The Trilateral Commission: Effect on the Middle East
Moreover, the cumulative impact of embargo, price hikes, and unilateral
OPEC decision making constituted the first major blow against the
international economic structure that had long prevailed between the
developing and the developed states. Coupled with the nationalizations and
participation agreement of the previous few years, these moves represented
the first consequential implementation of the idea of Third World control
over its resources. The OPEC decisions were a concrete expression of the
demand for economic change.
Two other associations which formed as a result of the impetus provided
by OPEC are called the Group of 77 and the Nonaligned Movement. However,
these organizations would play a major role on OPEC's loss of control
because of their association with the United Nations. While these two
associations could not combine into one association because of political
differences with the individual states' ideologies, they nevertheless
created a "credible capacity for joint action" (Mortimer, 1984:2). They
constitute the Third World Coalition and have the goal of structural change.
However, two questions must be answered. Can a group of heterogeneous
countries maintain or even achieve a cohesion for very long? More
importantly, how can a body of poor countries (regardless of however many
members they possess) hope to achieve change in the face of more powerful
countries joining together, as in the Trilateral Commission thereby enabling
the more powerful countries to co-opt the elites in the poor countries?
Nevertheless, the Group of 77 and the Nonaligned movement set about to
attain a unity by ordering a Special Session of the United nations to be
held in the Spring of 1974. In drafting a position paper for this session,
the countries of Yugoslavia, Algeria, India in association "with one
significant newcomer, Iran, whose growing prominence with OPEC gave its
voice weight," (Mortimer, 1984:52) drafted what became the New International
Economic Order (NIEO) resolutions.
While the Third World was perfectly well aware that General Assembly
resolutions have no binding effect, they still exercised their majority
power in the interest of systemic consciousness raising. The passage of the
NIEO resolution established neither a new order nor even a new idea. But the
framers gave a new rhetorical force and political salience to the Third
World's longstanding claim of the right to development.
However, the challenge facing the Third World coalition now was to
transform the exhortations of the NIEO resolutions into concrete acts. Given
the existing international economic structures and the distribution of power
that lay behind them, the Third World countries were well aware that this
task would not be easily accomplished. "It implied multilateral North-South
negotiations, individual and collective initiatives by the developing
states, the eventual creation of new international institutions (for
example, in the field of commodity trade regulation), and persistent
political pressure to give weight to the interests of the Third World"
President Ford at the time declared that "production restrictions,
artificial pricing, and the prospect of ultimate bankruptcy" (Mortimer,
1984: 57) would victimize everyone, including the OPEC nations. However,
Third World unity during the 1974 General Assembly made it clear that the
developing states were determined to maintain a common front in the face of
Northern intransigence on the energy/development issue.
For the Third World it was critical that this show of unity remain alive
outside the General Assembly as well. As the West and particularly the
United States, continued to focus upon oil, OPEC remained at the very center
of the confrontation. Because of its condemnation of OPEC's collective
policies, the United States initiated even closer relations with the biggest
producer of all, Saudi Arabia. The extensive role of U.S. oil companies in
the development and management of Saudi Arabia's enormous resources coupled
with the Saudi monarch's fervent anticommunism had affected an intricate
network of political and economic ties between the two states. Given Saudi
Arabia's weight within OPEC, the organization was far from immune to U.S.
pressure for a cutback in prices. However, the more radical OPEC members
were sensitive to the potential consequences of internal division. They knew
that a crack in OPEC ranks would bring about the disintegration of the
larger third World coalition.
In early 1975 the Algerian government proposed an unprecedented OPEC
summit conference. It sought to close ranks within OPEC by reconfirming at
the highest level that the OPEC states would defend their won policies as
the vanguard of a larger Third World movement for economic development.
Saudi Arabia was cool to the proposal, arguing that a summit would escalate
tensions, but eventually concurred. The summit conference was scheduled for
March 1975, shortly after two other Third World conferences already on the
diplomatic calendar for February. The combination of these three meetings
provided a political framework suitable to the evolving diplomatic
situation. This joint conference affirmed the solidarity of the Third World
oil importers with their OPEC counterparts (Mortimer, 1984).
However, on the eve of the OPEC summit, President Giscard d'Estaing
announced that France was inviting a group of representative states to a
preparatory meeting for an international convergence on energy problems. The
participants were to be the United States, the European Economic Community
(as a single delegation), Japan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Algeria, Venezuela,
India, Brazil, and Zaire. Of the Third World invites, Saudi Arabia (which in
fact has proposed exactly this list of countries several months earlier) and
Iran immediately announced that they would attend the preparatory meeting.
The political task of the summit was to define a position that could
reconcile Saudi Arabia's desire for a more conciliatory stance toward the
North with Algeria's concern to make OPEC the spearhead of the Third World.
