During the New Hampshire and Florida campaigns, Ronald Reagan and John Connally raised an issue that caught fire: namely, that three presidential candidates, Jimmy Carter, George Bush, and John Anderson, share the beliefs and ideas of the Trilateral Commission -- an association of politicians and wealthy businessmen from Western Europe, Japan, and the United States.
The Trilateral Commission has become a code word for a way of summarizing a powerfully backed political program. Whatever their aim, by discussing the commission candidates on both sides may have laid the groundwork for a real foreign-policy debate in America for the first time in many years.
The Trilateral Commission, founded in 1973 at the insistence of David Rockefeller, is not a conspiracy. It is one of the best-reported-on organizations in America. It is no secret that Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Harold Brown, and 17 other former members of the commission are in the current administration. Articles on this and on the commission's ideas have appeared around the country.
What distinguishes the commission is that it has both a well worked out program of ideas and a large number of political leaders who adhere to them. The critical issue in this campaign is that not only is the Carter administration self-consciously permeated with these ideas, but Mr. Bush and Mr. Anderson, by the fact of their Trilateral Commission connection, hold similar views.
The same goes for such important foreign leaders as French Premier Raymond Barre, West German Finance Minister Otto von Lansdorf, British Foreign Minister Lord Carrington, and Japanese Foreign Minister Saboro Okita. These men and others in the trilateral area -- the United States, Western Europe, and Japan -- make the Trilateral Commission an international force whose ideas are critical to governments in the industrial world.
What brought out the importance of trilateral ideas was the fact that in New Hampshire, Governors Reagan and Connally not only criticized the commission's influence on American politics but began to offer an alternative interpretation of the situation the United States now faces.
What distinguishes the current debate over "trilateralism" is the shift from the former "isolationist" vs. "internationalist" issues. Today, the trilateral controversy has reached a new level, where critical and competing visions of the future are being contemplated.
Put succinctly, the question now being faced is whether the ideas of a liberal world, supported by a US-Western Europe-Japan coalition, can reform the now ailing world economic order which came into existence after World War II; or whether a new vision, based on a North American Common Market competing with Western Europe and Japan, offers a more viable approach.
The trilateral view seeks to extend into the future the unitary economic structure and alliance systems of the cold war era. Conversely, anti-trilateralism, by concentrating on the structural changes in the world economy and within North America, proposes to lay the foundations for an entirely new set of relations with the Allies, in opposition to the USSR.
Still more critical is the question of what posture the free world should adopt toward the rising economic and political power of the Soviet Union, vis-a-vis the United States and, separately, Western Europe and Japan. These are weighty issues which deserve to be analyzed as the campaign continues. The trilateral program
Trilateralists such as Jimmy Carter, George Bush, and John anderson are acutely aware of the transformation in global politics caused by the rags-to-riches economic emergence of post-World War II Western Europe and Japan, and by the powerful rise of both the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the Soviet Union. They know that the United States, which between 1945 and 1971 provided the economic and political leadership of the free world, no longer by itself can hold the free world together.
The trilateralists believe, however, that by forming a coalition of the United States, Western Europe, and Japan, operating through annual economic and political summits, it will be possible to achieve a strengthened and reformed international system.
They believe too that, working in concert on a wide range of issues from money to energy, this trilateral area can renovate the international economy, meet the urgent demands of developing countries, and create a stable and peaceful political world.
To this end, since 1975 trilateralist heads of state have held a series of summits in Paris, San Juan, London, Bonn, and Tokyo. These summits embody the essential institutional philosophy of the Trilateral Commission.
As now constituted, the summits represent only a first step. The commission hopes that within the context of a constantly evolving relationship with the Soviet Union, it will be possible, at some future date, to invite the Soviets to join. As Zbigniew Brzezinski, the commission's chief ideologist, put it:
"Accordingly, an effort must be made to forge a community of developed nations that would embrace the Atlantic states, the more advanced European communist states, and Japan. . . . Movement toward such a community will, in all probability, require two broad and overlapping phases. The first of these would involve the forging of community links among the United States, Western Europe, and Japan. . . . The second phases would include the extension of these links to the communist countries."
The essence of the trilateral program, therefore, is to create not only a balance of power between the Soviet Union and the trilateral democracies, but a concert of power in which the USSR and important third world countries could share. The new continentalism
While trilateralists are seeking to establish a concert of power, supporters of the new continental outlook doubt that current realities bode well for such dreams of global harmony. However, their objections are not based as much on ideology as on a different analysis of the facts.
This became clear in New Hampshire, where both Governors Reagan and Connally sharply criticized trilateralism. As Jim Wootton, issues director of the now defunct Connally campaign, put it: "What good would it be if a Republican trilateralist, such as Bush or Anderson, were nominated to run against Carter, also a trilateralist?"
Both Reagan and Connally believe that since 1975, when the Trilateral Commission influenced one of its members, Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, to call for the first economic summit, the world situation has gotten worse. Energy has become scarce and inflation higher while the communists have not acted like respectable "partners."
Also, both perceive that the US relationship with Japan, and with the nations of Western Europe has undergone a profound change.
