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Trust, but verify

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Trust, but verify (Russian: доверяй, но проверяй, romanized: doveryay, no proveryay, IPA: [dəvʲɪˈrʲæj no prəvʲɪˈrʲæj]) is a Russian proverb, which rhymes in Russian. The phrase became internationally known in English after Suzanne Massie, a scholar of Russian history, taught it to Ronald Reagan, then president of the United States, who used it on several occasions in the context of nuclear disarmament discussions with the Soviet Union.

Soviet–American relations[edit]

1985 Reagan–Gorbachev meeting at the Geneva Summit in Switzerland

Suzanne Massie, an American scholar, met with Ronald Reagan many times between 1984 and 1987 while he was President of the United States.[1] She taught him the Russian proverb doveryai, no proveryai (доверяй, но проверяй) meaning 'trust, but verify'. She advised him that "The Russians like to talk in proverbs. It would be nice of you to know a few. You are an actor – you can learn them very quickly."[2] The proverb was adopted as a signature phrase by Reagan, who used it frequently when discussing United States relations with the Soviet Union.[3][4][5]

After Reagan used the phrase to emphasize "the extensive verification procedures that would enable both sides to monitor compliance with the treaty",[6] at the signing of the INF Treaty, on 8 December 1987,[notes 1] his counterpart General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev responded, "You repeat that at every meeting". To this, Reagan answered, "I like it".[3][8][7] While Reagan quoted Russian proverbs, Gorbachev quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson, who had been popular in the USSR when Gorbachev was in college, saying that "the reward of a thing well done is to have done it."[4][6]

Following the 2013 Ghouta attacks, Secretary of State John Kerry told a news conference in Geneva that the United States and Russia had agreed on a framework to dispose of Syria's chemical weapons. He said "President Reagan's old adage about 'trust but verify' ... is in need of an update. And we have committed here to a standard that says 'verify and verify'."[9][10]


In 1995, the similar phrase "Trust and Verify" was used as the motto of the On-Site Inspection Agency (now subsumed into the Defense Threat Reduction Agency).[11]

In 2000, David T. Lindgren's book about how interpretation, or imagery analysis, of aerial and satellite images of the Soviet Union played a key role in superpowers and in arms control during the Cold War was titled Trust But Verify: Imagery Analysis in the Cold War.[12][13]

In 2001, the National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC), a national critical infrastructure threat investigation and response entity, published a paper entitled "Trust but verify" on how to protect oneself and their company from email viruses.[14]

In 2015, both Democrats and Republicans invoked the phrase when arguing for and against the proposed Iran nuclear deal framework.[3]

In the study of programming languages, the phrase has been used to describe the implementation of downcasting: the compiler trusts that the downcast term will be of the desired type, but this assumption is verified at runtime in order to avoid undefined behavior.[15]

The phrase has been used in relation to India–China border disputes and also following the Galwan clash during the 2020 China–India skirmishes.[16] Variants of the phrase were also reported in the Indian media, "distrust until fully and comprehensively verified", and "verify and still not trust".[17][18][19]

On July 24, 2020, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo referenced the proverb in a speech at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library saying that in dealing with China, the United States must instead 'distrust and verify'.[20][21]


The origin of the phrase is obscure but understood to be a paraphrase of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin.[5]

Lenin raised postulates of similar wording and meaning in a number of early publications:

  • "Put no faith in words; subject everything to the closest scrutiny—such is the motto of the Marxist workers" (Russian: "Не верить на слово, проверять строжайше — вот лозунг марксистов рабочих, Ne verit' na slovo, proveryat' strozhayshe — vot lozung marksistov rabochikh)[22]
  • "To test men and verify what has actually been done—this, this again this alone is now the main feature of all our activities, of our whole policy" (Russian: "Проверять людей и проверять фактическое исполнение дела — в этом теперь гвоздь всей работы," Proveryat' lyudey i proveryat' fakticheskoye ispolneniye dela — v etom teper' gvozd' vsey raboty).[23]
  • In another 1917 publication "How to organise competition" Lenin highlights the need for strict and mutual "accounting and control" on all layers of the socialist society, repeating these terms overall nine times across the article.[24]

Stalin said in an interview with Bela Kun:

  • "Healthy distrust makes a good basis for cooperation" (Здоровое недоверие — хорошая основа для совместной работы, Zdorovoye nedoveriye — khoroshaya osnova dlya sovmestnoy raboty).[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Intermediate Nuclear Force Treaty (INF) aimed to eliminate short and medium range nuclear weapons from their respective national arsenals.[7] Watson described it as a "written embodiment of Gorbachev’s policies and personality based on a life spent in and out of the Soviet Union."


