Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the Trilateral Commission? When and why was it formed?
- What are the goals of the Trilateral Commission?
- What are the main activities of the Trilateral Commission?
- Who leads the Commission?
- Is the Trilateral Commission a government agency or part of the United Nations? Is it connected to the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg Group, or the Brookings Institution?
- Who are the members of the Commission?
- How can one become a member of the Trilateral Commission?
- Who are the founders of the Trilateral Commission? Who are the current leaders?
- How is information on the Trilateral Commission disseminated to the public?
- Does the Trilateral Commission include developing countries in its membership?
- How is the Trilateral Commission financed?
- What has the Commission done to further understanding of global problems?
The Trilateral Commission is a non-governmental, policy-oriented discussion group of about 390 distinguished citizens from Europe, North America, and Pacific Asia formed to encourage understanding and closer cooperation among these three regions on shared global 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 affecting 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 (the United States and 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 fifteenth triennium, which ends in 2018.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- consult and cooperate more closely, on the basis of equality, to develop and carry out coordinated policies on matters affecting their common interests;
- refrain from unilateral actions incompatible with their interdependence and from actions detrimental to other regions;
- 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.
There are three main aspects of Commission activity. First are annual plenary meetings of the Commission. These three-day conferences rotate among the three Trilateral regions.
Each region also meets annually to consider topics of concern within the region and their significance to global relationships. In addition, each region holds other events on its own.
Reports on plenary meetings from 1973 to 2001 were published as part of the Commission's Trialogue series and are available on the Commission's web site under Annual Meeting Publications. Reports on the 2003, 2006, and 2009 Tokyo meetings are available for purchase from Brookings Press. Speakers' remarks and presentations from recent annual meetings are also posted on the web site under Meetings as they become available.
Another principal activity of the Commission is the publication of task force reports written by experts from the three regions. The authors of each report work together for about a year, consult with others inside and outside the three regions, and then present a draft for discussion at one of the Commission's annual meetings. The final version of the report is published as part of the Commission's Triangle Papers series.The most recent reports are The Global Economic Crisis and Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation. Other recent reports include Engaging Iran: And Building Peace in the Persian Gulf Region; Energy Security and Climate Change; and Nuclear Proliferation: Risk and Responsibility. So far, 64 task force reports have been published. The most recent reports can be purchased from Brooking Press through links on the Commission's web site. Earlier reports are posted as PDFs under Triangle Papers.
The chairman and deputy chairmen for each of the three regions provide the collective leadership of the Commission. They are responsible for 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. In addition, each regional executive committee meets several times a year.
The day-to-day work of the Commission is carried out by small staffs in Washington, Tokyo, and Paris, each under the supervision of a regional director.
V. Is the Trilateral Commission a government agency or part of the United Nations? Is it connected to the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg Group, or the Brookings Institution?
The Trilateral Commission is an independent organization. It is not part of the U.S. or any other government or the United Nations. It has no formal ties with the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg Group, the Brookings Institution, or any such organization, although many Commission members are associated with organizations like these.
For the kind of broad-based discussion the Commission's founders hoped to encourage, they believed it was important to draw leading citizens from many sectors of society and with a variety of political views. The Commission's membership list illustrates this professional, geographic, and political diversity. Members are distinguished leaders in business, banking and finance, media, academia, non-profit causes, labor unions, and other non-governmental organizations. They include women, minorities, and members of many different political parties. The Commission believes this diversity is vital to a well-rounded consideration of the issues it addresses.
Trilateral Commission members now total about 415—175 from Europe, 120 from North America, and 120 from Asia Pacific.
Membership is by invitation of the national and regional executive committees. The three regional groups are each responsible for selecting their members within a range established by the chairmen and deputy chairmen. There are shared membership selection criteria, but each regional group, and sometimes each national membership group, varies in the regulation of length of membership. A rotation policy ensures new openings each year.
David Rockefeller was the principal founder of the Trilateral Commission in mid-1973. He served on the executive committee and was North American chairman from mid-1977 through November 1991. He is now honorary chairman and a lifetime trustee of the Commission.
