Trust in International Relations - a meaningful driver of EU external relations with MENA countries in security policy domains?

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: European Studies


The concept of 'trust' has recently gained traction among scholars interested in cooperative relations between states, though studies remain in their relative infancy in terms of adequate theorising and conceptualisation (Hoffman, 2006; Brugger, 2015). It is the premise of the proposed research - by way of further developing the concept of 'trust' within an IR perspective - that such an approach would not only serve to put 'the IR back into EU studies' theoretically, but also offer a new avenue for exploring questions of EU/MENA security cooperation empirically. The proposed research question for this project is thus: in what way and to what extent does 'trust' affect security relations between the EU and MENA countries?

One key gap in the current literature is the lack of IR trust studies focused specifically on the EU. However, when concluding my own prior masters research on EU/MENA relations following the Arab Spring; the adoption of a critical security governance approach elucidating more nebulous drivers of cooperation pointed to the probable significance of more tangential relational factors between actors such as trust, as key, underlying mechanisms for the development, conceptualisation and implementation of EU/MENA security policies (Carss, 2016). I plan on first utilising (security) governance approaches - with their focus on the apparatuses of cooperation - as the basis upon which to reconceptualise trust for the purpose of researching EU security policies specifically.

At this stage, it is unclear what such a thoroughly reimagined, 'thickly' constructed concept of trust in IR would look like - or constitute - however two points currently stand out; conceptualising trust causally; and discursively. With respect to causation, trust is complex to pinpoint empirically (Zand, 2016; 69) - with many studies failing to do so adequately (Brugger, 2015; 80) - and I therefore plan on conceptualising trust in line with broader notions of causation in IR (Kurki, 2008). 'Ontologically deep' objects (such as trust) are in this sense understood to hold explanatory worth and causal value equal to that of 'harder' variables more conventionally studied in IR by positivist-leaning scholars (i.e. military and economic factors).

Establishing the causal relevance of trust as a 'variable' in its own right poses a further, related question: what kind of ontological object can trust best be understood to be in relation to interstate relations? Indeed, conceptualising trust as a specific discourse between cooperative parties - as the proposed research seeks to do - not only further injects much needed causality into the term, but also opens up the possibility of tackling questions related to the specific dynamics of trust; variances of degree, time and context etc. (Brugger, 2015).

I plan to utilise a sequential exploratory approach; an initial phase of qualitative research in order to explore the various characteristics of trust in EU/MENA relations, followed by a second quantitative collection of data to better understand the dynamics trust between the EU and MENA countries. Currently, I will look at three MENA countries and three security policy domains within each. With regards to the latter, trust will be assessed in terms of democracy promotion, mobility and migration management and conflict and crisis management. Each of these domains will be researched in relation to EU-Morocco, EU-Egypt and EU-Turkey relations, cases offering three relatively dissimilar security policy EU/MENA cooperative arrangements.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000703/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
1917509 Studentship ES/P000703/1 30/09/2017 29/03/2022 Euan Duncan Carss