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Reviewed by:
  • Trust, but Verify: The Politics of Uncertainty and the Transformation of the Cold War Order, 1969–1991 ed. by Martin Klimke, Reinhild Kreis, and Christian F. Osterman
  • Kate Geoghegan
Martin Klimke, Reinhild Kreis, and Christian F. Osterman, editors, Trust, but Verify: The Politics of Uncertainty and the Transformation of the Cold War Order, 1969–1991. Cold War International History Project. Washington DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press; Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016. 313 pp. $60.00 US (cloth).

Although the "rhetoric of emotions" has long permeated international politics, the editors of Trust, but Verify assert that our collective grasp of the influence of emotions in foreign relations is lacking (1). Emotions like trust and distrust are challenging to study. They are conceptually slippery, difficult-to-operationalize variables whose definition is historically, culturally, and contextually contingent; whose rhetorical deployment may be genuine or instrumental; and whose impact is hard to measure. Acknowledging these challenges, Trust, but Verify aims to shed light on the role of emotions in foreign relations by analyzing the ways in which trust—and distrust—influenced key developments in the final decades of the Cold War.

A major strength of the volume is its nuanced portrayal of the nature and impact of trust in the Cold War. Trust and distrust took many forms—manifesting as "a rhetorical strategy, a political goal, and an emotion" (1). In addition to this overarching theme, two important sub-themes emerge.

First, several essays highlight the importance of individual agency in shaping the Cold War's trajectory. They show that decisions by individual leaders promoting either trust or distrust really mattered. And, they provide insight into the underlying psychological processes that shaped these decisions. At times, individual leaders fueled deepening tensions. This was the case during the 1969 border confrontation between China and the Soviet Union, Sergei Radchenko demonstrates. Radchenko analyzes how Mao Zedong's "cognitive failures and lack of empathy" (28) contributed to an escalating "security dilemma" (23). Mao failed to grasp how Chinese actions might be perceived as menacing and provoke distrust and fearful Soviet counter-reactions (28). Assuming that domestic concerns were driving Soviet behaviour, he discounted the impact of Chinese actions on Soviet foreign policy. Soviet leaders, Radchenko argues, committed many of these same misjudgments. Pursuing a strategy that was "in some ways a mirror image of the Chinese approach" (32), they too contributed to growing tension and mistrust.

Individual leaders also played a critical role in ameliorating Cold War tensions and bringing the conflict to a conclusion. Focusing on human rights and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (inf) Treaty, respectively, Sarah Snyder and Nicholas Wheeler, Joshua Baker, and Laura Considine, conclude that Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and US president Ronald Reagan built trust that helped unwind US-Soviet confrontation. Possessing a "security dilemma sensibility" (127), Gorbachev understood how Soviet actions could elicit fear and reinforce distrust. To [End Page 275] end this cycle, he endeavoured to prove to the United States through tangible actions that the Soviet Union could be trusted to keep its word. He did so by making "concrete improvements in the Soviet human rights record" (55) and "major concession[s]" (131) essential to facilitating inf Treaty's consummation. Snyder and Wheeler, Baker, and Considine emphasize that the Reagan administration played a key role in encouraging Gorbachev to pursue these conciliatory policies. The Soviet general secretary was willing to do so because he trusted the Reagan administration not to take advantage of Soviet "vulnerability" (128) or "crow" rhetorically (44).

Second, a number of essays in Trust, but Verify underscore the importance that states placed on winning the trust and approval of constituencies abroad and at home during the Cold War. As there is not space to discuss them all here, I will highlight two. Reinhild Kreis stresses the importance of winning over foreign populations. Kreis illustrates how the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) used a public diplomatic strategy emphasizing the countries' "common transatlantic identity" (228) to restore waning trust. Meanwhile, Arvid Schors underscores the importance of domestic opinion. Highlighting the tensions between "trust and mistrust" (86) that emerged as US officials tried to sell the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (salt...


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