Social trust in bilateral relationships: the Anglo-American "Special Relationship" 1890-2016

Author: Sian Troath

Troath, Sian, 2020 Social trust in bilateral relationships: the Anglo-American "Special Relationship" 1890-2016, Flinders University, College of Business, Government and Law

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A gap exists in our understanding of how trust functions between states. Given their size and complexity, studying trust at the collective level without minimising interpersonal relations has proven a difficult task. Scholarship in this space has focused on the relationships between leaders, and in particular leaders of adversarial states. In relationships where trust is more expansive, it becomes clear that analysis needs to be broadened. This thesis aims to create a multidimensional trust framework which can capture the state in a more expansive manner, through applying the framework using a flat ontology of the state. The multidimensional trust framework is built on insights from trust research conducted both within and outside the discipline of international relations, and organised around the core understanding drawn from literature in the business space that the formation of trust in alliances between organisations requires a multidimensional approach that sees trust as existing in different forms. This thesis posits three dimensions of trust, each of which provides a different basis of the expectation of no harm required for trust: calculative, affective, and normative. The calculative dimension comprises the role of socially determined interests, the affective dimension the role of perceptions of goodwill and emotional connections between actors, and the normative dimension the role of shared identity factors.

Applying the multidimensional trust framework to the state as a collective in a way which does not minimise interpersonal relations requires conceptualising the state using a flat ontology. A flat ontology sees power structures flattened, thus conceiving of the state in a way which does not prioritise leadership or even government relations over other aspects of a bilateral relationship. This allows for an analysis which captures how interactions from across the breadth of a bilateral relationship shape the complex and dynamic flows of trust and power between states, from members of society to intelligence personnel to leaders. Flattening power structures also allows for an approach which captures sources of agency not often considered to be significant in the examination of relationships between states.

This theoretical approach is applied to the relationship between Britain and America from 1890-2016, which is valuable on both theoretical and empirical grounds. The Anglo-American relationship provides a rich case study in which the development of trust can be analysed over time, providing valuable insights into what trust looks like in its limited and expansive forms across all three dimensions, how the dimensions interact, how and where trust develops, and what impact each dimension of trust has when it is present. Applying the theoretical approach to the Anglo-American relationship also provides a secondary contribution to the empirical literature through arguing that the relationship is not “special,” it is trusting, and providing an alternative method to analyse the relationship and manage the various factors considered to make the relationship “special.” The primary contribution of this thesis is the multidimensional trust framework and the application of the framework using a flat ontology of the state, which comprise an original contribution to trust research in international relations.

Keywords: Trust, Anglo-American relations, special relationship, cooperation

Subject: International Relations thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2020
School: College of Business, Government and Law
Supervisor: Maryanne Kelton