Their words, not mine.
Members discuss China, middle powers and ChatGPT at meeting in India
NEW DELHI — As retired foreign ministers, ambassadors, CEOs, bankers and academics gathered at the secretive Trilateral Commission’s first global plenary meeting in India, perhaps the most influential individual sat quietly off to the side, listening.
James Baker, director of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, was not even on the list of participants at the Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi. But his takeaways from the meeting could find their way into policies that shape the world.
Baker is the successor to legendary defense strategist Andrew Marshall, who headed the office for 42 years. He is responsible for providing the Secretary of Defense with an assessment of U.S. military capabilities relative to other actors 20 to 30 years down the road.
One particular speech may have caught Baker’s attention, for it captured the essence of the three-day discussion, held from Friday through Sunday. “The Biden administration is trying to convince the world that there is this titanic struggle between autocracies and democracies. I am skeptical about that,” a speaker said. Instead, the world is fragmented, with countries — including the U.S. — looking out for their self-interests, the speaker added.
The Trilateral Commission is a nongovernmental organization that seeks to deepen understanding between the U.S., Europe and Asia.
The speaker, who cannot be identified according to commission rules, went on: “Three decades of globalization — defined as integrated, free-market based and deflationary — has been replaced by what will be a multidecade period of globalization defined as fragmented, not-free-market-based but industrial-policy based and structurally inflationary. This year, 2023, is Year One of this new global order.”
At the core of this shift is the U.S. Instead of committing to a neoliberal, free-market economy, the U.S. government is driving the economy and key industries toward a set of objectives, such as domestic equity at home and competition with China, the speaker said.
In such a world, middle powers like India, Saudi Arabia and Turkey will carve their own paths, weighing the economic, strategic and defense interests, the speaker said.
Ironically, as the Trilateral Commission convened, Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to normalize relations, shattering Israel’s hopes for isolating Tehran. The deal was brokered by China, with the U.S. having no role in the handshake.
Created by philanthropist David Rockefeller in 1973, the commission sought to bring the rising economy of Japan firmly into the West. Today, the commission has expanded to include members from South Korea, India and Southeast Asia.
Fresh from overtaking China as the world’s most populous country and with a new “appetite for the world,” in the words of one participant, India was a major focus of discussions. Representatives from the country engaged in a lively debate with their Chinese counterparts.
When a former Chinese diplomat suggested that the two nations “meet halfway” over their Himalayan border problem and find a way to settle differences, an Indian government official categorically rejected how the Chinese were framing the issue.
“The Chinese side must understand, you cannot undermine peace and tranquility and then say ‘let the rest of the relationship be normal,'” the Indian official said. “You can’t have violence on the boundary and business in the hinterland. It doesn’t work.”
But commission members expressed hope that China would play a part in ending the Ukraine war. “Whether Russia will stop the war depends on the role of China. If China decides to help Russia [evade] sanctions, if China decides to provide Russia with arms, this war can go on for very long,” one European analyst said.
Members also worried about how the war has disrupted efforts to reach net-zero emissions. “The new conflict that is perceived in many constituencies is between energy security on one hand and energy transformation on the other, following Ukraine,” a member said. “At least for the short term, some of these priorities seemed to have shifted. We need to now reorder these priorities in a way that energy transformation happens and becomes the main driver of where investments need to go.”
Another hot topic was artificial intelligence. “A poll last year found that 49% of AI researchers have said that AI poses an existential threat to humanity, almost to the level of a nuclear type of disaster in the scale of humanity,” said a member. Many in the room called for a global regulatory scheme to govern AI.
Still, participants were generally positive about the wildly popular ChatGPT and later jokingly asked the bot to write a poem about the Trilateral Commission.
Following is one example:
“In secret meetings, you plan and conspire,
To create a new order, of which you aspire.
Your goals are unclear, but some see the end,
As a world government, with you as its friend.”