As Mr. Wootton put it, "When the crunch came in Iran, both Japan and Britain signed contracts for oil with Khomeini's government. When the crunch came in Afghanistan, Europe and Japan reacted slowly because, for example, Western Europe trades almost as much with the Soviet Union as it does with the United States, and Japan receives a high percentage of its raw materials from Siberia. Europe and Japan no longer are dependencies of the US. They have their own policies vis-a-vis to the Soviet Union, and these may not coincide with ours."
Moreover, the anti-trilateralists see a new set of relationships emerging within North America. The events of the 1970s have shifted US interests from their traditional east-west Atlantic and Pacific orientation, to a greater concern for north-south relationships, with Canada, Mexico, and Central America.
The oil, resource, and trade crises of the last decade reminded the United States that its defense and welfare, and, therefore, that of the whole free world, depends first, if not totally, on the strength of the North American community.
Therefore, those opposed to trilateralism believe that the strengthening of the North American community is the first and most important task to be pursued, a concept the trilateralists ignore.
The importance of this North American concept can be illustrated within the context of the oil crisis, when it is recognized that, while the US imports 45 percent of its oil, only one-third of this amount comes from the Middle East. Mexico, for example, could easily replace the oil we get from Saudi Arabia. Likewise, Canada to the north, offers vast supplies of numerous resources.
But access to resources alone is only part of the reason for looking seriously at the new continentalism. Also crucial is the fact that the United States trades more with the 26 nations composed of Canada, Mexico, and the countries of the Caribbean and Central America than it does with either Western Europe or Asia. The converse is also true. The nations of North America trade more with the US than with other countries.
Another reason for considering the common needs of the North American community is the huge change that has taken place in the directions of this continent's trade. For the first time in modern history, East Asia, not Europe, is the greatest trading partner of the North American community.
This shift from the Atlantic to the Pacific was accompanied by a huge deficit in trade, which in 1978 alone was greater than the United States deficit with OPEC.
The new awareness of the importance of Pacific trade is what Governor Connally calls "the beginning of a Pacific century."
This massive awareness of the new economic importance of North America and the Pacific calls for a major shift in outlook in the North American community -- just as increased trade with the Soviet bloc has changed West European perspectives and as the opening of China has changed those of Japan. It indicates a new and tentative era in the relationships of the Western hemisphere to Asia; and therefore subtly changes North America's relationships with Western Europe and the Middle East.
The implications of these changes in North America cannot be minimized. For they bring into focus a new set of political and economic realities. For example, the new continental approach high-lights the crucial importance of Mexico over the Middle East to the security of the United States.
While the Middle East is absolutely critical to Western Europe and Japan, it is only relatively critical to the US, thanks to Mexican oil. And this means that defense of the Persian Gulf only is in US interests if Europe and Japan share the military and economic defense burden, as they, not the US, will be the primary future beneficiaries of Middle Eastern oil.
Secondly, the critical importance of North America in terms of trade and oil has focused attention on a need for stability in the Caribbean and Central America. These areas, racked by revolution in Nicaragua and turmoil in Guatemala, El Salvadore, and Honduras, desperately need the aid of the entire North American community to develop sound social and political programs that will contain Cuba and bring the fruits of economic development.
Thirdly, in order to overcome the massive trade deficit in manufactured goods with East Asia, all nations in the North American community may have to form a common market to establish rules of trade with Asia and Europe, just as the European Economic Community regulates its trade with the US and Asia.
Another implication of the new continentalist outlook is a need for Western Europe and Japan to carry a much larger share of the defense burden. The EEC, for example, now has a greater gross national product than does the US, while Japan has a GNP nearly as great as that of the USSR.
As Governor Connally said, "Japan is defended by the United States, while spending less than 1 percent of its GNP to defend itself. It is time for a new structure in our relationships with Japan and the Pacific and with NATO."
Lastly, the new continentalists do not believe that detente or a community of interests can be created without a change in the Soviet government. They believe that the price of cooperation with the USSR in a concert of power may have to be paid by other nations in Africa or the Middle East. They fear that as the price of its "cooperation" the USSR will receive greater spheres of influence. The shape of the new debate
It is clear that the new debate in foreign policy is not over the ends of policy, but over the priorities and the means.
The trilateralists stress a federative alliance, as expressed in the economic summits, one based on old relationships with our allies.
The new continentalists, on the other hand, believe the interests of Western Europe and Japan are vastly different from our own. They propose a new structure, based on an equal partnership among the EEC, a North American Common Market, and a new zone of Japanese leadership in Asia.
The ideas of the Trilateral Commission are based on establishing a reformed unitary free world economic system under the control of a restructured International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. In this reformed system the dollar would be replaced by a trilaterally guaranteed new ininternational currency called the "SDR," which would be the legal tender for all international trade.
The new continentalists have been buttressed in their forecast of the future by an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report called "Interfutures," issued last June, which states that it is highly possible that separate monetary blocs will evolve over the next decade and that an immediate return to a unitary system is likely. If such a scenario does unfold, a new North American common market is essential.
As the primaries are now shaping up, it appears increasingly likely that a trilateralist, Jimmy Carter, will be facing a continentalist, Ronald Reagan, in the race for president. That presidential campaign could thus bring to the fore fundamental foreign-policy issues which will have to be faced in the years to come.