them can be called crisis management and control CBMs.


During the Cold War period, the United States and the Soviet Union competed fiercely and regarded each other as rivals. They had conflicts and contradictions in many regions, and international crises such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, Berlin Crisis, and Cienfuegos Crisis broke out. After the 1960s, the US-USSR maritime crises occurred frequently, such as ship collisions, interceptions, close-range maneuvering, simulated attacks on opposing ships and aircraft with guns and missiles, and low-altitude and close-distance flights over ships. The degree of danger was soul-stirring. In order to effectively deal with the above crisis, on June 20, 1963, the two countries signed the Memorandum of Understanding between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Regarding the Establishment of a Direct Communications Link (the “Hotline Agreement”) in Geneva, which became the first CBM agreement. The two sides then communicated directly by radio and telephone, ensuring that the leaders of the two countries remained in contact during a crisis.

冷战时期,美苏两国间竞争激烈,互视对方为竞争对手,在多个地区有冲突和矛盾,爆发了古巴导弹危机、柏林危机、西恩富戈斯危机等国际危机。20 世纪60 年代后,美苏海上危机事件频发,如舰艇撞击、阻拦、近距离机动、用枪炮导弹模拟攻击对方舰船和飞机,以及在舰艇上空做低空近距飞行等,危险程度惊心动魄。为了有效应对上述危机,1963 年6 月20 日,两国在日内瓦签署《美苏关于设立直接通信联系谅解备忘录》( 简称“热线协定”) ,成为第一个建立信任措施协定。之后双方通过直接的无线电和电话联系,确保了两国领导人在危机期间保持联系。

On May 25, 1972, the U.S. and Soviet navies signed the Agreement Between the Government of The United States of America and the Government of The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas. This agreement strictly restricted all military activities of the two sides on the surface of international waters and in the air above international waters and laid out specific regulations. At the same time, it clarified that the two sides should notify each other in advance of their intentions to engage in activities such as naval exercises.

1972 年5 月25 日,美苏海军签署了《美苏关于防止公海及其上空事件的协定》。协定对双方在公海水面和公海上空的一切军事活动进行了严格限制,并做出了具体规定,同时还明确双方应提前相互通告海军演习等活动的意图。

On September 15, 1987, in order to prevent accidental nuclear wars, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Agreement on the Establishment of Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers in Washington, agreeing to establish “nuclear risk reduction centers” in the capitals of the two countries to monitor, report, and prevent accidental nuclear wars, and to hold regular meetings every year for mutual coordination.

1987 年9 月15 日,为了防范偶发性核战争,美苏在华盛顿签署了《关于建立减少核危险中心的协定》,约定在两国首都各自建立“减少核危险中心”,专门监视、通报和防止偶发性核战争,并每年召开定期会议进行彼此协调。

In 1989, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Agreement on the Prevention of Dangerous Military Activities in Moscow. On the basis of the 1972 agreement, this agreement clarified four types of “dangerous military activities” that needed to be prevented, specifically the entry of the personnel and equipment of one party’s armed forces into the territory of the other party due to force majeure or unintentional acts; the use of lasers; obstructing the movement of personnel and equipment of the armed forces of the other side in a “zone of special caution”; and interference with command and control networks. At the same time, procedures for communication and entry into each other’s territory were established.

1989 年,美苏又在莫斯科签署《关于防止危险军事活动的协定》,在1972 年协定基础上,明确了需着重防止的四类“危险军事活动”,即一方武装部队的人员和装备因不可抗力或非故意行为进入另一方领土;使用激光; 在“特别谨慎区”妨碍另一方武装部队人员和装备的活动; 干扰指挥和控制网络。同时建立了通信联络和进入对方领土的处置程序。

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the United States urged the 27 member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to sign the Treaty on Open Skies in Helsinki in 1992. The treaty stipulated that, in principle, the signatory countries can carry out aerial reconnaissance of each other once a year. After any one of the contracting parties completes the reconnaissance mission, the information obtained from the reconnaissance shall be shared among the countries that signed the treaty.

