Such A Train Wreck with Such a Leadership Group

In every great movement there are great leaders who forecast and strategize the future through comprehensive study, counsel and intuition or shall we say common sense. With that being said it is amazing to me the group to be reviewed here has manage to not spare our great continent from such an economic meltdown but rather quite the opposite. I wonder for what purpose they might have had in mind for not being informed enough to have seriously prevented the events of the past 20 years that have brought so many economic debacles.

What is the Trilateral Commission? When and why was it formed?
The Trilateral Commission is a non-governmental, policy-oriented discussion group of about 350 distinguished citizens from Western Europe, North America and Pacific Asia formed to encourage mutual understanding and closer cooperation among these three regions on common problems.

The idea of the Commission was developed in the early 1970s. This was a time of considerable discord among the United States and its democratic industrialized allies in Western Europe, Japan, and Canada. There was also a sense that the international system was changing in some basic ways with rather uncertain implications. Change was most obvious in the international economy, as Western Europe and Japan gained strength and the position of the U.S. economy became less dominant. The increase in global interdependence was touching the United States in ways to which it was not accustomed.

In this setting, the founders of the Commission believed it important that cooperation among Western Europe, North America (including Canada), and Japan be sustained and strengthened not only on issues among these regions but in a global framework as well, given the weight and leadership capacity of these countries. It was hoped that a policy-oriented discussion group composed of members of high stature, but not including individuals currently holding posts in their national administrations, would help foster the habit and practice of working together among these three key regions by focused analysis of the main issues that lay ahead. The Commission was launched in mid-1973 with a three-year mandate. It was later renewed for a second triennium (1976-79), and is now in its thirteenth triennium, which ends in mid-2012.

What are the goals of the Trilateral Commission?At its first meeting, held in Tokyo in October, 1973, the Trilateral Commission’s Executive Committee issued a declaration outlining the organization’s rationale and aims, a declaration which remains relevant today:


1. Growing interdependence is a fact of life of the contemporary world. It transcends and influences national systems. It requires new and more intensive forms of international cooperation to realize its benefits and to counteract economic and political nationalism.

2. This interdependence, especially among Japan, Western Europe, and North America, generates new problems and frictions which endanger not only their well-being but affect adversely the other regions.

3. Although the risks of nuclear confrontation have diminished, world peace and security are still to be given a lasting basis. New problems have also emerged to heighten the vulnerability of our planet. Humanity is faced with serious risks to the global environment. At the same time shortages in world resources could breed new rivalries, and widening disparities in mankind’s economic conditions are a threat to world stability and an affront to social justice.

4. While it is important to develop greater cooperation among all the countries of the world, Japan, Western Europe, and North America, in view of their great weight in the world economy and their massive relations with one another, bear a special responsibility for developing effective cooperation, both in their own interests and in those of the rest of the world. They share a number of problems which, if not solved, could cause difficulties for all. They must make concerted efforts to deal with the challenge of interdependence they cannot manage separately. The aim must be effective cooperation beneficial to all countries, whatever their political systems or stage of development.


To be effective in meeting common problems, Japan, Western Europe, and North America will have to:

1. consult and cooperate more closely, on the basis of equality, to develop and carry out coordinated policies on matters affecting their common interests;

2. refrain from unilateral actions incompatible with their interdependence and from actions detrimental to other regions;

3. take advantage of existing international and regional organizations and further enhance their role.

Trilateral cooperation will be facilitated as greater unity is achieved in Europe through the progress of the European community and as Europe and Japan develop closer relations.


It will be the purpose of the Trilateral Commission to generate the will to respond in common to the opportunities and challenges that we confront and to assume the responsibilities that we face.

The Commission will seek to promote among Japanese, West Europeans, and North Americans the habit of working together on problems of mutual concern, to seek to obtain a shared understanding of these complex problems, and to devise and disseminate proposals of general benefit.

The cooperation we seek involves a sustained process of consultation, and mutual education, with our countries coming closer together to meet common needs. To promote such cooperation, the commission will undertake an extensive program of trilateral policy studies, and will cooperate with existing private institutions as appropriate.

