The trust spectrum: options and prospects in arms control

Heather Williams (KCL)




Traditional studies on trust, particularly those based on Prisoner’s Dilemma, portray trust as a binary situation, in which trust is either present or absent. In practice, however, trust is a three-dimensional spectrum with different levels of opportunity depending on a variety of factors. Geopolitics and bilateral relations, often conceptualized in the realist framework of “national interests,” make up the first set of variables. Second, domestic politics, such as election cycle or available resources, provide a second level of analysis. And finally, an important but rarely posed contextual question is, “What is State A trusting State B to do?” The specifics of an agreement or circumstance determine where on the trust spectrum a relationship exists.

While this spectrum is applicable across international relations and security issues, trust is particularly relevant in interstate cooperation, specifically bilateral arms control. This presentation will apply the trust spectrum and framework to compare trust in the 1991 President Nuclear Initiatives and the START Treaty. These cases offer a unique opportunity to isolate trust factors because the agreements themselves vary greatly in terms of verification and formality, but were concluded in quick succession.

Ms. Heather Williams

Heather Williams is a third-year PhD candidate in the Department of War Studies at King's College London. Her thesis is on "The Legacy of 'Trust but Verify' in U.S.-Russia Arms Control" and is a comparative study of the role of trust in the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives, START, Moscow Treaty, and New START. Heather also conducts research for the Centre for Science and Security Studies at King's College London and the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) in Alexandria, Virginia. Prior to starting at King's, Heather worked at IDA and in the U.S. Department of Defense on various issues related to strategic stability, including North Korean nuclear testing, U.S. extended deterrence in Northeast Asia, and regional reactions to Iran's nuclear activity. She has a B.A. in International Relations and Russian Studies from Boston University and an M.A. in Security Policy Studies from The George Washington University.