Of Facts & Factoids: The Trilateral Commission, Gorbachev & the European Union
By Will Banyan (Copyright © 04 June 2020)
Ever since it was established by billionaire plutocrat David Rockefeller (1915-2017) in July 1973, with the seemingly benign aim of bringing together the business, political and academic elites of North America, Europe and Japan, the Trilateral Commission has been the bête noire of conspiracy theorists. In their two volume study, Trilaterals Over Washington (1979 & 1981), for example, scholar Antony Sutton and his fellow researcher Patrick M. Wood accused the Trilateral Commission of being the “current operational vehicle for a corporate socialist takeover” of Washington DC and the “third attempt by the New York international banking fraternity to create a New World Economic Order under their control.” More recently Conspiracywiki.com, has claimed the Trilateral Commission is in “reality” a “secretive organization/society”, and its “true goal” is to “create a system of world currency and world governance to achieve a New World Order.” And James Perloff, in his book, Truth Is A Lonely Warrior (2013) also asserts that the Trilateral Commission is in fact a “coordination tool” for the “international hierarchy” behind the New World Order plot.
Such views are, of course, largely at odds with how the Commission presents and perceives itself. In 1980 David Rockefeller sought to publicly defend the Commission from the “nonsensical defamation” from the “extreme fringes of the Left and the Right.” The Trilateral Commission, he declared, was no more than “a group of concerned citizens interested in fostering greater understanding and cooperation amongst allies” (Saturday Evening Post, October 1980). Some forty years later, on the Trilateral Commission’s website, this soothing explanation was reaffirmed on the Frequently Asked Questions page:
The Trilateral Commission is a non-governmental, policy-oriented discussion group of about 390 distinguished citizens from Europe, North America, and Pacific Asia formed to encourage understanding and closer cooperation among these three regions on shared global problems.
For a middle way between these two extremes one can only turn to a meagre body of academic work, which currently includes just three books: Holly Sklar’s edited volume Trilateralism: The Trilateral Commission and Elite Planning for World Management (1980); Stephen Gill’s American Hegemony and the Trilateral Commission (1991); and Danish academic Dino Knudsen’s The Trilateral Commission and Global Governance: Informal Elite Diplomacy, 1972-82 (2016). Further understanding of the Trilateral Commission’s reach and influence can also be gleaned from the release of official documents. One particularly interesting case that has come to light is the Trilateral Commission’s attempt to influence East-West relations in the final years of the Soviet Union. Ironically, the documents partially confirm a seemingly explosive claim made by conspiracists about the role of the Trilateral Commission in an alleged elite plot to create a European superstate.
A Delegation to Moscow
It was whilst reading through David Icke’s epic tome, The Perception Deception (2013), I came across a section where he briefly recounted the claims of a former Soviet dissident, Vladimir Bukovksy (1942-2019), about the relationship between the Soviet Union and the European Union. According to Icke, Bukovsky had “said years ago that in 1992 he had seen secret Politburo and Central Committee documents about the European Union which confirmed the reality of the ‘conspiracy’ to turn Europe into a ‘totalitarian state.’” Among the documents viewed by Bukovksy was one which revealed that “a delegation from the Trilateral Commission…met with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in January 1989.” The delegation comprised David Rockefeller, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing (p.419). It was during a discussion about trade issues that Giscard d’Estaing apparently intervened to tell Gorbachev:
“Mr President, I cannot tell you exactly when it will happen – probably within 15 years – but Europe is going to be a federal state and you have to prepare yourself for that. You have to work out with us, and the European leaders, how you would react to that, how would you allow the other East European countries to interact with it or how to become a part of it, you have to be prepared” (ibid, p.421).