The Commission hopes to play a creative role as a channel of free exchange of opinions with other countries and regions. Further progress of the developing countries and greater improvement of East-West relations will be a major concern.

Who are the members of the Trilateral Commission?For the kind of broad-based discussion the Commission’s founders hoped to encourage, it was important to draw leading citizens from many sectors of society and with a variety of political views. The list of members now totaling about 350 indicates such professional, geographic, and political diversity. Among the current U.S. members, for example, the largest group is drawn from business, banking and finance, but these individuals constitute only about half of the total. There are also labor leaders, congressmen and senators, university professors, and research institute directors. Democrats and Republicans are both well-represented. Members have been drawn from all over the United States and include women and ethnic minorities. The Commission believes this diversity is vital to a well-rounded consideration of the issues it addresses.

How are Trilateral Commission members chosen?Membership is by invitation. In the United States group, for example, the Executive Committee decides on invitations on the basis of recommendations made by members and staff. A rotation policy ensures some openings each year.

What about the individual roles of David Rockefeller, Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter, President George H. W. Bush, Vice President Cheney, Paul Volcker, and Alan Greenspan?

David Rockefeller was the principal founder of the Commission. He has served on the Executive Committee from the beginning in mid-1973 and was North American Chairman from mid-1977 through November, 1991. Zbigniew Brzezinski played an important role in the formation of the Commission. He was its first Director (1973-76) and its major intellectual dynamo in those years. Dr. Brzezinski rejoined the Commission in 1981 and served on the Executive Committee for many years. President Carter was a member from mid-1973 until his election, when he left in accordance with Commission rules barring individuals holding administration posts. President Bush was invited to join in early 1977 after he left the government. He resigned in late 1978, two years before he became Vice President. Richard B. Cheney was a Commission member from 1997 until he became a candidate for the Vice Presidency and resigned in 2000. Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan each departed from membership, in accordance with Commission rules, upon becoming Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Mr. Volcker was invited back to the Commission in September 1987, after stepping down as Chairman of the Fed, and he served as North American Chairman from 1991 to 2001.

What is the main activity of the Trilateral Commission?

There are two main aspects of Commission activity. First are plenary meetings of the Commission. These are three-day conferences which now take place once a year, rotating from region to region. A published report on each plenary is available, covering key aspects of the meeting.

Task Force reports constitute the second main aspect of Commission activity. Generally three experts – one from Pacific Asia, one from North America, and one from Western Europe – are chosen to work together for roughly a year in preparing a joint report on a particular issue. The diversity of the issues covered is indicated by the titles of recent publications: East Asia and the International System (2001); The New Central Asia: In Search of Stability (2000); 21st Century Strategies of the Trilateral Countries: In Concert or Conflict? (1999); and Advancing Common Purposes in the Broad Middle East (1998).

The authors consult with others inside and outside the Trilateral regions, and a full draft of their report is discussed at one of the annual meetings of the Commission. The three authors are free to present their own views in these reports, and their views do not purport to represent those of all Commission members. A few reports that were particularly controversial within the Commission have been published with a summary of discussion in the back. Fifty-five reports have been published so far.

Each region also holds annual regional meetings to consider topics of concern within the region and their significance to global relationships. In addition, each region holds some events on its own.
How is the Trilateral Commission directed?

The Chairman and Deputy Chairman for each of the three regions provide the collective leadership of the Commission. They are responsible for basic program planning such as selecting task force topics and planning meetings and other events.

An Executive Committee, made up of members from all three regions, meets once a year to discuss possible task force topics, to review the work of the Commission, and to give general guidance to the Chairmen and Deputy Chairmen.

The day-to-day work of the Commission is carried out by small staffs in Washington DC, Tokyo, and Paris, each under the supervision of a regional Director.

Is the Trilateral Commission a government agency? Part of the United Nations? Connected to the Council on Foreign Relations or the Brookings Institution?

The Trilateral Commission is an independent organization. It is not part of the U.S. or any other government, nor the United Nations. It has no formal ties with the Council on Foreign Relations or Brookings Institution or any such organization, although many Commission members are associated with organizations like these.

