Nexus Magazine Volume 10
- Number 6
David Rockefeller's "one world" vision for global economic
interdependence involves US leadership in fostering collaboration
with other nations rather than the implementation an imperialistic
INTERNATIONALIST": DAVID ROCKEFELLER (1915 - )
Towards "One World"
Clearly, government positions have held few attractions for David
Rockefeller. However, as an unofficial but uniquely powerful
"ambassador without portfolio", David has been able to do "a lot of
interesting things" without ever being called to account. Driving
most of his activities over the past 40 years has been his vision of
creating "a more integrated global political and economic
structure--one world". To achieve this goal, David has supported a
multidimensional strategy comprising US global leadership, the
United Nations, multinational corporations, international economic
integration, global and regional free trade, and global governance.
The cornerstone of David's New World Order vision is
US leadership. David traces his devotion to the concept to when he
"returned from World War II believing that a new international
architecture had to be erected and that the United States had a
moral obligation to provide leadership to that effort".31
In the immediate post-war period, according to David, America
"played a pivotal--and, for the most part, a highly
constructive--role in the world".32
This role David has insisted on maintaining, irrespective of changes
to the global political landscape and America's position in it.
Despite America having lost much of its strength, "[w]e are still a
major power in the world and, as such, have a responsibility we
cannot shirk", David proclaimed in 1980 to the Los Angeles World
In fact, "we must restore our rightful role in the world by
reasserting the strength of our currency and our economy", David
argued in a 1979 address that warned of America's economic decline.34
For David, US leadership has never meant unilateralism or a crude
imperialism to secure global dominance; instead, it had to be used
to build a
New World Order based on
supranational institutions and economic interdependence. This was to
be achieved through cooperation with other nations, either in a
"trilateral partnership" with Western Europe and Japan
or under the tutelage of international organizations such as the UN.
"With the dissolution of the Soviet Union," David told a Business
Council for the United Nations (BCUN) gathering in
1994, "the opportunity for enlightened American leadership is,
perhaps, even greater than it was in 1939, at the beginning of the
Second World War, or in 1945 when the Cold War began."
35 However, it
was an "illusion" that "Americans by themselves have the wisdom to
frame sound policy for a diverse community of nations", David
claimed on the occasion of the CFR's 75th anniversary. That goal
could only be achieved "through patient collaboration among leaders
from many countries", with the US playing a key role in "fostering
And just as his brother Nelson argued 30 years before, David insists
in Memoirs that the United States has no choice in the matter, for
international circumstances are compelling and irresistible; America
The United States cannot
escape from its responsibilities. Today's world cries out for
leadership, and our nation must provide it. In the twenty-first
century there can be no place for isolationists; we must all be
But in asserting that this
"internationalist" policy must be followed, David also makes this
veiled criticism of the increasingly imperialistic agenda adopted by
the administration of George W. Bush:
The world has now become
so inextricably intertwined that the United States can no longer go
it alone, as some prominent politicians have urged that we should.
We are the world's sole superpower and its dominant nation
economically. One of our duties is to provide judicious and
consistent leadership that is firmly embedded in our national values
Although crucial, US
leadership has not been the only component of David's vision;
undermining national sovereignty through economic integration has
been of equal importance. As the only trained economist of his
generation of Rockefellers, having been taught by the leading free
trade and free market theorists of the 1930s and 1940s, David has
long been aware that the power of national governments can best be
undermined by steadily reducing their control over economic matters.
In fact, he has always regarded government regulation as an obstacle
to prosperity and often argued for the need to "prune the forest of
rules and let the economy grow".39
But in advocating the lifting of restrictions on business, whether
through deregulation or free trade, David has always recognized that
this will erode national autonomy.
For example, in a lecture he gave in Manchester, UK, in 1975, David
singled out multinational corporations (MNCs) as one
of the other main drivers of this process, describing them as "the
most important instruments in the unprecedented expansion that has
taken place in world trade". The purpose of his lecture, however,
was to defend
MNCs from the "new demonology" emanating from the
Third World-dominated UN General Assembly, primarily
in the form of the so-called New International Economic Order
and Lima Declarations.