Icke’s rendering of Bukovksy’s claims is partially accurate (although for some strange reason he failed to mention that the Trilateral Commission delegation included former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone). In a transcript of a speech he gave in 2006 for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) published in The Brussels Journal (Feb. 27, 2006), Bukovksy did indeed claim to have had “unprecedented access to Politburo and Central Committee secret documents which have been classified, and still are even now, for 30 years.” Bukovksy also claimed there was a “conspiracy” between the Soviet Union and Europe’s left-wing political parties to “hijack the whole European project and turn it upside down. Instead of an open market they would turn it into a federal state.” As evidence for this conspiracy Bukovksy described the Trilateral Commission’s meeting with Gorbachev:
In January of 1989, for example, a delegation of the Trilateral Commission came to see Gorbachev. It included [former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro] Nakasone, [former French President Valéry] Giscard d’Estaing, [American banker David] Rockefeller and [former US Secretary of State Henry] Kissinger. They had a very nice conversation where they tried to explain to Gorbachev that Soviet Russia had to integrate into the financial institutions of the world, such as Gatt, the IMF and the World Bank.
In the middle of it Giscard d’Estaing suddenly takes the floor and says: “Mr President, I cannot tell you exactly when it will happen – probably within 15 years – but Europe is going to be a federal state and you have to prepare yourself for that. You have to work out with us, and the European leaders, how you would react to that, how would you allow the other East European countries to interact with it or how to become a part of it, you have to be prepared.”
This was January 1989, at a time when the  Maastricht treaty had not even been drafted. How the hell did Giscard d’Estaing know what was going to happen in 15 years time?And surprise, surprise, how did he become the author of the European constitution [in 2002-03]? A very good question. It does smell of conspiracy, doesn’t it?[emphasis added]
Indeed – to those unfamiliar with trajectory of European integration – it does. But one should surely ask if there was any evidence to support Bukovksy’s recollection of the Soviet documents? Is this yet another conspiracy factoid (a spurious claim without evidence) or even a pure fabrication? There seemed to be no documents confirming the Gorbachev-Trilateral Commission meeting on Bukovksy’s now defunct website. But in his book (written with Pavel Stroilov) EUSSR: The Soviet Roots of European Integration (2004), based on documents sourced from the “secret archives” of the Politburo (but kept at the Gorbachev Foundation) (p.1), Bukovksy provides this quotation from the meeting:
V.Giscard d’Estaing: Nowadays Western Europe is experiencing perestroika, changing its structures. It is difficult to say exactly when this will happen: five, ten or twenty years later. But a new modern federal state will emerge in Western Europe. This is where we are going, and the USSR should be prepared to communicate with a large single state of Western Europe. This future state will open, ready for all forms of cooperation (ibid, p.25, emphasis added).
Missing from Bukovksy and Stroilov’s book is any detail on what document they were referring to, let alone who wrote the meeting minutes. Icke, not surprisingly, has made no effort to ascertain whether Giscard actually made such a comment. Based on our prior experience of determining what transpired during David Rockefeller’s earlier meetings with Soviet leaders, with many researchers clearly prepared to ignore documentary evidence that conflicts with their preferred version, one might well expect Bukovksy’s claims to be similarly refuted. But in this case his claim about Giscard’s warning to Gorbachev can be substantiated from multiple sources. Remarkably, a number of official records have emerged that while not directly supporting Bukovksy’s particular theory about its significance or Icke’s sinister embellishments, they do confirm that Giscard did tell Gorbachev that the European Community was destined to become a federal state.
What Giscard told Gorbachev
That Giscard told Gorbachev to anticipate a federal European entity is confirmed in the Trilateral Commission’s “commemorative brochure” Trialogue 59 – Commemorating 1989, the Year That Changed the Map of Europe (and Thereby the World), published in 2009. The document compiles a number of records from the meeting between Gorbachev and the Trilateral Commission delegation of Kissinger, Giscard, Nakasone, and Rockefeller on January 18, 1989. This includes the notes taken by Gorbachev’s foreign policy adviser, Anatoly Chernyaev when Gorbachev briefed the Politburo on January 21, 1989 about his meeting with the Trilateral Commission delegation:
The second record reproduced in the Trilateral Commission collection comes from David Rockefeller’s notes of the meeting:
Further confirmation can be found in the recently released records of Gorbachev’s summit meeting with President George H. W. Bush off Malta on Soviet cruise ship, the Maxim Gorky in December 1989. In a meeting between the two delegations on the afternoon of December 3, 1989, Gorbachev indicated that he took Giscard’s comments about the future economic and political integration of Europe very seriously. There are two records of the meeting where he raised the issue. The first comes from the Soviet transcript of the Malta Summit (at the website of the National Security Archive at George Washington University), prepared by the Soviet note-taker Chernyaev:
The other meeting record is the declassified Memorandum of Conversation for the Second Expanded Bilateral Session (released at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum website) prepared by the US note-taker Condoleeza Rice, then a Director of Soviet and East European Affairs in the National Security Council Staff:
These records all clearly confirm that Giscard had indeed told Gorbachev to expect and to prepare for a federated Western Europe over a time frame of up to twenty years. Quite simply: Bukovksy’s essential claims about Giscard’s statement to Gorbachev cannot be dismissed as a “factoid”, or worse, but stand as a verifiable fact.