Zbigniew Brzezinski played an important role in the formation of the Commission and served as its first director from 1973 to 1976. After serving in the Carter administration, Dr. Brzezinski rejoined the Commission in 1981 and served on the executive committee until 2009.
Other early North Americans leaders were Gerard C. Smith, first North American chairman; Jean-Luc Pepin, who headed the Canadian Group; and George S. Franklin, regional secretary. Richard Cooper, Henry Owen, and Philip Tresize were members of the first political, monetary, and trade task forces to report to the Commission.
Max Kohnstamm of the Netherlands was the first European chairman and Wolfgang Hager the first regional secretary. Georges Berthoin of France, one of the first members from the European Community and a former European chairman, is now an honorary European chairman. Otto Graf Lambsdorff, another original European member and former European chairman, served as honorary European chairman until his death in 2009. François Duchène, Claudio Sergré, and Don Guido Colonna di Paliano were the European authors of the first task force reports.
The first chairman of the Japanese Group was Takeshi Watanabe, and the first regional director was Tadashi Yamamoto, who served in that capacity with the Pacific Asian Group until his death in 2012. Isamu Yamashita, chair of East Japan Railway Company and Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding Company, was chair of the Japanese Group from 1985 to 1992. He was succeeded by Akio Morita, co-founder and chair of the Sony Corporation, who served from 1992 to 1993. Motoo Kaji, Kinhide Mushakoji, and Nobuiko Ushiba contributed Japanese perspectives to the Commission's first task force reports.
Recent and Current Leadership
North American Group: Paul Volcker was a Commission member until he became chairman of the Federal Reserve Board and left in accordance with Commission rules. He 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. He is now honorary North American chairman and a member of the North American executive committee.
Thomas S. Foley, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and former U.S. ambassador to Japan, served as North American chairman from 2001 to 2008.
Mr. Foley was succeeded by Joseph S. Nye, Jr., University Distinguished Service Professor and former dean, John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Allan E. Gotlieb, former Canadian ambassador to the United States, served as head of the Canadian Group and deputy chairman of the North American Group from 1991 to his resignation in 2013. Jim Prentice, senior executive vice president and vice chairman of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, was then elected by the Canadian Group to succeed Amb. Gotlieb. He stepped down in 2013 ans was succeeded by John Manley, President and CEO of The Business Council of Canada and former Deputy Prime Minister of Canada. Lorenzo Zambrano, chairman of the Board and chief executive officer of CEMEX, became deputy chairman in 2000 when the North American group widened to include Mexican members, and he served in that capacity until he resigned in 2011. He was succeeded by Jaime Serra, chairman of SAI Law and Economics and founder of Aklara, the Arbitration Center of Mexico, and the NAFTA Fund of Mexico.
European Group: Peter Sutherland of Ireland, chairman of Goldman Sachs International and former chairman of BP, p.l.c.,, led the European Group from 2000 to 2010. He was succeeded by Mario Monti, president of Bocconi University, Milan, and member of the EU Reflection Group on the Future of Europe (Horizon 2020-2030). Mr. Monti was sworn in as president of the Italian Council of Ministers on November 16, 2011, leading to his resignation as European chairman of the Trilateral Commission. He was succeeded by Jean Claude Trichet, former president of the European Central Bank (ECB), honorary governor of the Banque de France, chairman of the Group of Thirty, and chairman of the BRUEGEL Institute.
European deputy chairmen Hervé de Carmoy, chairman of ETAM, Paris, and Andrzej Olechowski, founder of Civic Platform and former Chairman, Bank Handlowy, Warsaw, were succeeded in 2010 by Vladimir Dlouhy, International Advisor, Goldman Sachs, and former Czech minister of economy and industry and trade, Prague, and Michael Fuchs, member of the German Bundestag, Berlin, deputy chairman of CDU/CSU Parliamentary Group, and former president of the National Federation of German Wholesale and Foreign Trade. Mr. Dlouhy stepped down as Deputy Chair in 2016 and was replace by Alexandra Papalexopoulou, Group Strategic Planning Director,Titan Cement Company, Athens. Paul Révay has served as the European regional director in the Paris office since 1981.
