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."

Another important member of the commission is J. Paul Austin, chairman of the Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Company and of the Rand Corporation, and director of the Adela Investment Company of South Africa. Austin originally sponsored Carter in the Trilateral and later served as his campaign finance chairman. Still another Carter campaign confidante was Richard Holbrooke, managing editor of Foreign Policy and the president-elect's choice as the new ambassador to Italy.

It is expected that Carter's administration will give serious consideration to the proposals published in the Trilateral Commission's "Triangle Papers." These papers are a series of policy statements aimed at critical issues facing the world economy. The subject of each is decided by the executive committee of the Trilateral Commission and then actually researched and written by various American, European and Japanese academics, some of whom have served as Carter advisers.

In a paper published last summer, the commission called for the reform of international economic institutions, saying it was time to "think in terms of managing a single world economy." But it is unlikely that the heavily business-oriented commission would actually advocate policies beneficial to the developing nations.

New institutions need to be created, the report states, to prevent countries from nationalizing foreign investments (as many Third World states did unto American multinationals) and to govern other multinational corporations. They cite as a growing problem the "global scope of operations of multinational firms, exceeding the jurisdictions of any individual government."

The Trilateral proposes rules to allocate the taxable income of multinational corporations among the nations they operate in, define antitrust policy and deal with improper corporate payments. But these proposed restraints on multinationals are not for purely idealistic reasons nor just to make sure Third World nations are dealt with fairly. The paper notes that "one set of countries" is losing jobs, exports, capital and technology to other nations which offer a particularly favorable climate for investment--such as Egypt, with its cheap labor and tax breaks. "Thus an increasing share of world production is being negotiated between the government of host countries and the management of multinational enterprises, who properly represent their own interests rather than the interests of their home countries," the commission position says.

Under Trilateral guidelines, Third World countries would not be allowed to lure big Western firms away from their home base, thus avoiding what the commission vaguely terms as "retaliatory actions." Some members have suggested that these international rules might also help repair the damaged reputation of the multinationals.

The Triangle Paper on the problem of international consultations argues for improved consultative procedures through which governments would face difficult issues early, informally and without drama. This would "lessen the shock of sudden action and minimize embarrassment to a friendly state."

The eighth Trilateral position paper appeared as a book titled "The Crisis of Democracy." According to Brzezinski, it rethinks the "central purposes" of democratic government since "the vitality of our political systems is a central precondition for the shaping of a stable international order." Samuel P. Huntington, Thompson Professor of Government, who served as a Carter adviser and is playing a key role in the transition to power, wrote the section on the United States. During the Vietnam War, Huntington wrote a Foreign Policy article explaining that forced urbanization of that country by U.S. bombing would gradually bring the hostilities to an end, a policy subsequently adopted by the Defense Department.

As a policy-maker for the Trilateral Commission, Huntington warns, that democracy "may only work when there is a relatively constant increase in the economic well-being of society." He warns that "there are potentially desirable limits to the indefinite expansion of political democracy. Finally," he continues, "a government which lacks authority and which is committed to substantial domestic programs will have little ability to impose on its people the sacrifices which may be necessary to deal with foreign policy problems and defense."

Huntington attributes this decline in the "governability of democracy" to a "stratum of value-oriented intellectuals who often devote themselves to the derogation of leadership, the challenging of authority, and the delegitimation of established institutions." Huntington concludes that in an age of widespread education and pervasive mass media, this "challenge to democratic government is, potentially at least, as serious as those posed in the past by aristocratic cliques, fascist movements, and Communist parties."

To prevent an impotent government incapable of following "internationalist economic policies," Huntington's paper suggests that the government "assure its ability to withhold information at the source." He predicts that the U.S. government may find it necessary to "regulate" the national news media with laws similar to the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Huntington's opinions drew heavy criticism from some members of the commission, Reischauer said recently, but it was still published as a Triangle Paper.

Soon after the global financial havoc wrought by soaring oil, food and fertilizer prices, the Trilateral issued a paper calling for a turning point in world economic relations to prevent the financial collapse of the Third World. The Trilateral advocated that Oil Producing and Exporting Countries (OPEC) double its current foreign aid contribution of $3 billion and channel it through the World Bank. Trilateral nations would then supply a 3 per cent interest subsidy and guarantee loans made to developing countries. The advantage of this plan for the Trilateral nations is that the World Bank, which they control, would not be eclipsed by OPEC institutions which could represent an independent source of financing for countries which were hostile to the Trilateral bloc.

In his Triangle Paper, Huntington outlined how a contemporary presidential candidate must put together a winning electoral coalition. But "once he is in power," Huntington writes, the electoral coalition has served its purpose. What counts then is his ability to mobilize support from the key leaders of society and government. "The governing coalition need have little relation to the electoral coalition."

Although he won the election as an outsider to the Amtrak corridor that runs from Falls Church to Cambridge, when it came time for Carter to replace the electoral coalition with the governing coalition he brought into his Cabinet representatives of the established institutions of American society and government. Let us hope that he is not so over-whelmed by his own governing coalition that he forgets about the common people who elected him.

This article was prepared with the valuable assistance of Jake Herms, a graduate student in Chemistry at M.I.T.