TFR 12 – The Problem of International Consultations


Consultation is hardly a novel concept it is inherent in traditional diplomatic practice. The report explores a more extensive commitment and sophisticated process beyond normal diplomatic practice, which can enable the Trilateral countries to deal with contemporary problems, notably in the international economic area.

The benefits of consultations (discussed in Chapter IV) have many dimensions. Consultations are a principal device for renewing the basic consensus among Trilateral countries, which would make easier the modification of domestic policies to minimize adverse effects on foreign interests, the reconciliation of direct conflicts of interest, and common action on international problems. Consultation can lessen the shock of sudden action and minimize embarrassment to a friendly state. The educational value of consultation is substantial, and it can sometimes produce new ideas or approaches through collective consideration. Consultation can serve as a means of influencing the domestic decisionmaking process, through international input or by requiring an internal concentration of effort and coordination among various departments.

Despite these benefits, the development of improved consultative processes faces many obstacles (discussed in Chapter V). Some of these derive from internal politics, such as vulnerability to charges of undue foreign influence in national decision-making or structural complications from a constitutional system like that of the United States. Others are external political ones, such as the problem of excluding certain governments, and the multiplicity of multilateral commitments and agreements. There are other difficulties of a procedural or psychological nature.

If improvement in consultation is to occur, the obligation to consult must be clarified and to a degree limited. Four criteria are suggested to reduce the commitment to manageable proportions and to make it routine and automatic:

1. Information will be volunteered on matters likely to embarrass significantly other parties.
2. Consultation will be undertaken where the vital interests of other parties are involved.
3. Consultation will be undertaken at the request of one or more other parties.
4. Previous agreements for consultation on specific matters will be honored.

Experience is at odds with hopes for implementation of agreed criteria. As a general rule, countries have been unprepared to consult on the most important issues. The report argues, however, for improved consultative procedures by which governments would face difficult issues early, informally and without drama. The involvement of legislators is also advisable in general, and indispensable in the U.S. system. A recognition by political leaders of the importance of effective consultation is essential.

The report makes a number of specific recommendations:

1 . A Trilateral Staff Group should be established of senior governmental advisers with the personal confidence of the heads of government. It would oversee the whole range of trilateral consultations and cooperation. It would, among other functions, identify issues on which consultation is inadequate or non-existent and provide the necessary political drive to rectify this.

2. A Trilateral Political Committee should be established to discuss and, where possible and desirable, seek ways of coordinating foreign political activities. The European Community Political Committee should be asked to designate the European representative on this Committee perhaps one official from the European Commission and one from the member state currently president of the Council of Ministers.

3. Recognition should be given to the value of the OECD as a flexible instrument at hand, ideally suited for more effective consultation.


Egidio Ortona, former Ambassador of Italy to the United States
J. Robert Schaetzel, former Ambassador of the United States to the European Community
Nobuhiko Ushiba, former Ambassador of Japan to the United States

Table of Contents

Summary of Report
I. Introduction
II. Definition
III. Present Organization for Consultation

A. Among Trilateral Countries
B. With Developing Countries
C. With Communist Countries
IV. The Case for Consultation
V. Obstacles to be Overcome

A. Internal Political Obstacles
B. External Political Obstacles
C. Procedural Obstacles
D. Psychological Obstacles
VI. Improvement in Consultative Procedures
VII. Conclusion
VIII. Recommendations

  • Topics: Multilateral Cooperation
  • Region:  North America, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Pacific Asia
  • Publisher:  The Trilateral Commission
  • Publication Date:  © 1976
  • ISBN:  0-930503-51-1
  • Pages:  21
  • Complete Text: Click here to download