The international political system seems the most fragile it has been in decades. Several key global events – including the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing climate change, and a return of war to Europe - have caused instability and unease. These events have occurred in a time of declining levels of trust across the globe. 

Why does trust matter? Trust can be considered as a glue of society. It allows people, organisations, states to live and interact with one another. Without it, it can lead to tensions, misunderstandings, and even conflict.

But what is trust? How does it affect international relations? Can trust be changed, and if so, what effect does this have?

This new report, involving research in Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, and Spanish is a review of academic literature, non-academic literature, metrics, surveys, and rankings. It comments on work on:

  • the concept and importance of trust
  • how the concept, in its various forms, is approached within international relations scholarship
  • the impact of trust and distrust on foreign policy, economics, global collective action issues, and online relationships
  • attempts to affect trust, either positively through diplomacy and public diplomacy, or negatively through the weaponization of distrust.

Trust relies on mutuality and reciprocity. From an international relations perspective there is not a consensus on the role of trust – with the relevance, sources, and types of trust varying depending on theoretical perspective. 

Trust matters in international relations- governments recognise that and act accordingly. As trust is inextricably linked to soft power, governments attempt to generate trust internationally and cultural institutions do so through public diplomacy. 

Trust can be potent if acquired from a variety of state and non-state actors and sources. Trust in international relations and soft power is not solely under the control of governments, business, NGOs, media, or any single institution, but can be damaged by any one of them. That said, trust building efforts need not be competitive, but can involve co-operation.

Trust can be acquired slowly but lost quickly. It is hard to build and easy to lose.

Find out more by downloading our report below. 

Report Author: Dr Sam Wrighton, Ridgeway Information