More on the Trilateral Commission

David Rockefeller
David Rockefeller

Trilateral Commission, organization of private citizens founded in 1973 principally by American banker David Rockefeller to confront challenges posed by the growing interdependence of the United States and its principal allies (CanadaJapan, and the countries of western Europe) and to encourage greater cooperation between them.

The Trilateral Commission is headed by three regional chairs (for Europe, North America, and the Asia-Pacific region), who are assisted by several deputies, and an executive committee. The entire membership meets annually (the location rotating among the three regions) to consider reports and debate strategy. Regional and national meetings are held throughout the year. Regional headquarters are in ParisWashington, D.C., and Tokyo.

The Trilateral Commission’s principles of representation are economic weight and political influence and are reflected in the varying membership quotas assigned to each country. The Trilateral Commission reflects powerful commercial and political interests committed to private enterprise and stronger collective management of global problems. Its members (more than 400 in the early 21st century) are influential politicians; banking and business executives; media, civic, and intellectual leaders; and a few trade union chiefs. Membership is by invitation only.

The Trilateral Commission’s agendas have anticipated those of the Group of 7 (G7) and Group of 8 (G8) summit meetings between the leaders of the world’s largest economies. Members have held key positions in U.S. administrations and in the governments of other member countries. In the late 1970s, for example, many former Trilateral Commission members held senior positions in the cabinet of U.S. Pres. Jimmy Carter.

In 2001 the Trilateral Commission expanded its membership to incorporate economically smaller but emerging countries within its regional structure. For example, Mexico was accorded a handful of members, as were Asia-Pacific countries such as AustraliaIndonesiaMalaysiaNew Zealand, the PhilippinesSingaporeSouth Korea, and Thailand. Members from China and India were first admitted in 2009.

Zbigniew Brzezinski

United States statesman and scholar Actions

Alternate titles: Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski

Zbigniew Brzezinski , in full Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski, (born March 28, 1928, Warsaw, Poland—died May 26, 2017, Falls Church, Virginia), U.S. international relations scholar and national security adviser in the administration of Pres. Jimmy Carter who played key roles in negotiating the SALT II nuclear weapons treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union and in U.S. efforts to sustain the rule of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the shah of Iran.

Brzezinski, Zbigniew
Brzezinski, Zbigniew

Brzezinski’s father was a prominent member of the Polish government who was appointed ambassador to Canada in 1938. When Soviet-backed communists took over the Polish government in 1945, the Brzezinski family was stranded in Canada. After this event Brzezinski harboured a deep opposition to communism and the Soviet Union.

Brzezinski studied economics and political science at McGill University in Montreal (B.A., 1948) and political science at McGill (M.A., 1950) and at Harvard University (Ph.D., 1953). He was later (1953–60) an instructor and assistant professor of government at Harvard and a research fellow and research associate of Harvard’s Russian Research Center (later the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies) and its Center for International Affairs (later the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs). He was an associate professor of public law and government at Columbia University from 1960 to 1962, when he became the first director of Columbia’s Research Institute on Communist Affairs (later the Research Institute on International Change), a position he held until 1977. During the 1960s he was also a foreign affairs adviser to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. While serving as the first director (1973–76) of the Trilateral Commission, Brzezinski met Jimmy Carter, who was then the Democratic governor of Georgia, and acted as Carter’s foreign affairs adviser during his successful presidential campaign. Brzezinski served as national security adviser in the Carter administration (1977–81). Afterward he resumed teaching at Columbia (1981–89) and then served (from 1989) as senior research professor of international relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

The Carter foreign policy team achieved several major successes. In addition to playing a role in negotiating the SALT II treaty (which Carter withdrew from U.S. Senate consideration following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979), Brzezinski helped Carter renegotiate the Panama Canal Treaty (ratified 1978) and prepare for the eventual transfer of authority over the canal to Panama. In addition, Brzezinski worked assiduously on improving U.S. relations with China. Under his guidance, the United States opened its first official embassy in the Chinese capital since the communists assumed power in 1949.

Brzezinski’s tenure as national security adviser was marked by his public disputes with the State Department. Friction between Brzezinski and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance began during the negotiations over the SALT II treaty. Both Carter and Brzezinski sought to radically expand the scope of the treaty by proposing that the Soviet Union drastically limit the number of its intercontinental ballistic missiles in exchange for limits on U.S. cruise missiles. However, Vance was not informed of this offer until he joined the negotiations. When the Soviets initially refused, Vance was publicly embarrassed.

In 1979 Brzezinski made his greatest mistake when he advocated steadfast U.S. support for the shah of Iran. Although American intelligence had questioned whether the shah could retain power during the Iranian Revolution (1978–79), Brzezinski persuaded Carter to reject the revolutionaries’ demands. Consequently, when the revolution succeeded, the United States had no contact with Iran’s new religious leaders—a situation that severely limited the diplomatic options available to the United States during the Iran hostage crisis (1979–81). The perception that Carter had mishandled the crisis strongly contributed to his defeat in the 1980 presidential election.