Plan or Prediction?
So, it is a fact: in early 1989 Giscard told Gorbachev to expect a “Federated State of Western Europe” within the next ten to twenty years. But was Giscard revealing an elite plan or timetable for achieving a federal United States of Europe, or merely making a bold prediction? Bukovksy clearly saw Giscard’s statement as proof of “conspiracy”, specifically as an admission from an insider that the long-term agenda for Europe had already been decided, if not plotted out, years in advance. Aside from David Icke, Bukovksy’s account has been picked up by numerous other New World Order researchers and opponents of the European project as evidence for their theories. Paul Joseph Watson, for example, writing on Alex Jones’ Prison Planet website, referred to Bukovksy’s account of the “amazing meeting” between Gorbachev and the Trilateral Commission:
Here we have the luminaries of the global elite ordering Gorbachev to fold Communism and get on board with the next stage of the New World Order’s agenda for global government. This is another astounding piece of evidence proving the long-term goals of the internationalists to vanquish national sovereignty and replace it with centralized world federalism (Prison Planet, March 2, 2006).
Likewise from Eurosceptics: in 2006 Norwegian blogger Peder Are Nøstvold Jensen, writing under the nom de plume of “Fjordman”, commented favourably on Bukovksy’s revelations, arguing that Giscard’s comments were significant:
Yes, it does smell of conspiracy. This was in the 1980s, when most of the media still dismissed talk of a political union to subdue the nation states as scaremongering.
Another Eurosceptic on the EU Referendum website, however, took issue with Bukovksy, suggesting that his pronouncements to the Brussels Journal should not have been “breathlessly and uncritically published”, as it revealed his unfamiliarity with the history of the European project. Moreover, in regards to Giscard’s warning to Gorbachev:
… that in fifteen years’ time Europe will be a federal state. How the hell did he know that, asks Bukovsky. The Maastricht Treaty had not even been drafted. Must be a conspiracy, though it is not clear, whose, the French or the Soviet president’s.
Well, now, of course, Europe is not a federal state and the aim is to create a more or less unitary one with some federal aspects. And the idea has been around for a very long time, since between the wars and certainly since the Second World War. M Giscard was showing knowledge of the theory of European integration that seems to have escaped Mr Bukovsky.
This latter assessment is certainly more accurate. From this we can see there two reasons why Giscard’s declarations in Moscow should not be seen as revealing a secret elite plan and timetable for the establishment of a federated Europe.
The ‘Eurofederalist’ Consensus
First, as noted on the EU Referendum website, contrary to Bukovsky’s claims, the push to establish a federated European state had long been a public aim, in fact it had been the main drivers behind the entire European project. Bukovksy, however, erroneously created the impression that a federated Europe had never been seriously suggested until it was proposed by Giscard and the “left-wing parties.” Yet the concept of the federated Europe or “United States of Europe” had been publicly advocated as far back as the 1920s and 1930s by such luminaries as Austrian diplomat Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, who conceived the “Pan-Europa” concept – the “union of Europe’s nations” – and founded of the Pan-Europa Movement; and French Foreign Minister Ariste Briand, who proposed a “federal bond” be established between the countries of Europe.
These proposals received new life in the aftermath of the Second World War, where a federated European state seemed like the best way to permanently contain and neutralise German militarism. Towards the end of 1945, for example, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill told the Senate of the recently liberated Belgium that he would like to see a “United States of Europe.” Churchill went further in a formal address to Zurich University on September 19, 1946, proposing a “sovereign remedy” one that would “transform the whole scene” and make Europe as “happy as Switzerland is today.” Churchill recommended re-creating the “European Family”, possibly as a “kind of United States of Europe”, that would function as a regional organisation subordinate to the United Nations.