Algeria was ready to modify its position on prices so long as OPEC
forcefully defended the larger concept of NIEO. This concession seems to be
the opening that gave the industrialized powers the feeling that the
organization of Third World countries would compromise thereby preempting
"Constructive waiting" (Mortimer, 1984:53) therefore, was the United
States' answer to OPEC. Additionally, the United States wanted to organize
an anti-OPEC coalition, and preferred to operate outside United Nations
institutions precisely because these institutions lent themselves to a show
of Third World unity. The General Assembly was the preferred forum of the
developing countries because it could register one of their few sources of
power, the fact of number The very idea of the Special Session in effect
represented a clash between OPEC's voting power and U.S. economic defiance,
however, it knew that real economic change could come about only with the
U.S.'s acquiescence, no matter what the General Assembly might resolve. The
United States counted upon its economic power as an eventual countervailing
force with which the developing states would have to reckon before
substantive international action on the energy/development crisis could be
taken (Mortimer, 1984).
Therefore, the gap between Algeria's Boumediene's and Kissinger's
conception could hardly have been greater. They were diametrically opposed
on the basic rules of the game of North/South economic exchanges. Each
demanded a fundamental revision of the other's position. For Boumediene,
structural change was a prerequisite for North-South cooperation; for
Kissinger, cooperation was feasible only if the Third World exhibited
political moderation (Mortimer, 1984). This moderation can only be construed
as a desire by Kissinger and all the other trilateralists for the OPEC
nations to return to their dependent status.
The United States was in a position to pursue an unbending policy of
"energy first" (Mortimer, 1984:64). Just before the preparatory meeting
opened, (which President Gistard d'Estaing organized in Paris in April,
1975) Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Enders declared that the
industrial states were participating in Paris in order to "hasten OPEC's
demise" (Mortimer, 1984:65). His colleague, Under Secretary of State Charles
Robinson revised this remark with a less inflammatory formulation of the
U.S. aims, but he observed that the meeting had more than enough to handle
with the energy problems. The meeting ran for nine days without any
significant change in the U.S. position, except the addition of other
matters to the proposed agenda, but stood by the notion that energy issues
must be preeminent. The political question became whether the seven
developing states would acquiesce to this condition (Mortimer, 1984).
The mutual determination of the United States, on the one hand, and the
seven Third World representatives, on the other, in standing by their
divergent emphases brought the meeting to an impasse. The talks ended
without agreement, a diplomatic setback for France, a deadlock so far as the
United States was concerned, but something of a victory for the Third World
coalition. So far as the developing countries were concerned, the stakes in
Paris were the durability of the coalition as it had stood since the Sixth
Special Session (Mortimer, 1984).
The Third World representatives in Paris wielded a power that was new
for the developing countries. The forum was different from the United
Nations, and their stand had an immediate impact that General Assembly
resolutions lacked. They were able to exercise the kind of blocking power
that had previously been the province of the industrial states. The power,
therefore, of the seven was rendered credible (Mortimer, 1984).
The U.S. decision makers drew the conclusion after Paris that the
conservative members of OPEC were going to join the radical ones in bidding
for the political leadership of the Third World. Not only had the U.S. hard
line failed to crack OPEC or the Group of 77, but it also had encouraged the
predominance of the radical wing of the coalition. As Roger Hansen (1976:58)
states, "As long as the United States responded negatively to almost all
developing country requests in almost all international conferences, the
moderates with the Group of 77 had no hand to play." Kissinger now logically
concluded that this was counterproductive. It was now in the U.S. interest
to allow the moderates to reenter the bidding.
Therefore, about one month after the collapse of the Paris talks,
Kissinger declared that "Our thinking on the issue of raw materials...has
moved forward." The United States was now ready to envisage an international
conference to discuss a broad range of North-South issues. Such a conference
could be organized, as the Third World had proposed, into three or four
commissions of equal status. This shift in U.S. policy opened the way to the
North-South Conference, which eventually got underway in December 1975. More
generally, it constituted the first major turning point in North-South
relations since the oil revolution.
The Third World succeeded, therefore, in bringing about a change in U.S.
foreign policy in the Spring of 1975. The U.S. policy shift was definitely
tactical, but it was attributable to a coherent Third World strategy of
solidarity. The durability of the Third World coalition placed the United
States in a diplomatically untenable position from which it was obliged to
retreat. The Third World triumph, limited as it was to an essentially
procedural issue, the agenda of North-South negotiations, was nevertheless
of considerable significance. It was the first time that the joint action of
the developing countries had affected such a change. It pushed North-South
relations to a new plateau by virtue of the explicit recognition that the
international economic crisis entailed the entire issue of the relationship
between rich and poor (Mortimer, 1984).
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