Much has been written on the development of the personal relationship between President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev and the role that trust played in the reduction of tensions and achievement of cooperation in nuclear arms control between the United States and the Soviet Union post-1985. Whether portraying this dynamic in terms of strategic rational choices or the establishment of personal relationships between the two leaders and their advisors, the idea of trust is often connected to the developments that occurred between the two superpowers during this time. This has been further reinforced by the prominence of the oft-repeated catchphrase of the time ‘trust but verify’, and the many memoirs from contemporary political actors that emphasise these factors. 

This paper challenges this approach to a role for trust during this period, instead analysing its use as a rhetorical tool. Rather than applying the label of ‘trust,' as typical in current research, this paper examines the construct and contexts of the use of trust in diplomatic speech, proposing an inquiry into how and why actors themselves used the label of trust at specific times during this period, with what audience in mind, and for what purpose.

Using archival research from the Reagan Presidential Library, the paper contends that the Reagan administration used ‘trust’ to accomplish certain diplomatic and domestic objectives in the realm of nuclear arms control, and how Reagan’s particular meaning for trust, as linked to ideas of American technology and doctrines of salvation, can be seen as a response to the ambiguities of conducting foreign policy in a nuclear age.

Laura Considine is a Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Leeds. She received her PhD in International Politics from Aberystwyth University in 2014 and was a John W. Kluge Fellow at the Library of Congress in Washington DC in 2011. Her research interests include issues of language and communication in US politics and foreign policy. Her current work challenges traditional ways of understanding and explanation in IR through the later work of Ludwig Wittgenstein in a study of the politics of nuclear weapons in the Nixon and Reagan administrations.

Recorded: Thursday 19th January 2015 (17:00-18:30)

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