TRILATERALISM Renovated for the 1980s

September 25, 2007

"The terrain is more rugged than I imagined," Secretary of State George Shultz bluntly declared in a February visit to recolonized Grenada, "but it is certainly a lovely piece of real es- tate." The Grenada invasion sent shockwaves throughout the trilateral alliance and the world. Further trem- ors were felt in April, when what had been only rumors of CIA mining of Nicaragua's harbors became fact. And in May, the trilateralists' growing fears about Reagan's belligerence seemed to be reinforced when the Administra- tion snubbed its nose at a World Court decision in Nicaragua's favor, and thereby at the system of international law altogether. At the Trilateral Commission's April plenary meeting in Washington, Central America claimed a prominent place on the agenda, and the commis- sion's quarterly magazine, Trialogue, printed excerpts from the discussion. Central America has fuelled con- tradictions within the trilateral forces and brought its adherents into the thick of policy debate anew. When Jimmy Carter left Washington and re- tired to Plains, many observers as- sumed that the trilateralists had retired along with him. Yet commission members have been active in and out- side the Reagan coalition, and are key actors in the elite debate over Central America. Clearly, trilateralists are split be- tween support for the Kissinger Com- mission or for the pro-Contadora Inter-American Dialogue, co-chaired by corporate lawyer Sol Linowitz, who served in several ambassadorial capacities during the Carter years. Trilateral commissioners have served on both groups: Kissinger; AFL-CIO Holly Sklar is the editor of Trilateralism: The Trilateral Commis- sion and Elite Planning for World Management (South End Press, 1980) and co-author of our May/June 1982 Report, "South Atlantic Triangle." President Lane Kirkland; former Am- bassador at Large to the Middle East, Robert Strauss; and Council on For- eign Relations President Winston Lord (as senior counselor) on the Kis- singer Commission. On the Linowitz Commission are Trilateral North American Chairman David Rockefel- ler; former World Bank President Robert McNamara; University of Notre Dame President Theodore Hes- burgh; Coca-Cola Chairman Roberto Goizueta; former Secretary of Com- merce Juanita Kreps; and former De- fense Secretary Elliot Richardson. From this line-up, the Trialogue discussion and other references, it seems the trilateralist majority lies with the Linowitz Commission, even among U.S. members. The Trilateral Commission's most important recent report, Democracy Must Work, fudges the matter by not taking an explicit position on Contadora, for ex- ample, but leans toward political set- tlement: "An America beleagured and bog- ged down in a crisis immediately south of its border is likely to be an America less able to enhance trilateral cooperation and to promote trilateral security . . . West Europe and Japan should give some serious considera- tion to becoming associated-as Canada already is- with longer-term socio-economic development plans for the Central American and Carib- bean regions . . . such external assist- ance would mitigate the tendency in the United States to perceive the Cen- tral American problem purely as a Soviet-Cuban challenge and encour- age the needed longer-range and more patient policy of both political and economic development." Managing Interdependence Twelve years have passed since 17 influential North Americans, Euro- peans and Japanese gathered at the Rockefeller estate in Tarrytown, New York to plan the Trilateral Commis- REPORT ON THE AMERICAS sion. They were concerned that grow- ing economic and political rivalries would damage, or, possibly destroy, the Western alliance. They rejected Nixon's unilateralist attempt to reas- sert U.S. hegemony over Western Europe and Japan, and advocated in- stead a strategy of "collective man- agement" over an increasingly "in- terdependent" world economy. By the time the commission's first plenary meeting was held in Japan in May 1975, the Ford Administration was following a more trilateralist ap- proach and preparations were under- way for the first Western economic summit. The emphasis had shifted from internal to external challenges: a wave of Third World national libera- tion struggles loomed larger in the wake of the April 1975 U.S. defeat in Vietnam; the 1973-74 OPEC oil shocks raised the specter of "com- modity power" behind the Third World call for a New International Economic Order (NIEO); and Soviet power appeared to be on the ascent. A broad prescription for strengthen- ing trilateralism and overcoming these global challenges was spelled out in the commission's 1977 report, To- ward a Renovated International Sys- tem. It advocated accommodation and cooptation in place of a futile effort to preserve the status quo with confron- tation. "A minimum of social justice and reform," said the report, "will be necessary for stability in the long run." "New influentials" or "mid- dle-class countries"--such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nigeria, Mexico- should be conceded a larger role and stake in the capitalist club. Debt de- pendency, policed by the Internation- al Monetary Fund (IMF), became the preferred guarantor of neocolonial- ism-- la Jamaica. In East-West relations, trilateralists recognized the permanence of nuclear parity and sought to extend detente. Deeper