These declarations aimed to reorder the world economy by subjecting
MNCs to global regulations, relieving Third World
debts and changing international trade rules to favor developing
countries. Finding this agenda objectionable, David accused the
"revolutionary left" and "radical politicians" of "calling most
persistently for punitive taxes and crippling regulation of
It was in his concluding prescription that David Rockefeller
made it clear how crucial MNCs are to his goal of an
integrated global economy:
We should be doing all
in our power to lift the siege that is taking shape around our
beleaguered multinational companies. They still have much work to do
in helping to create a true world economy. We must let them get on
with this unfinished business.41
Another feature of David's
push for global economic integration has been his contention that
breaking down the barriers to trade and investment was essential to
world order. Arguing the case for foreign investment in 1969, David
suggested that if Western businesses were to expand the reach of
"modern technical society" to encompass the Third World, this would
"do more than anything to restore and strengthen the hope in the
idea of international cooperation".42
"In a world of
growing interdependence," David told British writer
Anthony Sampson in the 1970s, "the last thing we want is
Indeed, the "expansion of trade" and the "emergence of a genuine
world economy", David declared at Manchester in 1975, were "our
best prospects for maintaining peace among nations".44
Integrating the Western Hemisphere
David has not only pursued his goals globally, but has sought to
establish economic interdependence at the regional level. Most of
his efforts in that regard have been devoted to the economic and
political integration of the Americas, or the Western Hemisphere. To
achieve this, in 1965 David created a business lobby group,
the Council for Latin America, now known as the
Council of the Americas (COA). The Council's purpose, David
explained in a Foreign Affairs article in 1966, was to "stimulate
and support economic integration". But in supporting this objective,
David's ultimate aim was to lock the entire region into a
neo-liberal policy matrix, making it more attractive to
MNCs. Without integration, David argued, "there is
inefficient division of markets and costly duplications of effort";
only through "closer cooperation" could the Latin American nations
"make the best of their own resources and provide the broadest
appeal to foreign investment".45
Nearly 30 years on, the Council remains committed to these goals,
describing its purpose as "promoting regional economic integration,
free trade, open markets and investment, and the rule of law
throughout the Western Hemisphere". It is an agenda that the
expects will eventually deliver "the economic growth and
prosperity on which the business interests of its members depend".46
This approach should not be surprising, for David has long objected
to the "faulty economic model" of government regulation, subsidies
and protectionism that most Latin American countries adopted in the
In 1964, David publicly complained about the growing popularity of
"coldly anti-capitalist" sentiments in the region, blaming a
"relentless campaign" by "Soviet, Castro and Chinese Communist
agents". He maintained that this "Communist propaganda" had
convinced many Latin American politicians to impose laws aimed at
"curtailing or expelling foreign investors". Claiming to be
"genuinely distressed" at the "feeble response" of US corporations,
David insisted on a strategy to "combat the Communist propaganda",
warning his fellow American businessmen that, if they failed to act,
"we stand in grave danger of losing our investments, our markets".48
In Memoirs, David casually boasts of his role in reversing
this trend as the founder and Chairman of his other philanthropic
organization, ostensibly dedicated to Latin American cultural
affairs: the Americas Society. In 1983, the Society's
Latin American Advisory Council, set up by David, agreed on the need
to find a solution to the devastating debt crisis then afflicting
most of Latin America--a crisis David's bank had a direct role in
instigating. David then tasked the Institute for International
Economics (of which he was a board member) to research the
issue and propose a solution. The result was the influential
Toward Renewed Economic Growth in Latin America (1986), which
advocated "lowering trade barriers, opening investment to
foreigners, and privatizing state-run and -controlled enterprises".49
These prescriptions are now known, quite aptly, as the
"Washington Consensus", seeing it was the Washington based
that imposed these policies on the region, reportedly to devastating
With most of Latin America finally moving toward free trade by the
late 1980s, David has since pursued with increasing vigor not only
his longer-term goal of "Latin American economic integration"
but the economic integration of the entire hemisphere. In 1989,
David called for intensified economic cooperation between the US and
Latin America; and three years later, at the COA-sponsored
Forum of the Americas, attended by then President George
H. W. Bush and regional leaders, he proposed creating a "Western
Hemisphere free trade area".51
David later noted with some pride that participants at the Forum
were "unanimous" in supporting the goal of a "full Western
Hemisphere free trade area by 2000". In line with this overall
objective, David was a staunch supporter of the North American
Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), declaring in the
Wall Street Journal in 1993 that he did not think "criminal would be
too strong a word to describe rejecting
The success of David's efforts is apparent in the agreement, reached
in Quebec in April 2001, to begin to establish a Free Trade Area of
the Americas (FTAA), covering the whole hemisphere
(except Cuba) by 2006. David, who had earlier lobbied hard but
unsuccessfully for "fast track" trade promotion authority for Bill
53 was able to
claim an "integral role" for the COA--and, by
implication, himself--in obtaining the same powers for George W.