Asia Pacific Group: Known as the Pacific Asia Group until 2012, this group was headed by Yotaro Kobayashi, former chairman of the board of Fuji Xerox, Tokyo, until his resignation in 2013. He was succeeded by Yasuchika Hasegawa, Chairman of the Board of Takeda Pharmaceutical Companyt Ltd. and former chairman of the Board of Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives). Serving with Mr. Kobashai were deputy chairmen Han Sung-Joo, chairman of The International Policy Studiesof Korea (IPSIKOR), Seoul, and Jusuf Wanandi, co-founder and vice chairman, Board of Trustees, Centre for Strategic and International Studies (Indonesia), Jakarta. Prof. Han resigned in 2012 and was succeeded by Hong Seok-Hyun, chairman and CEO of Joon Ang Media Network (JMNet), Seoul. Tadashi Yamamoto, president of the Japan Center for International Exchange, directed the Pacific Asian office in Tokyo from 1973 to 2012 and was also a Commission member. He was succeeded by Ken Shibusawa, also JCIE's president and CEO. When he resigned in 2013, he was succeeded as Director by Hideko Katsumata, Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer of JCIE.
More information about past and present leaders of the Trilateral Commission can be found on the Commission's web site under Membership and Leadership. In addition, accounts of the Commission's founding can be found on that web site in the early editions of the Trialogue series.
From the beginning, the Commission's membership list and information on its aims and activities have been available to the public. Each of the Commission's task force reports is published, and reports on plenary and regional meetings are either sold by Brookings Press or placed on the Commission's web site. Meeting dates for each plenary and regional meeting are posted on the Commission's web site along with abstracts of speakers' remarks. The Commission's membership includes journalists, and other members of the press are often invited to speak or be guests at both plenary and regional meetings. All proceedings of the Commission are held under the Chatham House rule, i.e., no attribution of remarks is allowed without the permission of the speaker.
The needs of developing nations are critical to establishing a broad framework of global peace and prosperity. To this end, individuals from developing countries are regularly invited to Commission meetings . In addition, reports to the Commission over the years have focused on problems of developing countries, including Central Asia, the Middle East, Russia, Iran, China, and Latin America. Furthermore, speakers from developing countries have addressed most plenary meetings since 1980.
Each regional group of the Commission raises its own funds and contributes to shared expenses. Although the sources and percentages of contributions may vary from region to region, funding comes from foundations, corporations, and individual members.
Recognizing the importance of discussion among private citizens of the main industrialized democratic countries, the Commission has held annual plenary meetings, rotated among the three regions, since a few years after the Commission's creation. Each region has also held annual meetings which focus on particular regional concerns. These meetings have given members the chance to hear from experts in various fields, inside and outside government, and also the opportunity to offer their own ideas and opinions to the membership. The purpose of these meetings is to enable members to take back to their home countries a greater understanding of problems affecting all of us in this global age.
Another key aspect of the "Trilateral" idea, the recognition of the international role of Japan, has been accomplished. Prior to the Commission's founding, the Japanese had not had much experience in international discussion groups, and ties between Japan and Western Europe had been particularly weak. That is no longer true. The late Kiichi Miyazawa, former Japanese Prime Minister, was a founding member of the Trilateral Commission and a former Acting Chairman of the Japanese Group (now Asia Pacific Group). The following were his thoughts on the Commission's impact in Japan:
“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.”
The Commission's membership and focus have expanded with the enlargement of the European Union and the growth of global influence in Asia Pacific. The European Group now has members from 25 countries, while the Japanese Group has become the Asia Pacific Group with members from 11 countries including India and China. The North American Group now has members from Mexico as well as Canada and the United States. This growing membership has expanded opportunities for exchanging information and ideas to further the Commission's goal of understanding global needs and problems.
Finally, the Commission has shared its work with the public by publishing reports on various global issues which are available for purchase through Brookings Press or, in many cases, at no charge on the Commission's web site under Publications. Presentations from plenary and regional meetings are also posted on this web site under Meetings with the permission of the speakers. Visited by numerous viewers around the world, the Commission's web site offers concerned citizens non-partisan and diverse views from the three regions on global matters such as trade, monetary policy, energy security, climate change, and international relations.