The Trilateral Commission
From Henry Kissinger’s 25th tribute to David Rockefeller on the occasion of the U.S. Group’s 25th Anniversary Evening, December 1, 1998: “David’s function in our society is to recognize great tasks, to overcome the obstacles, to help find and inspire the people to carry them out, and to do it with remarkable delicacy....” (more)...
Tributes to David Rockefeller Founder and Honorary Chairman on the occasion of the U.S. Group’s 25th Anniversary Evening December 1, 1998
So, happy birthday, Trilateral Commission! Thank you, David, for having been such a thoughtful and vigilant father. To both, I want to convey the good wishes, congratulations, and gratitude of your European colleagues.
Twenty-five years ago, David, you gathered around your avant-garde idea, with Zbig Brzezinski and George Franklin, a group of creative thinkers, open-minded business and trade-union leaders, and forward-looking politicians. Before it became, as it is today, an accepted, even if more and more complex, fact of international life, all of them—all of us—recognized the importance of creating between Japan, North America, and Europe a joint awareness of our responsibilities for the well-being of the world. This recognition went beyond mere statistics to the affirmation, illustration, and spreading of democratic principles.
We Europeans, in spite of our extreme internal diversities or, maybe, because of them, felt quite comfortable within this trilateral relationship.
We found again, after so many tragic events, the way to renew our traditional contacts with Japan without weakening our respective bilateral relations with the United States of America.
We learned how to place our historical and special links with Canada in the modern context of the North American concept while being made aware of the specificities of its components.
As we enlarged our European Community, we were challenged and encouraged to find a new legitimacy in becoming, through our new common institutions, a responsible world actor, but this time, after the curse of two world wars, without nationalistic and imperial undertones.
Finally, all of us found, in a practical way, how to create a partnership of equals between our different and respective strengths and weaknesses. In fact, we tried to create a trilateral harmony between the roots of our cultural identities, the dynamic creativity of the profit motive, and the democratic representation of the common good.
All of us, we made a difference, a huge difference. We did not look for the kind of glamour which excites television commentators. But, through our reports, discussions, and meetings and through our patient and constant recognition of what is desirable for all and possible for each, we were able to exert some influence without trespassing on the power of those duly elected to govern. So, in our own independent way, we, among others, made a contribution to the end of the Cold War, and to the preparation of the new world which is cracking its way through routines, conservatisms, and fears.
We know, for sure now, that the future will involve more than the three corners of our triangle. Technology has abolished time and space as the traditional basis of governance. A new form has to emerge and with more actors. The qualities of innovation we demonstrated for the last twenty-five years are challenged again. The moment is coming when it will be clear to all, in particular to us-friends and members of the Trilateral Commission— that the best, maybe the only, way to defend the interests, traditions, and hopes we cherish will be to place them resolutely within the context offered by the disciplines and opportunities of a genuine world order, genuine because created and recognized by all as fair and legitimate.
The first global history of mankind is about to start. A new window is opening. The challenge is clear.
In 1973, David, with your sense of vision, your determination and all your friends, the challenge was understood and met with success. Today, under the leadership of our successors as Co-Chairmen, Paul Volcker, Yotaro Kobayashi, and Otto Lambsdorff, the Trilateral Commission shows the will to play its usual role as reasonable and perspicacious avant-garde. So I would like to include in the toast I am about to propose to you, a toast to the Trilateral Commission’s role for the next twenty-five years. In this spirit, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would be grateful if you would join me in raising your glass to the gentleman-pioneer of the trilateral world, David Rockefeller.
* * *
On behalf of the Japanese group of the Trilateral Commission I would like to express our sincere gratitude to David Rockefeller for his farsightedness and leadership without which Japan could not have been brought into the international community easily.
More than twenty-five years ago David had considered already Japan as a natural partner in the developed world with democracy and a market economy. As he mentioned earlier, after failing to expand the Bilderberg group to include Japan, he promptly took actions to create the Trilateral Commission with Japan as one of its three components, together with North America and Europe. Since then, we have been enormously benefited by the Trilateral exercise through the discussions, at plenaries, task force work, and dialogue with the other members on a wide range of topics from peace and security to economic development, and freedom and democracy.
In 1973, when the Trilateral Commission started, Japan was already an important economic power, but still isolated in many other respects. Now, however, we luckily have better, wider, closer intellectual contacts with North America and Europe, with a greater sense of sharing common values and common concerns.
We also truly appreciate David’s special concern about Japanese participation.... This evening I'd like to close my tribute to David by pledging, on behalf of the Japanese group, to strengthen our participation in the Trilateral exercise not only in number, but also in quality, and also to expand, gradually, participation from our Asian neighbors who are increasingly more democratic, more industrialized despite the current crisis.
Among those Japanese who attended the meeting at Pocantico in July 1972, Saburo Okita passed away. Kiichi Miyazawa and Tadashi Yamamoto are not able to join us this evening. Nor is Yotaro Kobayashi, the current Chairman of the Japanese group. However, I’d like to reiterate how deeply grateful we are to David in his outstanding role in bringing Japan into the intellectual core of international community. Let me propose another toast to David and also to the future of Trilateral Commission.
* * *
...David Rockefeller’s generosity is, of course, extremely well known. It goes far beyond his unvarying and exquisite courtesy and, of course, his great munificence financially and that of his family. There are many of us in the room who are beneficiaries, as I am, of his advice. He was always accessible, always thoughtful, always generous with his time, and always very reflective in the advice he gave when asked for it. I must say that in the more than twenty years that I’ve know him, from the start of that relationship he was, and for me he will always remain—and I mean this in the most complimentary way—the apogee, the ultimate American gentleman. If it is appropriate for me to propose yet another toast, that is what I would be honored to do.
* * *
In 1973, when I served as Secretary of State, David Rockefeller showed up in my office one day to tell me that he thought I needed a little help. I must confess, the thought was not self-evident to me at the moment. He proposed to form a group of Americans, Europeans, and Japanese to look ahead into the future. And I asked him, “Who’s going to run this for you, David?” He said, “Zbig Brzezinski.” (I must ruin Zbig’s reputation here by saying usually he and I agreed. We managed to hide it very well.) I had worked with Nelson for many years; I had first known David at the Council on Foreign Relations in the ’50s, and I knew that Rockefeller meant it. He picked something that is important; and they got the best man to do it for them. When I thought about it, there actually was a need.
We were in the middle of the energy crisis, totally unforeseen by us. The last study that had been made in our government said the oil price might reach $5 by 1980; it had reached $12 at that point. All the industrialized democracies needed to find some method of concerted action, a common approach. And so, I encouraged David to go ahead, though I deserve no credit whatever for the consequences because David and Zbig and David’s Co-Chairmen created what we have today. Any society needs some people who bridge the gap between where they are and where they should be going—people with vision and courage—and the Trilateral Commission fulfilled a crucial role in that respect....
David, he is now over 80, has done great things in his life, but he is a little bit naive. He believes that any good idea can be implemented. And, by God, you have to be a little bit innocent to do great things. Cynics don’t build cathedrals. David’s function in our society is to recognize great tasks, to overcome the obstacles, to help find and inspire the people to carry them out, and to do it with remarkable delicacy....
David, I respect you and admire you for what you have done with the Trilateral Commission. You and your family have represented what goes for an aristocracy in our country—a sense of obligation not only to make it materially possible, but to participate yourself in what you have made possible and to infuse it with the enthusiasm, the innocence, and the faith that I identify with you and, if I may say so, with your family. And so I would like to propose a toast that this be preserved to us for a long time.