The Trilateral Commission was formed in 1973 by private citizens of Japan, North American nations (the U.S. and Canada), and Western European nations to foster substantive political and economic dialogue across the world. The idea of the commission was developed in the early 1970s, a time of considerable discord among the United States and its allies in Western Europe, Japan, and Canada.
To quote its founding declaration:
• “Growing interdependence is a fact of life of the contemporary world. It transcends and influences national systems… 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.”
• “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… [and] take advantage of existing international and regional organizations and further enhance their role.”
• “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.”
Zbigniew Brzezinski, a Rockefeller advisor who was a specialist on international affairs (and later President Jimmy Carter‘s National Security Advisor from 1977 to 1981), left Columbia University to organize the group, along with:
• Edwin Reischauer, professor at Harvard University and United States Ambassador to Japan, 1961–1966
• George S. Franklin, executive director of the Council on Foreign Relations 1953–1971
• Gerard C. Smith, SALT I negotiator and its first North American chairman
• Henry D. Owen, foreign policy studies director at the Brookings Institution
• Max Kohnstamm, European Policy Centre
• Robert R. Bowie, the Foreign Policy Association and director of the Harvard Center for International Affairs
• Marshall Hornblower, former partner at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering
• Tadashi Yamamoto, Japan Center for International Exchange
• William Scranton, former governor of Pennsylvania.
Other founding members included Alan Greenspan and Paul Volcker, both later heads of the Federal Reserve System.
The organization’s records are stored at the Rockefeller Archive Center in North Tarrytown, NY.