苏联解体后,美国于1992 年促成欧洲安全与合作组织27 个成员国在赫尔辛基签署了《开放天空条约》。该条约规定,签约国之间原则上每年可对对方实施一次空中侦察。缔约国中的任何一方在完成侦察任务后,都应当将侦察所获信息在条约签约国内共享。

Crisis management and control CBMs mainly rely on transparent means and restrictive means to achieve the purpose of managing crises and avoiding conflicts by increasing the military transparency of both sides and limiting the extreme behaviors of both sides. For example, the Treaty on Open Skies mainly served to increase the military transparency of the two sides, while the Agreement on the Prevention of Dangerous Military Activities aimed to regulate the behaviors of both sides. The United States and the Soviet Union were well aware that direct conflict could escalate into an uncontrollable nuclear war at any time. The greatest significance of crisis management and control CBMs is that they could effectively avoid direct conflicts between the United States and the Soviet Union and effectively reduce the probability and intensity of crises. For example, after the signing of the Agreement Between the Government of The United States of America and the Government of The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas, the frequency and intensity of US-USSR maritime emergencies were significantly reduced and the situation in international waters improved significantly.


(ii) Arms Control and Disarmament Measures

(二) 军备控制和裁军型措施

In the late 1960s, the United States implemented a strategic contraction to reduce the pressure from military spending. After the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the Soviet Union tried to ease the intense pressure it was under from confrontation with the United States. The two sides began to seek to limit the strategic arms race within a certain range on the premise of restraining the other party without compromising their own strategic positions. In order to achieve the above goals, the United States and the Soviet Union reached an agreement on a large number of arms control CBMs. On May 20, 1972, the two countries reached two agreements, namely the Interim Agreement on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms and Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, collectively referred to as the First Round of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I). This stipulated that the land-based ballistic missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and guided-missile submarines of both sides would be frozen at their actual levels as of July 1, 1972, and the number and deployment of anti-ballistic missiles would be restricted. To conclude a “permanent treaty,” the United States and the Soviet Union continued to carry out a second round of negotiations. On June 18, 1979, they signed the Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, also known as SALT II. It stipulated the total quotas of strategic weapons for both sides and limited the heavy missiles of both sides, the Soviet “Backfire” bombers, and U.S. cruise missiles. On July 31, 1991, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, also known as START I in Moscow. This treaty set limits on the number of intercontinental missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and strategic nuclear warheads for both sides and stipulated a series of restrictions and verification measures. In addition, on December 8, 1987, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Elimination of Their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty). This required both parties to stop producing and testing medium- and short-range missiles after the treaty took effect, destroy all medium- and short-range missiles (with a range of 500 to 1,000 km) and their launch devices and auxiliary facilities within 18 months, and destroy all medium-range missiles (with a range of 1,000 to 5,500 km) and their launch devices and auxiliary facilities within 3 years.7

20 世纪60 年代后期,美国进行战略收缩以减轻军费压力。1962 年古巴导弹危机后,苏联试图缓解与美国对抗带来的巨大压力。双方开始谋求在约束对方,同时又不损害自身战略地位的前提下,就一定范围内有限度地控制战略武器竞赛。为了实现上述目的,美苏双方达成了大量军控型建立信任措施的协定。1972年5月20 两国达成两项协议,即《美苏关于限制进攻性战略武器的某些措施的临时协定》和《美苏关于限制反弹道导弹系统条约》,合称为《美苏第一阶段限制战略武器条约》。规定将双方的陆基弹道导弹、潜射导弹和导弹核潜艇冻结在1972 年7 月1 日实有水平上,对反弹道导弹数量及部署进行限定。为达成“永久性条约”,美苏又继续展开第二阶段谈判,于1979年6月18日在奥地利签订《美苏关于限制进攻性战略武器条约》,也称《第二阶段限制进攻性战略武器条约》。规定双方战略武器的总限额,并对双方的重型导弹、苏方“逆火”式轰炸机和美方巡航导弹进行限制。1991 年7 月31 日,美苏在莫斯科签订《美苏关于削减和限制进攻性战略武器条约》,又称《第一阶段削减战略武器条约》。对双方洲际导弹、潜射导弹、战略核弹头数量制定限额,并规定了一系列限制及核查措施。此外,美苏还于1987年12月8日签订了《美苏销毁中程与中短程导弹条约》,要求双方在条约生效后均不再生产、试验中程导弹和中短程导弹,18 个月内全部销毁中短程导弹( 射程500~1000 千米)及其发射装置和辅助设施,3 年内全部销毁所拥有的中程导弹( 射程1000~5500 千米) 及其发射装置和辅助措施。

In addition to the above-mentioned agreements, the United States and the Soviet Union also concluded the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Treaty on the Limitation of Underground Nuclear Weapon Tests, Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty, Helsinki Final Act, Outer Space Treaty, Biological Weapons Convention, Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, and other agreements.


Arms control CBMs include methods such as declarations, communications, transparency, restrictions, and verifications, relying mainly on restriction and verification methods. For example, the two rounds of SALT included content such as limits on the number of weapons and specified verification methods.


