The Trilateral Commission was formed in 1973 by private citizens of Japan, Europe (European Union countries), and North America (United States and Canada) to foster closer cooperation among these core democratic industrialized areas of the world with shared leadership responsibilities in the wider international system. Originally established for three years, our work has been renewed for successive triennia (three-year periods), most recently for a triennium to be completed in 2003.
When the first triennium of the Trilateral Commission was launched in 1973, the most immediate purpose was to draw together—at a time of considerable friction among governments—the highest level unofficial group possible to look together at the key common problems facing our three areas. At a deeper level, there was a sense that the United States was no longer in such a singular leadership position as it had been in earlier post-World War II years, and that a more shared form of leadership—including Europe and Japan in particular—would be needed for the international system to navigate successfully the major challenges of the coming years.
As the 2000-03 triennium begins, two strong convictions guide our thinking. First, the Trilateral Commission remains as important as ever in helping our countries fulfil their shared leadership responsibilities in the wider international system and, second, its framework needs to be widened to reflect broader changes in the world. Thus, the Japan Group has become a Pacific Asia Group, and Mexican members are being added to the North American Group. The European Group continues to widen in line with the enlargement of the EU. We are also continuing in the new triennium our practice of inviting a number of participants from other key areas.
The “growing interdependence” that so impressed the founders of the Trilateral Commission in the early 1970s is deepening into “globalization.” The need for shared thinking and leadership by the Trilateral countries, who (along with the principal international organizations) remain the primary anchors of the wider international system, has not diminished but, if anything, intensified. At the same time, their leadership must change to take into account the dramatic transformation of the international system. As relations with other countries become more mature—and power more diffuse—the leadership tasks of the original Trilateral countries need to be carried out with others to an increasing extent.
The members of the Trilateral Commission are about 350 distinguished leaders in business, media, academia, public service (excluding current national Cabinet Ministers), labor unions, and other non-governmental organizations from the three regions. The regional Chairmen, Deputy Chairmen, and Directors constitute the leadership of the Trilateral Commission, along with an Executive Committee including about 40 other members.
The annual meeting of Trilateral Commission members rotates among the three regions. It was held in Tokyo in 2000, in Washington, D.C., in 1999, and in Berlin in 1998; and it will be held in London in 2001. The agendas for these meetings have addressed a wide range of issues, an indication of how broadly we see the partnership among our countries. A publication on the annual meeting (Trialogue) draws together each year’s presentations.
The project work of the Trilateral Commission generally involves teams of authors from our three regions working together for a year or so on draft reports which are discussed in draft form in the annual meeting and then published. The authors typically consult with many others in the course of their work. The task force reports (Triangle Papers) to the Trilateral Commission have covered a wide range of topics.
The regional groups within the Trilateral Commission carry on some activities of their own. The European Group, with its secretariat based in Paris, has an annual weekend meeting each fall. The North American Group, with its secretariat based in New York, occasionally gathers with a special speaker for a dinner or luncheon event. The new Pacific Asia Group, with its secretariat based in Tokyo, had an inaugural regional meeting in November 2000 in Seoul. Each region carries on its own fund-raising to provide the financial support needed for the Trilateral Commission’s work.