In fact, in the decades leading up the Giscard’s visit to the USSR, there had been numerous very public predictions that the European Community would in time evolve into a federated entity, a “United States of Europe”. In 1956, for example, Sylvia Porter, a syndicated US newspaper columnist, reported that within the “next 10 – 15 years…we are going to see a United States of Western Europe.” According to Porter’s mysterious “informed British source”, this was both “exciting” and “inevitable” (The Deseret News, Oct. 27, 1956). In his 1962 article “Ferment of Change” (Journal of Common Market Studies), the revered “Father of Europe”, Jean Monnet described how the emerging Common Market was “laying the foundations for political union.” Monnet even held out the possibility that this would in time be followed by “some kind of union” between Europe and the United States, one that was to be the first steps towards a “more orderly world.” In 1964, Belgian diplomat Eugene Friday told students at the University of Oregon that European Common Market had launched an “irreversible trend” towards European unity that would culminate in a United States of Europe that would become “one of the great powers of the world” (Eugene-Register Guard, Feb. 28, 1964).
By the time of Giscard’s visit to Moscow, the political integration of Europe was squarely on the agenda and was the subject of intense debates amongst EC members. In a September 1988, in an address to the College of Europe in Bruges, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had publicly opposed establishing a “European superstate exercising a new dominance from Brussels.” Some months after Giscard’s Russia visit, Jacques Delors, the President of the European Community released his much-anticipated “Report on economic and monetary union in the European Community” (April 17, 1989) that laid the ground work for the introduction of the Euro and for a single European market. In his October 1989 speech before the College of Europe, responding to Thatcher, Delors endorsed a federal approach to strengthen EC institutions while at the same time insisting there was “no conspiracy against the nation state”, and that he only wanted to “bring nations together.”
Second, missing from Bukovksy’s account is the simple fact that Giscard had prior form as both a supporter and a would-be prophet on the imminence of a federal Europe. In 1966 Giscard had founded the Fédération Nationale des Républicains Indépendants (FNRI), which in 1969 had merged with Jean Monnet’s Action Committee for the United States of Europe. The latter organisation, founded in 1956 by Monnet, the so-called founding father of the European Union, was a pressure group intended to keep alive the drive towards European unity. It was Monnet, reflecting on Giscard’s electoral victory in 1974, who claimed the new French President had “the conviction that Europe must be achieved” one that was not just a “point of view”, but came from “the heart” (quoted in The World Today, Feb. 1977, p.73).
It was Giscard’s enthusiasm for European unity, the fact that he was “neither addicted to ‘national independence’ nor allergic to ‘supranational integration’” (The World Today, Feb. 1977, p.73), which drove him to make spectacularly inaccurate predictions about Europe’s federal future. Back in the late 1960s, for example, Giscard had “reportedly said that General de Gaulle would be last President of France and the next would be the President of Europe” (The Times, Apr. 29, 1970). In 1986, Giscard revisited his prediction telling a French radio audience there should be a president of Western Europe and a “European Washington” (Associated Press, Mar. 8, 1987). In this light it is worth noting that Giscard had already said in public what he subsequently told Gorbachev in private: that a federal Europe was only decades away. In March 1988, nearly a year before his visit to Moscow, Giscard had told a gathering at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri to expect a “United States of Europe”. As the St. Louis Dispatch (Mar. 15, 1988) reported, Giscard had:
…predicted Monday night at Webster University that a United States of Europe would exist “during your lifetime.”
“We have recently adopted a new treaty, named the Single European Act,” Giscard said to about 900 people at the Loretto-Hilton Theatre. “It tends to complete the Common Market, eliminate frontiers and allow goods, services, people and capital to circulate freely by the end of the year 1992.”
“But I would like to insist on this: During your lifetime, the construction of Europe will be completed. For each of you, it will be a practical reality” (emphasis added).