Arms control CBMs helped the United States and the Soviet Union jointly formulate some reasonable rules for their arms race, control the blind increase in the number of weapons by the two countries, and coordinate the pace of the arms race between the two sides. The two sides adopted arms control CBMs to control the nuclear arms race so that it remained within a certain scope or certain degree. This not only achieved stability in the arms race but also made the two sides fully realize that there was no advantage in carrying out a first strike. As a result, a “nuclear balance of terror” was formed between the United States and the Soviet Union, and the deterrence strategies of both sides were applied to maximum effect. In addition, the United States and the Soviet Union led the establishment of arms control CBMs in Europe, which went a long way toward easing the pressure of the military confrontation and arms race between the two major blocs, the East and the West. In summary, arms control CBMs effectively controlled the direction, scale, and speed of the US-USSR arms race.


III. Experience from US-USSR CBMs


By summarizing the content and functions of US-USSR CBMs and tracing the historical development of US-USSR CBMs, we can obtain the following experience.


(i) Advantages of US-USSR CBMs

(一) 美苏建立信任措施的优点

1. Create a favorable political environment.

1. 营造良好的政治环境。

CBMs mainly restricted and regulated the military and political activities of both parties in the form of signed agreements. They were a kind of inter-state political behavior. Thus, creating a favorable political environment can facilitate CBMs. In the early days of the Cold War, conflicts between the United States and the Soviet Union were fierce, and bilateral relations were poor. Mutual communication between the two sides had basically come to a standstill and CBMs became even more difficult. In the middle of the Cold War, and especially after the 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union successively implemented détente policies, and the communications and contacts between the two sides steadily increased. In the 1970s alone, the United States and the Soviet Union held five summit meetings. In this favorable political environment, CBMs between the United States and the Soviet Union developed rapidly, and the two sides signed a number of important agreements. This period was seen as the golden age in the development of US-USSR relations. In the early 1980s, after Reagan took office, the foreign policy of the United States changed, the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union turned cold, and the political environment deteriorated. CBMs between the United States and the Soviet Union also stagnated. This shows us that the political environment has a strong influence on CBMs. A favorable political environment promotes CBMs, and a poor political environment hinders them.

建立信任措施主要通过签订协议的方式限制并规范双方的军事、政治活动,是一种国家间政治行为。因而,营造良好的政治环境有助于建立信任措施。冷战初期,美苏间矛盾激烈,双边关系恶劣。双方的相互沟通几乎陷于停滞,建立信任措施更是难上加难。冷战中期,尤其是60 年代后,美苏相继实施缓和政策,双方的沟通和联系日益增强,仅20 世纪70 年代,美苏就进行了五次最高级会晤。在这种良好的政治环境下,美苏建立信任措施发展迅速,双方签订多项重要协议,这一段时期也被称为美苏关系发展的黄金时期。20 世纪80 年代初,里根执政后,美国对外政策发生转变,美苏间关系转冷,政治环境有所恶化,美苏建立信任措施也随之出现了停滞。由此可见,政治环境对建立信任措施具有较强的影响力,良好的政治环境促进建立信任措施,恶劣的政治环境则起到阻碍作用。

2. Focus on using private communication channels.

2. 注重运用私下沟通渠道。

CBMs rely on agreements, and the signing of agreements depends on exchanges and communication between the two parties. Information communication is a process of “pressure” and “compromise.” Through effective information transmission, both parties can assess the bottom lines of the other party and determine the interests amenable to compromise and their common interests. This allows them to reach an agreement and achieve the purpose of CBMs. There are two types of communication channels, official and private. The flexible use of private communication channels can effectively promote CBMs. In 1969, at the beginning of the Nixon administration, Henry Kissinger had many private exchanges with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin, which led to the first summit meeting between the two sides. This was a great contribution to the improvement of US-USSR relations and CBMs. Private communication has many advantages. It gives the president full control over the foreign policy of the United States, without interference from other departments. Private communication channels are confidential. During negotiation and consultation through private channels, the president can also win the support of the people through official statements and speeches, thereby eliminating the negative impact of reaching compromises. In short, private channels are more flexible, and both sides in the negotiations can be open and honest without worrying about interference from the outside world. The effective use of private communication channels can facilitate CBMs.

