Carter's Trilateral Connection

Jimmy's Foreign Policy Club Assembled Long Ago

Mondale, Vance, Brzezinski, Brown, Blumenthal--these men represent the entire Cabinet-level foreign policy wing of the new Administration. These men, along with Jimmy Carter himself and most of his old foreign policy and economic advisers, are among the 60 original American members of a private international group known as the Trilateral Commission. Many of the policies that these commission members have formulated together over the last few years may become reality now that they have assumed power.

The Trilateral Commission, founded in 1973 by David Rockefeller '36, seeks to encourage cooperation between three great industrial regions of the world--North America, Western Europe, and Japan. A stated intent of the Trilateral is to mix legitimizing intellectual talent, like Columbia professors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Richard N. Gardner '48, with an array of public and private citizens influential enough to see the commission's ideas through to fruition.

In its news bulletin, Trialogue, the Trilateral Commission characterizes its policies towards international relations as the "reformist approach." It believes that "expansion of the global economic pie, rather than (its) redistribution, is the most hopeful means of improving the relative economic positions of the poorer nations."

How much influence has the commission has with Carter? Gerald Rafshoon, his media specialist, has said that Carter's selection to the commission "was one of the most fortunate accidents of the early campaign and critical to his building support where it counted."

Edwin O. Reischauer, University Professor, recalls Carter as an enthusiastic commission member who not only attended all of the regular biannual meetings, which lasted four to five days each, but also sat in at the executive committee sessions--the group that decided what policies the commission would advocate.


"I imagine it was Carter who pushed to join the Trilateral rather than vice-versa," Reischauer said recently. "He impressed me as someone who was intelligently trying to go about educating himself on foreign policy. He then got to know people with common interests."

Carter has publicly acknowledged that his basic foreign policy education was provided by the commission. It is no surprise then that Gardner, Professor Richard N. Cooper of Yale (who is also director of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund), Henry D. Owens of the Brookings Institute, and commission director Brzezinski were Carter's top foreign policy and economic advisers over the last three years.

Carter's first appointment to the new administration was fellow member Cyrus R. Vance to succeed Henry A. Kissinger '50 as Secretary of State. Vance was Deputy Secretary of Defense under Robert S. McNamara and defended the escalation of bombing in Vietnam. Vance, in turn, has appointed three other commission member as his chief deputies--Cooper, corporate lawyer Warren Christopher, and Lucy Wilson Benson, former president of the League of Women Voters and a director of the military-research-oriented Mitre Corporation, which does military research and development.

Carter has nominated Harold Brown, president of the California Institute of Technology, to be his Secretary of Defense. At a recent press conference, Brown denied his advocacy of increased bombing over Hanoi and Haiphong while Secretary of the Air Force in 1968, and stated that it was only one of several alternative proposals he had put forward. He failed to mention that his other two proposals also called for increased bombing of Indochina. The Pentagon Papers also reveal Brown did in fact advocate the first plan and that a year before this he had played the major role in dissuading McNamara from limiting the bombing of North Vietnam.

Brown was also the main proponent of the jinxed F-111 bomber, a plane that even the Republican National Committee labelled as "unacceptable." He testified that it was "proving to be an outstanding aircraft," while failing to mention that three of the six original prototypes had recently crashed. Brown also pushed immediate deployment of the ABM and MIRV defense systems while others called for arms control. Thus, Brown's expected support of the B-1 should be viewed with some skepticism.

As his National Security Adviser, Carter chose Brzezinski, a former State Department member who is vociferous in his defense of "limited wars" like the Vietnam War.

In the National Security Council, Brzezinski will work closely with Trilateral members W. Michael Blumenthal, nominated as the new Secretary of the Treasury, and Vice President-elect Walter F. Mondale.

The Trilateral Commission itself is composed mainly of the heads of multinational corporations, corporate lawyers, politicians and academics, and is quite concerned with threats to the continued stability of the international economic system. In fact, commission co-founder and director Brezinski sees this as the major problem facing contemporary American foreign policy. In an article in Foreign Affairs coincident with the creation of the commission, he explains the foundations of his analysis:

"The U.S. is now the leading international investor with returns on these investments representing for some major U.S. enterprises the critical source of their margins of profits ... overtone of old fashioned isolationism, nonetheless, do make themselves heard, most notably within American labor concerned with the export of American jobs abroad."

Thus labor may form a major source of opposition to Trilateral policies. But Brzezinski maintains that the American economy has become so dependent on foreign resources that "the concept of isolationism is at worst a suicidal policy and at best an irrelevance."