TFR 41 – Global Cooperation after the Cold War: A Reassessment of Trilateralism


Some observers believe the 1990s will see "three-blocism." The United States will concentrate on North America and the Western Hemisphere; Japan will form the heart of a yen bloc in East Asia; and the European Community will be the center of a larger self-sustained European region. The conditions of the 1990s, it is argued, will make it impossible for broad multilateral cooperations public good of which the three main democratic industrialized areas of the world have been the primary trustees to continue.

With the end of the Cold War, centrifugal forces among the Trilateral countries are likely to increase. The decline of Soviet power and the diminished appeal of Communist ideology have removed the overarching common threat that was clear to public opinion in the Trilateral democracies.

During the Cold War, the need to present a common front in the face of the common external threat helped to dampen economic conflicts or at least to keep them in proportion. Now, interdependence continues to grow but the security blanket has been removed.

In addition, with the absence of an external threat, the 1990s will see increased internal preoccupation within the Trilateral regions. Europe will be intensely preoccupied with its own integration as well as its relations with its neighbors. The United States may turn inward to a domestic agenda of reform. Canada is grappling with fundamental issues of national unity. Finally Japan, if rebuffed by Europe and the United States, may halt its first steps toward a greater global role in favor of a more regional orientation.

The separate blocs vision of the world has a number of problems, however. For one thing, the trends in technology and economics run against a bloc view. Thus some political and economic forces will resist fragmentation of the international economy. Second, the idea of separate blocs runs counter to the nationalism in many non-Trilateral countries concerned about a large Trilateral neighbor and about maintaining an open international economy that provides access outside the region. These countries may develop an interest in Trilateral cooperation rather than separate blocs.

Finally, the three-bloc view runs counter to the fact that, even after the Cold War, America remains important to the security of both Europe and East Asia. So long as residual concerns remain about the outcome of the second Russian Revolution and the potential threat which the Soviet Union can pose to Western Europe, an American security guarantee remains valuable. Similarly, so long as Japan retains its peace constitution yet lives in a region where other states, particularly China and the Soviet Union, retain nuclear weapons, an American security guarantee remains an important part of the geopolitical stability of that region as well.

Another argument used in support of the view that Trilateral cooperation, and thus broad global cooperation, will not continue relates to the turmoil associated with the rise or fall of great powers in particular the presumed decline of the United States. But this decline is greatly exaggerated. The American share of world product has held steady at roughly the same level of 23 percent from 1974 to 1990, after the wearing off of the "World War II effect" that meant an abnormally high U.S. share in earlier postwar years. When the Trilateral Commission was formed in the early 1970s, North America, the European Community, and Japan represented about 60 percent of the world economy. They still do today.

The problems of the 1990s are to be understood less in terms of the rise or fall of great powers than in terms of the "diffusion of power." With the growth of economic interdependence, the proliferation of transnational actors, nationalism in weak states, the spread of technology, and the increasing number of issues which are both domestic and international, all great powers will be less able to use their traditional power resources to achieve their purposes. Since most of the resulting issues cannot be managed unilaterally, states will have a strong incentive to develop international cooperation. In sum, the need for Trilateral cooperation in a wider global context is as great, perhaps greater than ever.

One of the problems of cooperation in the post-Cold War period will be finding ways to dramatize the benefits of cooperation, to represent the long-run self-interest of countries, and to escape the veto power of particular groups. Can political leaders who understand the challenges make the arguments for international cooperation more persuasive than the alternatives to public opinion in the Trilateral democracies?

An agenda for broad multilateral cooperation is critical for dramatizing the benefits of cooperation, and the concluding chapter of this report is largely devoted to setting forth such an agenda. The agenda ranges from substantive global problems (sustainable global economic growth and development, peaceful change in the declining Soviet empire, non-proliferation of advanced weapons technology, means to address transnational global issues), to strengthening the global roles of Japan and a more integrated European Community, to key aspects of process (more attention to international institutions, greater decision-sharing and burden-sharing). In the setting of the 1990s, groups favoring cooperation will need to reinforce each other by forming coalitions across national borders. The Trilateral Commission will need to think of itself as helping to formulate transnational coalitions that advance the common good.


Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Clarence Dillon Professor of International Affairs and Director, Center for International Affairs, Harvard University
Kurt Biedenkopf, Minister-President of the Free State of Saxony, Germany
Motoo Shiina, President, Policy Study Group, Tokyo; former Member of the Japanese Diet

Bernard Wood, Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security. (Special Consultant)

Table of Contents

Summary of Report
I. Introduction

- The Original Trilateral Concept
-The Case for Continuing Trilateralism
II. North America and Trilateral Cooperation
- The United States
- American Strategic Choices
- U.S.-Japan Relations
- U.S.-European Relations
- Canada
- Canada and a "New World Order"
- The Constitutional Crisis and the International Context
III Japan and Trilateral Cooperation
- The Evolution of Trilateralism
- Japan's Strategic Choices
- Preparing Japan as a Trilateral Partner
IV. A Changing Europe and Trilateral Cooperation
- Europe's Uncertain Identity
- European-American Relations
- European-Japanese Relations
V. A Reshaped Trilateral Agenda
- The Challenges of the 1990s
1. Sustainable Global Economic Growth and Development
2. Peaceful Change in the Declining Soviet Empire
3. Successful Transition in Eastern Europe
4. Further Integration of the European Community
5. Wider Global Roles for Japan
6. United Nations Collective Security and Peacekeeping
7. Non-Proliferation of Advanced Weapons Technology
8. Means to Address Transnational Global Issues
9. More Attention to International Institutions
10. Greater Decision-Sharing and Burden-Sharing
The Role of the Trilateral Commission

  • Topics: Economics, Security, Multilateral Cooperation
  • Region:  North America, Europe, Pacific Asia
  • Publisher:  The Trilateral Commission
  • Publication Date:  © 1991
  • ISBN:  0-930503-67-8
  • Pages:  64
  • Complete Text: Click here to download