  1. ^ "The Reagan Years". Suzanne Massie.
  2. ^ Suzanne Massie speaking on the 22nd Episode of the television documentary, Cold War (TV series).
  3. ^ a b c Barton Swaim (11 March 2016). "'Trust, but verify': An untrustworthy political phrase". The Washington Post. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  4. ^ a b Shanker, Thom (December 9, 1987). "Battle Turns Gentle With Proverbs Galore". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved May 3, 2017.
  5. ^ a b Shevchenko, Nikolay (2019-06-17). "Did Reagan really coin the term 'Trust but verify,' a proverb revived by HBO's Chernobyl?". Russia Beyond. Retrieved 2020-06-20.
  6. ^ a b Shipler, David K. (9 December 1987). "Reagan and Gorbachev Sign Missile Treaty and Vow to Work for Greater Reductions". New York Times.
  7. ^ a b Watson, William D. (Fall 2011). "Trust, but Verify: Reagan, Gorbachev, and the INF Treaty". Hilltop Review. 5. Western Michigan University.
  8. ^ "Remarks on Signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty" Archived 2015-09-24 at the Wayback Machine, 1987-12-8. Retrieved on 2009-4-8.
  9. ^ "Kerry, Lavrov: Syria to Give Up the Stash in 1 Week—Maybe". The Jewish Press. September 14, 2013. Retrieved September 15, 2013.
  10. ^ Chu, Henry (September 14, 2013). "U.S., Russia agree on a disposal plan for Syria's chemical weapons". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 15, 2013.
  11. ^ "DoD News Briefing: Brigadier General Gregory G. Govan, USA, On-Site Inspection Agency". United States Department of Defense. February 22, 1995. Retrieved November 26, 2016.
  12. ^ Lindgren, David T. (November 2000). Trust But Verify: Imagery Analysis in the Cold War. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press. pp. xiii+222.
  13. ^ Day, Dwayne A. (October 2001). "Trust but Verify: Imagery Analysis in the Cold War (review)". Technology and Culture. 42 (4): 822–823. doi:10.1353/tech.2001.0156. S2CID 108591052.
  14. ^ Trust but verify [electronic resource] : a guide to using e-mail correspondence (Report). Washington, D.C.: National Infrastructure Protection Center (U.S.). 2001.
  15. ^ Pierce, Benjamin (2002). Types and Programming Languages. Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press. p. 194. ISBN 0-262-16209-1.
  16. ^ "China's push for border deal: Why India must 'trust but verify'". Firstpost. 2013-05-15. Retrieved 2020-07-08.
  17. ^ Samanta, Pranab Dhal (2020-07-03). "India-China relationship: Distrust until verified is new code for India". The Economic Times. Retrieved 2020-07-08.
  18. ^ Gharekhan, C. r (2020-07-07). "India's foreign relations and the course of history". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 2020-07-08.
  19. ^ "Disengage, but verify". The Indian Express. 2020-06-25. Retrieved 2020-07-08.
  20. ^ Secretary Pompeo Delivers a Speech at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library. United States Department of State. 24 July 2020. Event occurs at 11:30. Archived from the original on 2021-12-14. Retrieved 24 July 2020 – via YouTube.
  21. ^ Hsu Chung-Che 徐崇哲, ed. (24 July 2020). 蓬佩奧籲全球聯手改變中共 對抗暴政捍衛自由[影]. Central News Agency (in Chinese (Taiwan)). Retrieved 24 July 2020.
  22. ^ "Lenin: Adventurism". www.marxists.org. Retrieved 2021-02-19.
  23. ^ "The International and Domestic Situation Of The Soviet Republic". www.marxists.org. Retrieved 2021-02-19.
  24. ^ "How to Organise Competition?". www.marxists.org. Retrieved 2021-02-19.
  25. ^ "Доверяй, но проверяй – Dslov.ru". dslov.ru. Retrieved 2021-02-19.

External links[edit]