The Challenges to Trust-Building in Nuclear Worlds (2009-2013)

Lead academic: Professor Nicholas J. Wheeler, (
Funding: The ESRC and AHRC under one of 14 'Ideas and Beliefs' Fellowships under Research Council UK's Global Uncertainties Programme: 'Security for All in a Changing World'


Professor Nicholas J. Wheeler received a 3-year ESRC / AHRC fellowship to pursue the Trust-building in Nuclear Worlds project as part of the Global Uncertainties programme, which brings together the activities of the UK's Research Councils to better integrate current investments and to develop and support new multi-disciplinary research in response to global security challenges.

New policies creating and promoting trust between nuclear powers are needed for a secure world. If governments based their security on mutual trust rather than mutual fear many potential threats could be avoided.

Trust is a central issue in relations between states, but has still been a neglected concept in international relations.

There is a rich literature on trust in other fields – notably Philosophy, Sociology, and Psychology, but those who have addressed trust in these other fields have not considered the relevance of their work to building trust and cooperation between adversaries at the international level. At the same time, it is only recently that International Relations scholars have begun to take the concept of trust seriously (key works include Larson 1997; Kydd 2000, 2005; Hoffman 2006; Booth and Wheeler 2008; Rathbun 2011). There has been some work on trust in the related field of Peace Research (key works include Deutsch 1957; Mitchell 2000) but none of this work has been systematically applied to the challenge of building trust between nuclear (and potential nuclear) adversaries. 

Project aims and objectives

The research contributes to the development of new policy agendas aimed at creating opportunities for promoting trust in relation to one of the most significant issues of global security, namely the future of nuclear weapons. 

This project has been supported by a multidisciplinary core group which brings together scholars working on trust in a range of disciplines with experts on nuclear weapons and security (members of the group include established scholars like Ken Booth, William Walker, John Simpson, Geoffrey Hosking, and Guido Moellering, as well as early career researchers like Naomi Head, Jan Ruzicka, Kate Sullivan, and Sara Kutchesfarani). Indeed, the growth of a new cluster of early career researchers, especially in the UK, exploring the role of trust in international security, especially nuclear issues, is one of the outstanding achievements of the project. In addition, a key theoretical contribution of the project is recognition of the importance of face-to-face diplomatic encounters in building trust between nuclear adversaries (Wheeler 2013 and Trusting Enemies to be published by OUP in 2014). 


The Problem of Weak Nuclear States
Co-authored article with William Walker in The Nonproliferation Review, December 2013, 20:3, pp. 411-431.

Trust crucial in high-stakes nuclear talks with Iran
Article published online in The Conversation, October 2013.

Investigating Diplomatic Transformations
Article in International Affairs, March 2013, 89:2, pp. 477-496

Breaking the Deadlock in the Iranian Nuclear Negotiations
Article co-authored with Josh Baker and Scott Lucas,published online at EA World View, December 2012.

How Brazil and Argentina defused their nuclear rivalry

The Origins of Nuclear Cooperation: A Critical Oral History between Brazil and Argentina

Critical Oral History (PDF 4MB)