Video 1: What is trust?

This opening video invites students to consider how trust is defined in the context of international relations. There are many possible points of entry to this critical question. One option is to ask students to think about how they understand trust in their own lives. How do they know when they trust a person or institution? Once someone has betrayed their trust, is it possible to gain it back? If so, how? If they were asked to work on an issue of importance with a group or individual they did not trust, would they do it? Why or why not? Alternatively, students could begin with the Prisoner’s Dilemma activity included in the video resources.

When viewing Video 1, students will need to know the following terms:

  • Bilateral relationship: The relationship between two nations, as opposed to “multilateral relationship,” which involves a greater number of countries.
  • Rhetoric: Language that is used to persuade or impress the intended audience, and that may be perceived as insincere.
  • Joint military exercises: Military training exercises orchestrated by two branches of one country’s armed services or by two different nations’ armed services.
  • Costly measures/costly signalling: Behavior that requires sacrifice or other significant “costs,” such as demonstrating risk or vulnerability, and that shows commitment to a relationship or a course of action.

Teachers may wish to pause the video after each speaker’s remarks to allow students time to record their observations for the given segment.

Download Video 1: Viewing Guide with questions for students.

Extension Readings: Russia and Syria

President Obama cited “gaps of trust” when efforts to broker a ceasefire in Syria fell through in early September. In a joint working group paper, "The U.S. and Russian Interventions in Syria: Room for Cooperation or Prelude to Greater Conflict?" Yoshiko Herrera, Andrew Kydd, and Fyodor Lukyanov discuss the challenges of bilateral cooperation when nations have overlapping goals but fundamentally different motivations and worldviews. Is it possible to work together in such a scenario? Is it possible to build or maintain trust while working together?

Read the full paper here.

Invite students to consider these questions by tracking overlapping Russian and U.S. goals and interests using this worksheet. You may choose to have students read the full paper, or ask half the class to review excerpts summarizing Russian goals and interests, and the other half, excerpts summarizing U.S. goals and interests.