In the view of his record, it is obvious that Giscard was giving his personal view that a federated European state was inevitable and desirable, a view he still seemed convinced of as recently as 2002 and 2014, (though not so much in 2018). Less plausible is the notion he was revealing some secret elite timetable for European integration. But of more interest is how this act of informal diplomacy, involving a prestigious group of former political leaders (Giscard and Nakasone), a former official (Kissinger) and a plutocrat (Rockefeller), under the Trilateral Commission banner may have influenced Gorbachev. Why did Giscard say this to Gorbachev: what was the intention, and what impact did it have?
Gorbachev vs. the Trilateral Agenda
In retrospect it seems obvious that the purpose of Giscard’s statement was to put pressure on Gorbachev, to remind him that Western Europe was on the verge of a dramatic political and economic transformation, one that would change its relationship with the USSR and its Eastern European satellites. Giscard sought to emphasise Soviet weakness against the emerging strength of a united capitalist Europe. In presenting this challenge, Giscard was no doubt expressing his own optimistic belief in the inevitability of the EC becoming a federal entity, but it was also calculated to influence Gorbachev’s thinking, and in that sense it succeeded. But he was also working within the agenda of the visiting delegation to devise a strategy to pressure the Soviet Union make more substantive political and economic reforms.
Gorbachev was initially sceptical of the intent behind the various messages he received from the Trilateral Commission’s delegation. In his report to the Politburo, Gorbachev concluded they were trying to “limit as much as possible [Soviet] influence on the world situation, they are trying to seize the initiative from us…” (Commemorating 1989, p.6). And yet Giscard’s statement on Europe’s future still had an impact with Gorbachev later directing his aide Chernayev to prepare in “total secrecy” a speech for delivery before the Council of Europe in Strasbourg later that year; Chernayev, in turn, would instruct the speechwriter to develop a speech that would “implicitly support Mitterand’s approach.” According to National Security Archive scholar Svetlana Savranskaya, this “Mitterand approach” was Chernayev’s short-hand for “the notion Gorbachev seized on at the Trilateral Commission session about a borderless Europe in 10-20 years” (Savranskaya et al, Masterpieces of History: The Peaceful End of the Cold War in Eastern Europe 1989, 2010, p.389).
Gorbachev’s skepticism about the Trilateral Commission’s vision for USSR’s future relationship with Europe was well-founded. In their Task Force Report, East-West Relations, publicly released in April 1989, two months before Gorbachev gave his Strasbourg speech, Giscard, Nakasone and Kissinger had already rejected his concept of a “Common European Home” as it “ignores the fundamental differences between Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.” They also warned that it could be “interpreted as an effort to dissociate the United States from Europe”, so they would “categorically reject any such policy” (p.12). In their proposed formulation Europe would be divided up into three areas: the existing EC countries plus the European Free Trade Area; the USSR; and the countries of Eastern and Central Europe. To the last group, then still subject to Soviet control (but only months away from a sudden Soviet retreat), they proposed devising a “category of association with the European Community.” For the USSR, however, no such arrangement was contemplated as it was “not a fully European country” (p.13).
Gorbachev delivered his speech on “Europe as a Common Home” to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on July 6, 1989, where he proposed his new approach to relations with Europe, under his existing slogan of a “Common European Home”, which he had first used in 1985 (though it had earlier been used by one of his predecessors, Leonid Brezhnev in 1981). Gorbachev began by acknowledging that the “pan-European process is a reality”, one that “continues to evolve.” He claimed that the USSR and the US were a “natural part of the European international and political structure” and proposed replacing the existing “balance of forces” with a “balance of interests” that put “European common values in the forefront.” Gorbachev had also proposed as a “realistic prospect” the “emergence of a vast economic space from the Atlantic to the Urals where Eastern and Western parts would be strongly interlocked.” This transition would “increase East-West economic interdependence” and would improve “the entire spectrum of European relations.”
