Robert Trager -University of California

Windows of Opportunity to Build Trust in International Politics


Trust is essential to social relations, but trust building is much less studied than its antithesis, bargaining. Where trust building involves signaling a willingness to cooperate, bargaining involves signaling a willingness not to do so in order to achieve a favorable bargain. We study social encounters that involve both. We show that while bargaining interferes with trust building in the sense that fully informative signaling becomes impossible, bargaining alongside trust-building actually improves welfare when initial trust is low. In contrast to the current literature, we show that actors improve welfare by building trust more slowly. Thus, windows of opportunity to build trust must be seized to prevent significant declines in expected welfare. We also characterize the evolution of stakes that lead to the best outcomes. We give conditions under which actors should start trust building slowly or lead with a “grand gesture.” Our analysis explains why trust building is so much more difficult than the current literature implies and illuminates the opportunities that produce the best outcomes between adversaries with something to lose.


Robert F. Trager is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has also taught at Yale and Oxford Universities, held an Olin Fellowship at Harvard University, and worked in investment banking in New York. His research focuses on the strategic implications of artificial intelligence developments; how states form beliefs about
the intentions of other states, and in particular on the role of diplomatic communication; the moral and emotional bases of foreign policy preferences; and a variety of other topics. He is currently completing his second book, which examines the enormous effects of women’s suffrage on the international system. His articles have appeared in such journals as theAmerican Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, International Organization, the European Journal of International Relations, International Security, and Security Studies. He currently sits on the boards of the Burkle Center for International Relations and the Institute for Global Cooperation and Conflict and is a corporation member of the Marine Biological Laboratories in Woods Hole, MA.

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