Is the Trilateral Commission secret?

No. Right from the beginning, the Commission’s membership list and informational materials on its aims and activities have been available to all free of charge. Each of the Commission’s task force reports is publicly available, as is the publication providing extensive coverage of each annual plenary meeting. Information on the Commission’s funding and major contributors is also available. The agenda and a list of participants for each plenary meeting are regularly distributed. Press conferences are held during the meetings, and draft task force reports are customarily made available to the press. Only the discussions at the meetings are kept “off-the-record,” to encourage frankness and maximize the learning process for members.

Why, then, have many people not known of the Trilateral Commission?The Commission has been covered in major newspapers and news magazines including, among others, Newsweek, Time, U.S. News and World Report, The New York Times, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Chicago Sun-Times, and Los Angeles Times. These and other articles apparently have not created a sustained awareness of the Commission’s work among most people. With plenary meetings taking place only once a year, and with task force reports adopting a time-frame that is not compatible with most daily news reports, such an awareness is not easy to create. The Commission welcomes coverage of its activities.

Public understanding and discussion of international issues are considered to be of great importance by the Trilateral Commission. The Commission realizes, however, that it is only part of a much larger nongovernmental effort aimed at encouraging international cooperation and understanding. Other organizations concentrate on other aspects of the total task for example, scholarly exchanges or citizen education in world affairs.

Is the Trilateral Commission trying to establish a world government?

No. The Trilateral Commission encourages international cooperation on many issues, but does not promote a world government. No Commission report proposes that national governments be dissolved and a world government be created. Individuals or organizations who believe the Trilateral Commission supports or intends to form a world government are misinformed.

Is the Trilateral Commission a “club” for the benefit of the rich countries only?

No. Although the Commission membership does not include individuals from the developing areas, their needs are considered important in the broad framework of global peace and prosperity. To this end, individuals from developing countries are regularly invited to participate in Commission meetings. In addition, a variety of reports to the Commission over the years have focused on problems of developing countries, including The New Central Asia: In Search of Stability (2000); Advancing Common Purposes in the Broad Middle East (1998); Engaging Russia (1995); An Emerging China in a World of Interdependence (1994); Beyond Interdependence: The Meshing of the World’s Economy and the Earth’s Ecology (1991); and Latin America at a Crossroads (1990). Furthermore, speakers from developing countries have addressed most plenary meetings since 1980.

To have added individuals from all the developing areas as well as citizens from the industrialized democracies in the Commission’s membership would have made the Commission too large for effective discussion. We recognize that constructive solutions to global problems require agreement in a much broader framework. In this global effort, the industrial democratic regions remain a vital core, with particular weight and responsibility for wider progress.

Is the Trilateral Commission a conspiracy to control the U.S. government?No. President Carter was a member of the Trilateral Commission before he became President, and many members of his Administration were members of the Commission before taking on their government jobs. Every Administration since then has included former Commission members. But this fact did not then, nor does it now, indicate control of the U.S. government by the Commission.

First, members must resign from the Commission upon accepting an Administration post.

Second, as noted earlier, the Commission has a very diverse membership in terms of both geography and occupation. It is also fairly evenly divided in the United States between Republicans and Democrats, and it does not take an institutional position on particular issues. Aside from its general emphasis on consultation and cooperation with Western Europe and Japan, there is no “Commission line” on policy questions. Task Force reports do not prescribe day-to-day actions; and the Commission does not lobby for particular legislation or for candidates.

Third, the men and women who join the Commission are of outstanding ability, receive their information from many sources, and think for themselves. For many members, participation in Commission activities does not extend beyond attendance at the annual plenary meeting. The Commission, through these conferences and its publications, does hope to provide an additional educational experience for its members, while simultaneously contributing to the general policy debate in this country and elsewhere, but it cannot and does not attempt to do more than this.