Brzezinski’s many books include Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era (1970), in which he predicted that the United States and the Soviet Union would eventually confront each other in the developing world in a battle over natural resources; The Grand Failure: The Birth and Death of Communism in the Twentieth Century (1989); The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership (2004); and Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power (2012).


globalizationintegration of the world’s economies, politics, and cultures. German-born American economist Theodore Levitt has been credited with having coined the term globalization in a 1983 article titled “The Globalization of Markets.” The phenomenon is widely considered to have begun in the 19th century following the advent of the Industrial Revolution, but some scholars date it more specifically to about 1870, when exports became a much more significant share of some countries’ gross domestic product (GDP). Its continued escalation is largely attributable to the development of new technologies—particularly in the fields of communication and transportation—and to the adoption of liberal trade policies by countries around the world.


Social scientists have identified the central aspects of globalization as interconnection, intensification, time-space distanciation (conditions that allow time and space to be organized in a manner that connects presence and absence), supraterritoriality, time-space compression, action at a distance, and an accelerating interdependence. Modern analysts also conceive of globalization as a long-term process of deterritorialization—that is, of social activities (economic, political, and cultural) occurring without regard for geographic location. Thus, globalization can be defined as the stretching of economic, political, and social relationships in space and time. A manufacturer assembling a product for a distant market, a country submitting to international law, and a language adopting a foreign loanword are all examples of globalization.

Of course history is filled with such occurrences: Chinese artisans once wove silk bound for the Roman Empire (see Silk Road); kingdoms in western Europe honoured dictates of the Roman Catholic Church; and English adopted many Norman French words in the centuries after the Battle of Hastings . These interactions and others laid the groundwork for globalization and are now recognized by historians and economists as important predecessors of the modern phenomenon. Analysts have labeled the 15th to 18th century as a period of “proto-globalization,” when European explorers established maritime trade routes across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and encountered new lands. Integration prior to this time has been characterized as “archaic globalization.”

port facilities
port facilities

What distinguishes the process of modern globalization from those forms of global integration that preceded it are its pace and extent. According to some academics, three distinct eras of modern globalization can be identified, each of them marked by points of sudden acceleration in international interaction. Under this scheme, the “first globalization” era refers to the period between approximately 1870 and 1914, during which new transportation and communication technology decreased or eliminated many of the drawbacks to distance. The “second globalization” era is said to have lasted from roughly 1944 to 1971, a period in which an international monetary system based on the value of the U.S. dollar facilitated a new level of trade between capitalist countries. And the “third globalization” era is thought to have begun with the revolutions of 1989–90, which opened the communist Eastern bloc to the flow of capital and coincided with the creation of the World Wide Web. Some scholars argue that a new period of globalization, the “fourth globalization,” is underway, but there is little consensus on when this era began or whether it is truly distinct enough to merit its own designation.

New levels of interconnectedness fostered by globalization are credited for numerous benefits to humanity. The spread of industrial technology and the resulting increase in productivity have contributed to a reduction in the percentage of the world’s population living in poverty. The sharing of medical knowledge has dramatically decreased the incidence of once-feared diseases and even eliminated smallpox. And economic interdependence among countries discourages war between them.

World Trade Organization protest
World Trade Organization protest

However, the implementation of globalization has been much criticized, leading to the development of the anti-globalization movement. Opponents of globalization (or at least, globalization in its present form) represent a variety of interests on both the political left and right. Labour unions disdain multinational companies’ ability to move their operations to countries with cheaper labour; Indigenous peoples rue the difficulty of maintaining their traditions; and leftists object to the neoliberal character of the new world economy, arguing that the capitalist logic on which they contend globalization is based leads to asymmetrical power relations (both internationally and domestically) and transforms every aspect of life into a commodity. Right-wing critics of globalization believe that it threatens both national economies and national identity. They advocate national control of a country’s economy and rigidly restricted immigration.


Globalization has also produced effects that are more universally worrisome. Expanded transportation networks facilitate not only increased trade but also the spread of diseases. Undesirable trade, such as human trafficking and poaching, has flourished alongside legitimate commerce. Moreover, the pollution generated by the world’s modernization has resulted in global warming and climate change, threatening Earth’s very habitability.

Whether globalization will adapt to these problems remains to be seen, but it is already changing again. For example, globalization began in the 19th century with an explosion in exports, but, even before the COVID-19 pandemic that swept through the world in 2020 resulted in global lockdowns, trade as a share of many countries’ GDP had fallen. It can be argued that the global supply chains today rely more on knowledge than on labour. And services now constitute a larger share of the global economy than goods. A “fourth globalization” might indeed be here—or at least on the way.


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