'Trust But Verify:' The Production of Information in Arms Control Treaties and Other International Agreements

58 Pages Posted: 19 May 2009 Last revised: 26 Jun 2009

Date Written: 1993


This article utilizes rationalist international relations (IR) theory to examine an important class of provisions in international agreements, those governing the production of information. In situations of interdependence, IR theory suggests, states tend to design their international agreements and institutions to address the particular strategic situations in which they find themselves -- the “rational design hypothesis”. Many rationalist analyses have disregarded the role of information in strategic interactions among states, which ignores a central reality of international politics: its “pervasive uncertainty.” Recent IR scholarship has devoted increasing attention to problems of information.

This article joins the rational design hypothesis with the new emphasis on information by examining the informational arrangements that states make when they enter into agreements in conditions of interdependence. The article analyzes the provisions governing the production of information in a set of actual international agreements: the major arms control treaties of the past 30 years. Problems of information have been at the heart of arms control policy since the beginning.

There are two basic strategies by which information is produced: verification and assurance. Verification involves each party's use of its own efforts and resources to seek out the information it requires from others. Assurance involves the use by each party of its own efforts and resources to gather and provide information about itself and its activities to others. The concepts of verification and assurance, and the rational design approach, can provide rich insights into the strategic relationships among states and the functioning of international agreements.

Keywords: International relations, international law, politics

Suggested Citation

Abbott, Kenneth Wayne, 'Trust But Verify:' The Production of Information in Arms Control Treaties and Other International Agreements (1993). Cornell International Law Journal, Vol. 26, p. 1, 1993. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1402852

Kenneth Wayne Abbott (Contact Author)

Arizona State University ( email )

Box 877906
Tempe, AZ 85287-7906
United States
480-965-5917 (Phone)

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