Some individuals believe that the Trilateral Commission somehow arranged President Carter’s election in 1976. This is a far-fetched misconception. The Commission is entirely non-partisan and has never supported any candidate. In the case of President Carter, one need only recall that he received his party’s nomination after a very demanding primary process. This was clearly not some kind of “backroom deal” that could be arranged by a few persons. David Rockefeller is usually cited as the person responsible for “making Carter President,” yet he voted for and supported President Ford.

In the case of later presidential campaigns, many members undoubtedly supported particular Republican, Democrat, or Independent candidates, but the Commission was not, and by its nature could not be, committed to any candidate.

How did it happen that President Carter chose 17 of his top officials from the ranks of the Trilateral Commission?

Because President Carter was not particularly well-known in the field of foreign policy, how he was selected for Commission membership may be of interest. In the spring of 1973, the founders of the Commission were meeting in Washington to think about future members. They had drawn up a slate which satisfied their requirements of ability, occupational diversity, and geographical mix except that the South was under-represented. It was decided, therefore, to consult with some individuals in Atlanta about prospective members from the South. These individuals recommended Governor Carter, partly because they felt he had been a very able governor, and partly because he had taken considerable interest in Japanese and West European trade offices for the State of Georgia. He was invited to join the Commission, and he accepted.

When he was elected President, Mr. Carter naturally turned to some of the people in the Trilateral Commission whose abilities and personalities he had come to know to ask them to join his new Administration. Most, if not all, of these men and women would have been natural choices for any Democratic President, whether or not they were members of the Trilateral Commission.

Who Financed the Commission?

The largest shares of the funds received in the United States since the inception of the Commission have come from a variety of foundations and an even wider range of corporations. A list of all contributors in the United States who have given over $5000 is available by e-mail. The Trilateral Commission receives no financial support from the United States government. Fundraising in Japan and Western Europe (and Canada) is handled independently. Since foundations are not as common in Japan and Western Europe, a larger portion of the funding in those regions comes from corporations.

What then has been the impact of the Commission?

The Commission’s impact can be judged in at least three different ways:

One way is in terms of the general concepts advanced by the Commission. Recognition of the importance of cooperation among the main industrialized democratic countries is indicated most clearly by the holding of annual plenary meetings, a practice which began a few years after the Commission’s creation and which has continued ever since. Recognition of the growing international role of Japan, another key aspect of the “Trilateral” idea, has made considerable progress, inside as well as outside Japan. Recognition of the expanding identity of Europe (with the enlargement of the European Union) and of the development of a Pacific Asian consciousness has been reflected in the Commission’s expanded membership. The progress of these general ideas is primarily attributable to developments beyond the Commission, of course, but the Commission’s work has contributed to the general atmosphere in which they have gained increased acceptance.

The Commission’s impact may also be judged on the basis of the personal ties established among members. Here the ties to Japan have been particularly important, since the Japanese had not had much experience of this nature prior to the Commission’s founding. Ties between Japan and Western Europe had been particularly weak. Today’s expanded European and Pacific Asian membership has continued and broadened ties between the three Trilateral regions.

A third way to look at the Commission’s impact is by tracing the progress of particular task force proposals. Most Trilateral task force reports have sought to provide perspective and direction rather than to specify concrete “next steps.”

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“From a Japanese point of view, I believe the Trilateral Commission has played an immensely useful role in bringing us more closely into the international concert. First, and most important to us, Japan … was involved since the very beginning in the exploratory stages which led to the Commission’s creation. This was probably the first time Japan had been associated as an equal partner in a discussion group of such importance and magnitude. Second, unlike the United States where businessmen and lawyers often find their way on loan to the government, private citizens in Japan seldom have a chance to see and think about world affairs from a general and broader point of view. Their joining the Trilateral Commission has enabled them to do just that …. (D)iscussions within the Commission do affect the thinking of our governments and in some cases—although indirectly—their policy decisions. In this sense, I believe that the Commission has made a difference—even if a number of crucial problems, trade relations for example, still exist among the trilateral countries.”

Kiichi Miyazawa, former Japanese Finance Minister and Foreign Minister and founding member and former Japanese Chairman of the Trilateral Commission

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  1. thanks!

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