Trust, But Verify

Reagan and Gorbachev by Terry Mosher

Trust, but verify is a Russian proverb that became well known in English when used by President Ronald Reagan on multiple occasions in the context of nuclear disarmament.

Suzanne Massie, an American author living in Russia, met with President Ronald Reagan many times between 1984 and 1987. She taught him the proverb, advising 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.’ The proverb was adopted as a signature phrase by Reagan, who subsequently used it frequently when discussing U.S. relations with the Soviet Union. Using proverbs that the Russians could relate to may have helped relations between the two leaders.

After Reagan used the phrase to emphasize ‘the extensive verification procedures that would enable both sides to monitor compliance with the treaty,’ at the signing of the INF Treaty in late 1987, his counterpart General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev responded, ‘You repeat that at every meeting,’ to which Reagan answered, ‘I like it.’ While Reagan quoted Russian proverbs, Mr. 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.’

Following the 2013 Ghouta chemical attack in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry told a news conference in Geneva that the U.S. 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.”

The Bitcoin and blockchain community has adopted the term as a catchphrase, representing the fact that every node in a blockchain network verifies the data that it receives from others in order to ensure security. For the 2016 Scaling Bitcoin Workshop, T-shirts were made with the logo ‘Don’t Trust, Verify.’

One Comment to “Trust, But Verify”

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