Gorbachev’s aim was to try to insert the Soviet Union into the emerging European Community. But in doing so he misunderstood the message from Giscard that the USSR needed to adapt to the emerging European Community, not plan to be part of it. This became clear in Giscard’s public response to Gorbachev in a speech he delivered to the Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House) in London later that same month. He dismissed Gorbachev’s claim that the USSR and US were a “natural part” of Europe’s political structure, as the Soviet President’s speech otherwise failed to mention:
the emerging union of West European states-the European Community-which, as it develops, will far outrun the Soviet Union economically, commercially and financially (International Affairs, Autumn 1989, p.653).
He also took issue with the concept of a “Common European Home” as it served to:
blur two distinct historic developments currently unfolding on the continent of Europe: the union of a group of sovereign states bringing together their resources and their historical and cultural values and seeking a common approach to a federalism that can be adapted to their nature and to modern times; and the expansion of relations of all kinds between all the states situated wholly or partly on the European promontory of the continent of Asia (ibid, p.654; emphasis added).
Crucially, and this undermines the theory that the European Community served as a building bloc for the New World Order, is that Giscard envisaged Europe divided into five “houses” each of the “destined for different futures”:
These are, first, the European Community-the group of twelve West European countries engaged in-the process of creating a European union; secondly, the countries of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA); thirdly, the East European countries of the Warsaw Pact; fourthly, the ‘isolated’ countries-Yugoslavia, Albania, Malta; and fifthly, the European part of the Soviet Union (ibid, p.654; emphasis added).
Giscard may be a Euro-Federalist, but his vision has always been limited to a federal entity comprising a core group of Western European countries. From a Trilateral perspective it seemed that Gorbachev had only partially understood the message that Giscard was relaying: Europe was integrating, but this was not an invitation for the Soviet Union to join but to adapt and adjust to the new power emerging power centre.
Gorbachev, though, persisted with his “Common European Home” concept, raising it again, as we have seen, with US President Bush Sr. at their talks in Malta in December 1989. Gorbachev even explained how his meeting with the Trilateral Commission at the start of that year had influenced his thinking:
Chairman Gorbachev: …You have remarked about change in Europe. Something fundamental is happening and change in Western Europe is no less fundamental. A few months ago I talked to the Trilateral Commission — Giscard, Nakasone and Kissinger. Yes. It was coordinated by Rockefeller and it was a very interesting group. I guess they all have plenty of time now.
The President: They have money too.
Chairman Gorbachev: President Giscard made remarks and said to me that I must be ready to deal with a United Federation of Europe — a Federated State of Western Europe. He said that economic integration is taking place now at all levels as 1992 approaches and that political structures will also develop –perhaps even supernational structures.
As Europeans, we try to put this into the context of a “common European house.” I would like you to agree to give more thorough consideration to this idea because both sides have an interest. Both must – now that the whole of Europe is in a period of flux.
The President: I agree.
(Memorandum of Conversation, pp.6-7; emphasis added)
Bush may have said that he agreed to give Gorbachev’s concept of a “Common European Home” some more consideration, but he had already staked out his alternative. At a press conference in Paris in July 1989, Bush had offered praise for Gorbachev’s concept but had sought to establish his vision of a Europe that was “whole and free” (a slogan he had already offered up in Germany in May 1989), where its citizens could move between countries, something that would require “an evolution in the Soviet Union, and…an evolution in Eastern Europe.” After Malta though, with Soviet power ebbing across the world and retreating from Eastern Europe, Gorbachev’s vision largely disappeared. Bukovsky’s account of the Trilateral Commission’s 1989 mission to Moscow has been seized on by conspiracists as evidence of the global elite’s long-term plans for European federation. This, as we have a seen, is clearly a fanciful proposition, one that this misses the real significance of the meeting. For one, Giscard’s declaration of an impending European federation was more the personal prediction of a committed Euro-federalist than a revelation of the elite’s long-term schedule. Indeed, as recent history has shown, it was a prediction based on misplaced confidence. In the wake of various financial crises and Brexit, and the splintering effect of the coronavirus pandemic, the dream of a federated Europe remains elusive. Second, it overlooks how such (incorrect) predictions and forecasts had long been part of the Eurofederalist scene. And finally, it misses its significance of the Trilateral Commission delegation as an act of informal diplomacy, one that arguably succeeded in briefly influencing Gorbachev’s thinking towards Europe, though his response was ill-conceived and ultimately swept away by the tide of history.