建立信任措施依托于协议,签署协议依赖于双方的交流和沟通。信息沟通是“施压”和“妥协”的过程,通过有效的信息传递,双方可以判断对方的底线,判断双方可能妥协的利益和共同利益,从而达成协议,实现建立信任措施的目的。沟通的渠道有官方和私人两种,灵活运用私人沟通渠道,可以有效促进建立信任措施。1969 年,尼克松执政初期,基辛格与苏联大使多勃雷宁进行了许多私下交流,并促成了美苏双方的首次首脑会晤,对美苏改善关系,建立信任措施做出了很大的贡献。私下沟通具有许多优点,它使得总统能够全权决定美国的外交政策,而避免受到来自其他部门的干扰。私下沟通渠道具有私密性,在通过私下渠道进行谈判磋商的同时,总统还能够通过官方声明和演讲赢取人民的支持,从而消除妥协所带来的负面影响。总之,私下渠道更为灵活,谈判双方可以开诚布公,不必担心来自外界的干扰。有效利用私下沟通渠道,有助于建立信任措施。

3. Adhere to the principle of gradual, step-by-step progress.

3. 遵循循序渐进原则。

CBMs are a kind of negotiated cooperation, and the content and form of cooperation are the results of repeated negotiations and compromises between the countries. Therefore, CBMs are difficult to achieve overnight, and the principle of gradual, step-by-step progress should be followed. In the process of establishing CBMs between the United States and the Soviet Union, the nuclear-related agreements had the distinctive feature of gradual, step-by-step progress. The two sides first took the lead in signing the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which limited the external proliferation of nuclear weapons. After that, the two sides signed SALT I, the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty, and the Treaty on the Limitation of Underground Nuclear Weapon Tests, which restricted the number of weapons, test locations, and test yields through agreements. In the end, the two sides signed the “Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty” and realized the reduction of nuclear weapons. From restriction to reduction, the United States and the Soviet Union went through a long negotiation process. Its effect is also obvious. Since the establishment of nuclear CBMs between the United States and the Soviet Union, the two countries gradually achieved the goal of nuclear arms control.


4. Promote CBMs through cooperation among multiple fields.

4. 通过多领域合作推动建立信任措施。

CBMs are mainly concentrated in the military and security fields and are often related to core national interests such as national security. Therefore, it is difficult for the negotiating parties to make concessions and compromises, which makes it more difficult to sign agreements. When the two sides are stuck in a position where compromise is difficult, cooperation in other fields can promote negotiations in the military and security fields, thereby promoting CBMs between the countries. In 1969, the Soviet Union proposed a summit meeting of top leaders, and the United States responded. In 1970, for reasons such as the Cienfuegos “crisis”, the top-level summit meeting was postponed, and CBMs between the two sides were blocked. At that time, the United States adopted a series of economic and trade measures to facilitate the holding of the top-level summit meeting. At the end of November 1971, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Maurice Stans led a delegation to visit the Soviet Union and signed contracts worth $136 million for grain transactions and $125 million for mining and drilling equipment. In early 1972, the Nixon administration decided to promote economic and trade relations with the Soviet Union, instructing the State Department to study the issue of debt from the Lend-Lease Act and instructing the Department of Agriculture to study the issue of grain exports to the Soviet Union. This round of economic and trade cooperation strengthened the material basis for US-USSR détente and effectively allowed for the first summit meeting between the United States and the Soviet Union since the Cold War, thereby promoting progress in US-USSR CBMs. This example demonstrates that cooperation in economic and other fields was able to promote CBMs between the United States and the Soviet Union focusing on the military and security fields. It was a positive technique.


(ii) Lessons from US-USSR CBMs

(二) 美苏建立信任措施的教训

1. CBMs have limited binding force.

1. 建立信任措施的约束力有限。

At present, the main CBM method is to sign agreements that restrict the behavior of both parties through bilateral or multilateral negotiations. An analysis of the implementation of the agreements by the United States and the Soviet Union shows that the binding force of such agreements is limited. Therefore, CBMs based on agreements have limited binding force. This can be seen in two aspects: First, the text of the agreement can be purposefully distorted. The content of an agreement can be interpreted in many ways. When a country wants to break the constraints of the agreement, it can distort the text to suit its purpose. For example, after Reagan came to power, he formulated a strategic defense plan, which violated the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed by the United States and the Soviet Union. However, American scholars and officials used what they call a “broad interpretation” of the treaty. Then-Secretary of Defense Weinberger said in his memoirs: “The treaty itself provided the means for both parties to take steps beyond the limits of the treaty.”8 Second, it is easy to reduce the effectiveness of a treaty during the implementation process. This shows that there is still opacity and non-cooperation in the process of monitoring the fulfillment of an agreement, which makes it difficult for CBMs to achieve their expected goals. For example, the United States and Russia signed the Treaty on Open Skies to increase military transparency and thereby enhance mutual trust. However, during the implementation process, the United States and Russia schemed against each other. They ordered troops along the reconnaissance route to camouflage in advance of flights and transferred and hid their latest weapons and equipment. As a result, air reconnaissance flights were nicknamed “air inspections.” This greatly reduced the effectiveness of the treaty.

