TFR 25 – Sharing International Responsibilities among the Trilateral Countries


This report attempts to advance, not conclude, an ongoing inquiry. The subject of the inquiry lies at the heart of the trilateral partnership among Japan, North America, and Western Europe: sharing responsibilities. A number of conclusions about this topic are now commonplace: Japan and Europe must assume more of the burden; Japan and Europe must have a larger voice in shaping the burden to be shared; the most severe test may be the transition within the domestic politics of each region to new roles for the three partners. On a subject as general as "sharing responsibilities," what more can be said?

The authors of this paper have been tempted more than once simply to reiterate these conclusions at the prescribed length and stop. (Before the reader reaches the end of this document, he may wish we had.) Instead, we have chosen a more ambitious approach. This report attempts to identify the central questions about sharing responsibifities among the trilateral partners, and to provide evidence and analysis that will assist the reader in formulating his own answers. In this respect, this paper is an interim report on work in progress on a subject that will continue to be debated among the trilateral partners for many years to come.1

What are the central questions about sharing responsibilities? We believe they are four:

* STAKES IN PARTNERSHIP: Why should Japan, North America, and Western Europe share responsibilities? Do these nations have vital interests that can only be secured by partnership? In what arenas military, economic, political, scientific, and cultural can the interests of each region be advanced more effectively by collective action than by going it alone?

* SCOPE OF PARFNERSHIP: How broad or narrow a partnership should the trilateral nations strive for? Can the partnership establish specific sharing arrangements for a limited number of major issues and agree to disagree on the rest? What guidelines should the partners follow in arenas beyond the scope of the partnership?

* TERMS OF PARTNERSHIP: How should responsibilities be shared? Are there criteria and procedures to which responsible leaders in the three regions can agree for allocating burdens and influence in addressing common concerns? How should a partner's contributions to joint efforts relate to its benefits? How should relative capacities relate to contributions?

* OBSTACLES TO PARTNERSHIP: Can the trilateral partners sustain the minimum levels of cooperation necessary to achieve vital common objectives? What are the principal obstacles to partnership? Given existing differences in real interests and in national histories and perspectives, how much agreement in perceptions of major international issues is likely or necessary? Given the realities of domestic politics in each region, how ambitious is it realistic to be?

None of these questions is answered conclusively in what follows. In part, this reflects the state of the authors' understanding. In part, it expresses our conviction that these fundamental questions must become subjects of debate among the trilateral countries and among interested parties within each region, Only where debate leads to substantial consensus about the advantages of partnership will there be an adequate foundation on which to build necessary sharing arrangements.

How urgent is it that Japan, North America, and Western Europe move ahead in fashioning new sharing arrangements rather than continuing the drift back to unilateralism? Authors of such reports typically "view with alarm" the problems they study and exaggerate the importance of proposed remedies. Recognizing this occupational hazard, we nonetheless believe that:

* forces outside the trilateral regions will threaten the international political and economic order more severely in the 1980's than in any decade since the 1940's; developments inside the trilateral countries will fuel narrower definitions of interests and shortsightedness about the fundamental benefits of partnership;

* an unravelling of the existing political and economic order would have catastrophic consequences for the trilateral countries and for most of the rest of the world; and

* because of their stakes and their capabilities, the trilateral countries have a special responsibility to act to preserve an acceptable international order.

Our paper is organized as follows: Chapter I, "Why Share?", presents what is rapidly becoming a conventional diagnosis of the challenges the trilateral nations face, and then analyzes the basis for a collective response. The diagnosis notes critical changes in the substructure of international politics in its examination of three related issues: benefits of partnership, new geopolitical realities, and threats to common interests. These changes require significant shifts both in the trilateral partnership as a whole and in each partner's rate within it. The analysis sketches a framework for thinking about how the partnership should mature. Recognizing underlying problems of sharing arrangements, we attempt to suggest how they might be overcome in spite of inherent limits to international partnerships.

Chapter II, "Perceptions and Trends in Japan, the United States, Canada, and Western Europe," explores the domestic foundations of trilateral partnership. It presents views from each region on a range of international issues, and seeks to identify underlying factors within the regions that influence these views and are likely to shape their further evolution. Not surprisingly, we find significant differences among the partners' perceptions of threats, and of their own and each other's capacities and contributions. Such differences illustrate why any viable sharing arrangement must be designed to incorporate a wide range of national interests and perceptions.

Chapter III, "Areas of Principal Challenge," returns in more detail to three substantive arenas where greater sharing of responsibilities among trilateral countries promises significant benefits for all. For each arena the international economic system, the Soviet challenge, and the developing world we sketch a short portrait of the current situation, and outline a program for action. Our recommendations include: measures to strengthen the GATT and specifically a major Japanese initiative to that end; establishing a regular forum for summitlevel discussions of political and security issues, either in conjunction with the annual economic summits or as a separate forum; and improving third world access to trilateral markets, private capital, and foreign aid.

An Appendix to this report presents factual background relevant to the subject of trilateral sharing. This material is organized under three headings:
- Benefits of Partnership
- Capacities of the Partners
- Contributions of the Partners

Charts and tables display indicators that should facilitate discussion of sharing arrangements, as well as encourage the search for more satisfactory indicators and evidence.


Nobuhiko Ushiba, Advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs; former State Minister for External Economic Affairs, Tokyo; former Ambassador to the United States, Tokyo
Graham Allison, Don K. Price Professor of Politics and Dean, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Thierry de Montbrial, Director, Institut Français des Relations Internationales; Professor of Economics, Ecole Polytechnique, Paris.

Table of Contents

I. Why Share?
A. Benefits of Partnership
B. New Geopolitical Realities
C. Threats to Common Interests
D. Analytics of Sharing
E. A Framework for Sharing
F. Limits to Sharing
II. Perceptions and Trends in Japan, the United States, Canada and Western Europe
A. Japan
B. The United States
C. Canada
D. Western Europe
III. Areas of Principal Challenge
A. International Economic System
B. The Soviet Challenge
C. Relations with the Developing World

  • Topics: Multilateral Cooperation
  • Region:  North America, Middle East, Pacific Asia
  • Publisher:  The Trilateral Commission
  • Publication Date:  © 1982
  • ISBN:  0-930503-20-1
  • Pages:  102
  • Complete Text: Click here to download