economic ties were advo- cated, both as a vehicle for Western profit and as a means of diluting East- ern bloc communism and restraining Soviet support for national liberation movements. The People's Republic of China, long considered a "drop out," was now ready to be assimilated into the capitalist world economy and re- 12Jimmy Carter: Many assumed the trilateralists had retired with him. warded for an enduring Sino-Soviet split. Contradictions Under Carter Trilateralism had a major chance to move from theory to practice when President Jimmy Carter, who was invited to join the commission in 1973, selected 25 fellow commissioners for top Administration posts. Among them were Vice-President Mondale; Natonal Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski; Secretary of State Cyrus Vance; Special Negotiator for the Panama Canal Treaties Sol Linowitz; and United Nations Ambassador An- drew Young. And, indeed, trilateralist policies were successful in many areas: the "peaceful" ouster of Michael Manley in Jamaica; the Panama Canal Trea- ties; democratization in the Domini- can Republic; a negotiated settlement in Zimbabwe; the Camp David Peace Accords; integration of OPEC into the international monetary system (in part by channeling petrodollars into West- ern governmental and private banks and into IMF and World Bank cof- fers); fragmentation of forces support- ing the NIEO; and strengthening of the IMF and World Bank. Trilateral- ism was further institutionalized, especially Japanese participation, through the annual Western summits. As time passed, however, it'was clear trilateralism was suffering from an acute case of contradictions. For the Carter Administration it was fatal. In 1980, Brzezinski expressed the central foreign policy contradiction, but he insisted it was merely two sides of the same coin. "One: to make the United States historically more rele- vant to a world of genuinely profound change; and secondly, to improve the United States' position in the geo-stra- tegic balance with the Soviet Union." Brzezinski increasingly advocated militaristic geostrategic policies, at the expense of accommodation to Third World change, while Secretary of State Vance remained committed to negotiation and detente. Outside the Administration, right-wingers saw accommodation as appeasement, and they turned on the pressure from groups such as the Committee on the Present Danger. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the year-long hos- tage crisis in Iran provided shock therapy for the "Vietnam Syn- drome," as the Carter Administration emphasized rapid intervention over reform and substituted the second Cold War for detente (which long be- fore Afghanistan was being perceived as a failure in co-opting the Soviet Union). Rollback Versus Containment Even before Ronald Reagan's inau- guration, the trilateral accommoda- tionist consensus had fractured and a harder-line posture of "limited con- tainment" or "selective intervention" was being readied. Trilateralists in- side and outside the Reagan Adminis- tration resisted the right-wing attempt at all-out rollback. But they were hampered by their own lack of con- sensus in defining the means and priorities of their more "moderate," selective intervention.* Trilateralism, albeit hard-line tri- lateralism, has been represented in the Reagan Administration primarily by Vice-President George Bush, Federal Reserve Chief Paul Volcker, and (ex- cept on Central America) Secretaries of State Alexander Haig and George Shultz. (Shultz's Bechtel partner, Caspar Weinberger, was a member of the Trilateral Commission before be- coming secretary of defense, but a born-again rollbacker, he's hardly likely to rejoin.) The benchmarks of trilateral suc- cess in the 1980-84 period are few, but, nonetheless, significant. To the horror of the rollbackers-among them U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirk- patrick; CIA Director William Ca- sey; Undersecretary of Defense Fred Ikl6-Reagan promised to adhere to "SALT II, maintained assistance to Zimbabwe and helped bail-out the debt-ridden Polish economy. In 1983, Reagan won an increase in the U.S. contribution to the IMF over *For a fuller discussion of elite debates over foreign policy, see Holly Sklar, "Many Paths to War," in Beyond Survival (South End Press, 1983), edited by Michael Albert and Dave Dellinger. SEPTEMBERIOCTOBER 1984 13 SEFFPTEMBER/OCTOBER 1984 13strong opposition from right-wingers who saw it as a bail-out of unpatriotic multinational banks and spendthrift Third World countries. And to the rollbackers' dismay, Reagan showed that he could even be tempered on the issue of anti-communism. After initial seesawing over the two-Chinas pol- icy, Reagan strengthened relations with the People's Republic. The essence of trilateralism is a strong core alliance among North America, Western Europe and Japan. At the 1983 Williamsburg Economic Summit, Japan's important role in Western security was given explicit recognition. While the alliance has been strained greatly by Reagan's un- ilateralist and militaristic tendencies, undoubtedly there would have been greater fissures if trilateralists had not applied some countervailing pressure. An Updated Trilateral Agenda After undermining trilateralism in practice during the Carter years, Zbig- niew Brzezinski has recently taken another shot at trilateralism on paper. He is the author of Democracy Must Work: A Trilateral Agenda for the De- cade, along with David Owen, former foreign secretary under the Labor Party and chair of the splinter British Social Democratic Party, and Sabui'o Okita, head of Japan's Institute for Domestic and International Policy Studies and former foreign minister. Reflecting the renewed tilt toward accommodationism, the report is de- signed as an agenda for upcoming Western summits. From this and pre- vious reports,* renovated trilateralism can be sketched as follows: Trilateral Relations: Trilateralists see the annual summits as important arenas for building consensus, nego- tiating trade-offs and gaining momen- tum for policies which go against the domestic grain (such as the commit- ment to decontrol U.S. oil prices at the 1978 Bonn Summit). Future meet- ings should be known as Strategic or Policy Summits, rather than the out- *Facilitating Development in a Changing World: Trade, Finance, Aid; Trilateral Se- curity: Defense and Arms Control Policies in the 1980s; Sharing International Re- sponsibilities Among the Trilateral Coun- tries, etc. dated description of Economic Sum- mit. A top priority for trilateral action is reduction of the U.S. budget de- ficit, in part by cutting back on the rate of growth in military spending. As trilateralists see it, deficit reduc- tion would help ease the high interest rates which aggravate the debt crisis and drain investments from other in- dustrial nations. East-West Relations and Military Policy: The report on trilateral secu- rity places the West and the Soviet Union at a crossroads: "They can either reach accommodations which will make possible a reduction of their military competition or face an in- creasingly unstable world in which the economic burdens of defense will grow and the security of all nations will diminish." A gradual resumption of detente is recommended. While the Trilateral Commission held a meeting in Peking in May 1981, there is disa- greement over whether to extend the economic embrace of China into a military alliance. The debate turns on the Soviet Union: is detente to be buried completely under a trilateral- Chinese axis or is detente with the Soviets a higher priority? While some commission members support the Nuclear Freeze and/or a No-First-Use policy, the trilateral re- ports reject both approaches. Instead they call for renewed arms control ef- forts following the more traditional mix of negotiation and moderniza- tion. There is heavy emphasis on strengthening conventional forces, os- tensibly as a means of decreasing re- liance on nuclear weapons. Both the United States and Britain should back this with some form of compulsory military service. Western European governments should make a long- term commitment to raising military spending at a rate of 3 to 4 percent an- nually. Japan should be encouraged to meet its growing alliance obligations under the flexible rubric of "com- prehensive security" which encom- passes economic security assistance as well as military commitments. For ex- ample, Japan should increase its role in economic assistance to strategically important countries such as Turkey, Pakistan, South Korea, Thailand and Egypt. 14 REPORT ON THE AMERICAS North-South Relations: There is great concern with the possibility of "major social breakdowns" in the Third World, including massive fam- ines, population migrations and en- hanced "opportunities for extremists of the left and right to seize power." The trilateral countries are encouraged to increase official development as- sistance, liberalize import restrictions and expand the resources of the IMF, World Bank and regional develop- ment banks. Newly industrialized countries should be further integrated into the management of the interna- tional economy (within trilateral rules) through these multilateral lend- ing agencies. The international debt crisis is seen as a "liquidity" crisis (rather than a "solvency" crisis), requiring flexible re-scheduling of payments, moderate infusions of new private bank credit and strong IMF intervention. When Accommodation Fails.... Trilateralists are regrouping for another round of global renovation, and debate over Central America is one of their prime testing grounds. But trilateralism remains fraught with contradictions and trapped in the il- logic of minority rule on a world scale. Despite lip service to more equity in resource distribution and decision-making, trilateralists have proven quite willing to use force in an attempt to impose order where co-op- tation is inadequate and the stakes too high. In the Middle East, the question is not whether to use military force in defense of alleged U.S. vital interests, but how much and when. In the case of Central America, it is likely a Mon- dale Administration will attempt a negotiated settlement for Nicaragua and El Salvador (applying lessons from the Zimbabwe experience). But even if accommodation succeeds here, it is likely the counterrevolution- ary consensus will retrench at the Guatemalan border. If Reagan is re- elected, many trilateralists can be ex- pected to voice their opposition to the probable massive intervention in Cen- tral America. But establishment de- bate will be over the means to pre- serve Western dominance in the Third World, and not the ethics of domina- tion itself.

Tags: trilateralism, alliance, Jimmy Carter, containment, Foreign Policy

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