当前,建立信任措施的主要手段是双边或多边通过谈判签订协议,并通过协议内容约束双方行为。通过对美苏履行协约的情况进行分析,可以发现,协约的约束力是有限的。因而依托于协议的建立信任措施约束力有限,具体体现在两个方面: 一是协议的文字内容可被曲解。协议的内容可以通过多种方式解读,当一国想要破除约束时,可以通过文字曲解的方式实现取消束缚的目的。例如里根上台后,制订了战略防御计划,该计划违反了美苏双方签署的《限制反弹道导弹协约》。然而,美国的学者及官员对条约做出了所谓的“广义的解释”。时任国防部长温伯格在回忆录中说: “条约自身就为双方采取突破条约限制的步骤提供了方法。”二是协议的执行过程易打折扣。即在按照协议内容履行监督的过程中仍存在着不透明和不合作,导致建立信任措施难以实现预期目标。例如美俄间签署了《开放天空条约》,以增加军事透明度,从而增强互信。然而,在执行过程中,美俄双方勾心斗角,提前命令侦察路线沿途部队进行伪装,转移并隐藏其最新型武器装备,导致空中侦察被戏称为“空中视察”,使条约的作用大打折扣。

2. CBM should not be excessively compromised.

2. 建立信任措施不应过分妥协。

CBMs are a process of strategic gamesmanship, and certain compromises and concessions are required if the countries are to reach an agreement. However, in the process of compromise, it is necessary to be attentive that the level of concessions is roughly equal on both sides. Countries must never compromise too much for CBMs so that their national interests are damaged.


When Gorbachev was in power, the Soviet Union focused its diplomacy on actively improving and developing relations with the United States. Gorbachev was too keen on US-USSR cooperation and adopted a position and policy of comprehensive concessions and compromises. In order to win the support of the United States, and bowing to the pressure from the United States, Gorbachev made a series of major concessions. These involved four main points: First, the Soviet Union agreed to decouple the reduction of strategic offensive weapons from the strategic defense plan of the United States. Second, the Soviet Union withdrew completely from Europe. Third, the Soviet Union retreated from the third world. Fourth, when Gorbachev handled domestic issues he would first consider how the United States would respond. The four points of compromise above enabled the United States to gain a strategic military advantage over the Soviet Union, which led the United States and other NATO countries to progressively make greater and greater demands. Gorbachev’s excessive concessions weakened the Soviet Union’s status as a superpower.

戈尔巴乔夫执政时期,苏联把外交的主攻方面放在积极改善和发展同美国的关系上。戈尔巴乔夫过分热衷于苏美合作,采取全面退让与妥协的立场和政策。为了赢得美国的支持,屈服于美国的压力,戈尔巴乔夫做出了一系列重大让步。主要包括四点: 一是苏联同意将削减进攻性战略武器与美国的战略防御计划脱钩; 二是苏联从欧洲全面撤离; 三是苏联在第三世界的撤退; 四是戈尔巴乔夫在处理国内问题时首先考虑的是美国做出何种反应。以上四点妥协使美国对苏取得了军事战略优势,导致美国等北约国家得寸进尺,要价越来越高。戈尔巴乔夫的过分退让削弱了苏联作为一个超级大国的地位。

In recent years, as U.S. strategy has shifted east, the potential for conflicts between China and the United States in the Asia-Pacific region has increased. Although both sides emphasize mutually beneficial cooperation and that they do not want conflict with each other, they both regard each other as the main target for war preparations. Looked at in this way, effective management and control of the relationship between the two sides to avoid the outbreak of a large-scale military conflict is a top priority and always has a certain significance. Learning from the experience of CBMs between the United States and the Soviet Union and realizing the continuous development of CBMs between China and the United States in both depth and breadth is an effective way to improve China’s security environment.


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Cite This Page

葛君 (Ge Jun) (2023). "A Review of U.S.-USSR Confidence-Building Measures During the Cold War [冷战时期美苏建立信任措施实践述评]". Interpret: China, Original work published February 20, 2016, https://interpret.csis.org/translations/a-review-of-u-s-ussr-confidence-building-measures-during-the-cold-war/

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