However, on his ultimate vision for the region, David remains
circumspect, giving away little. For instance, when asked in 2002 if
he supported Robert Pastor's vision of a "North
modeled on the European Union,
David was evasive, saying only that it was in "our interest" for
NAFTA to be extended to South and Central America--before
retreating into cant about trade being an "engine of growth and
One can only presume that David, like Nelson did, sees
the economic integration of the region as a step toward complete
The Death of the Nation-State
Like his father before him, and his brother Nelson, David has long
regarded the nation-state as a dying institution. Over the past 40
years, in numerous forums, David has declared that the world either
is becoming or is already "interdependent" both politically and
economically--an outcome he disingenuously attributes to inevitable
historical forces rather than his own deliberate design.
In a 1963 address, for example, David referred to the "increasingly
international character of American business and the consequent
interconnectedness among the world's financial markets".57
In the 1970s, he often spoke of "our interdependent world", "today's
interdependent world", and of how "we are all part of one global
As the Reagan era dawned, David continued to treat the
death of the nation-state as a fait accompli, describing "the
inevitable push toward globalism" and how "the exponential growth of
world trade and international economic competition has given rise to
a truly interdependent world economy". In fact, in 1980, David
prophesied that "by the year 2000, the term 'foreign affairs'
will be an anachronism".59
He even claimed in 1985 that most Americans have "a strong belief in
the interdependence of mankind".60
By the 1990s, with the concept of globalization fast becoming the
business buzzword of the decade, David could confidently talk of
"the emergence of globalized competition and an integrated world
Most recently, in Memoirs, David leaves no doubt that
he thinks we should regard the erosion of national sovereignty as
both inevitable and unstoppable:
is not a poetic fantasy, but a concrete reality that this country's
revolutions in technology, communications, and geopolitics have made
irreversible. The free flow of investment capital, goods, and people
across borders will remain the fundamental factor in world economic
growth and in strengthening of democratic institutions everywhere.62
But the more important
question is, what does David believe should fill this growing
vacuum? What sort of "more integrated global political and economic
structure" does the plutocrat have in mind? David's own answers,
though fragmentary, reveal a commitment to the concept of global
governance. As defined by the Commission on Global Governance,
the term refers to an international order in which nations are no
longer the dominant political institution, but must share authority
not only with the UN system but also with
"non-governmental organizations (NGOs), citizens'
movements, multinational corporations, and the global capital
Having worked hard over the past 40 or more years to erode the power
of nation-states--and having created countless other problems of a
global nature in the process--David now turns to international
institutions, MNCs and NGOs to fill this
Firstly, David has long had a favorable view of international
institutions, especially those founded by the US, believing they
hold the key to realizing his aim to "erect an enduring structure of
His commitment to the UN, for example, can be seen in his membership
of groups including the:
Association of the USA
Allies of the
Coalition for US Financial Support for the United Nations
In his message to the UN
For A Better World, in 2000, David claimed that, ever since
the UN was created in 1945, he has been "one of its staunchest
advocates". He continued:
There are many who
believe the United Nations, through its multiple missions of
peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and the support of sustainable
economic development, is the embodiment of hope for mankind. I
David has also identified
World Trade Organization, NAFTA, the IMF
and the World Bank as "constructive international
In a "globalized economy", he once wrote in the Wall Street Journal,
"everyone needs the IMF"--for without it, "the world
economy would not become an idealized fantasy of perfectly liquid,
completely informed, totally unregulated capital markets".67
Secondly, as for the role of the MNCs, David notes
that the retreat of state power caused by deregulation has provided
many opportunities for the business sector to assume a more
political role. In 1996, David argued that with governments reducing
their social expenditures, it was up to "business leaders and their
corporations [to] expand their involvement" in the "not-for-profit
Or, as he put it to Newsweek in 1999:
In recent years, there
has been a trend in many parts of the world toward democracy and
market economies. That has lessened the role of government, which is
something business people tend to be in favor of. But the other side
of the coin is that somebody has to take the government's place, and
business seems to me to be a logical entity to do that.69
This includes supporting
the UN, as in 1994 he told the Business Council of the United
Nations that "business support for the numerous internationally
related problems in which [the UN] is involved has never been more
Yet, in the early 1990s, David reportedly boasted that MNCs had
moved beyond being able to help governments to being in control:
We are now in the
driver's seat of the global economic engine. We are setting
government policies instead of watching from the sidelines.71
Thirdly, David sees a
crucial role for
NGOs, including the various philanthropic foundations
(a sizeable number of which he controls), in addressing global
problems. The message had already been delivered in 1989 by the then
President of the Rockefeller Foundation, Peter Goldmark, Jr,
at a three-day conference celebrating the 150th birthday anniversary
of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. "Every major foundation should
have an international dimension to its program," said Goldmark.
"In a period of planetary environmental danger, global
communications, intercontinental missiles, a world economy and an
international marketplace of ideas and arts and political trends,
there is simply no excuse not to." David admitted that Goldmark's
speech came with his blessing, if not direction, with a decision
made to be "meaningful" by focusing on "philanthropy for the 21st
century" instead of merely praising
John D. Rockefeller, Sr.
The true scope of David's "philanthropy for the 21st century" has
become more evident throughout the 1990s, with the Rockefeller
Foundation, the Rockefeller Family Fund and
the Rockefeller Brothers Fund all providing funding to
NGOs, either through direct grants or indirectly via
organizations such as the Funders Network on Trade and
Globalization. Many of the NGOs that have received
Rockefeller-sourced grants--such as the World
Development Movement, The Ruckus Society and the
Center for Public Integrity--are ostensible opponents of the
same corporate globalization agenda that David has done so much to
promote, while others are proponents of strengthened and
"democratized" international institutions and laws.
Nevertheless NGOs, through their currently unrivalled
ability to circumvent normal diplomatic processes by claiming to
represent "civil society", have proved to be very effective,
generally publicly unaccountable organs for both eroding national
sovereignty and building global governance. As some analysts have
are at the forefront of a "new diplomacy" that "devalues national
sovereignty in favor of multilateral agreements" in which interest
groups seek to "accomplish internationally what they cannot achieve
domestically" (Davenport). The NGO approach,
another analyst warned, involves the "undermining of decision-making
systems based on constitutionalism and popular sovereignty", in
favor of a system that "posits 'interests' (whether NGOs
or businesses) as legitimate actors along with popularly elected
Although some NGOs are adamantly opposed to David's
pro-market and pro-free trade agenda, his overall strategy appears
to be to co-opt, compromise and ultimately control as many of the
NGOs as possible, utilizing them as a vital third force both for
creating and, in some cases, managing the emerging structure of
global governance. As for those NGOs that cannot be
deradicalized and accommodated, and insist on pursuing more
revolutionary anti-capitalist agendas and methods, they have been
deprived of funding and left to the mercy of state oppression.74
Clearly, the NGOs have their uses, but David will not
tolerate the anti-corporate rhetoric actually becoming
policy--especially if it threatens his own goals.
"One World", Ready or Not
In Memoirs, David admits without any trace of irony to his
goal of building "a more integrated global political and economic
structure--one world". Considering the tangible evidence of David's
New World Order agenda, much of it from his own public
statements and writings, it would be churlish to dismiss as
"right-wing nuts" or proponents of "wacky conspiracy theories" those
who have long been suspicious of the plutocrat's activities.
But what is particularly striking about David's New World
Order vision is that, despite his sometimes flowery rhetoric
about democracy, he has never engaged the voting public on his
agenda. Instead, he has used his power and influence to convince,
cajole and even coerce political leaders and government officials
into supporting policies for which ordinary voters have never asked.
In a working democracy, the exercise of such unelected power should
be a serious matter. Publicly acceptable attitudes, however, ensure
that those who object to David Rockefeller's methods and
objectives remain marginalized and easily ridiculed. Even though at
exclusive gatherings the power-elite will continue to give thanks to
David Rockefeller for his unstinting service in promoting
"international cooperation", the requirements of the existing
political order demand that the significance of these celebrations
As for the self-described "proud internationalist", the
globalization process he has helped unleash is proving unstoppable,
if only because relatively few political leaders are willing to
challenge the "consensus".
David now has the luxury of promoting solutions to the problems he
helped cause, as he did in December 2001 in his role as President of
the Global Philanthropists Circle. Addressing a forum
at the University of Guanajuato in Mexico, David stated that
globalization had created "unacceptable" levels of poverty the world
over. "Free trade," he said, "has helped generate wealth, but it has
not helped poor people who still find themselves in tough
situations." True to his devotion to globalism, the plutocrat
acknowledged the work of "social organizations" in improving
conditions for the world's disadvantaged, before recommending that
both businesses and governments become more active in preventing
people from falling into the "abyss of extreme poverty".75
Regrettably, such hypocrisies are typical of the plutocracy.
Go to Part 5
Rockefeller, Memoirs, Random House, 2002, p. 406 (emphasis added).
Rockefeller, "America's Future: A Question of Strength and Will",
The Atlantic Community Quarterly, Spring 1979, p. 14.
Rockefeller, "In Pursuit of a Consistent Foreign Policy: The
Trilateral Commission", Vital Speeches of the Day, June 15, 1980, p.
517 (emphasis added).
Rockefeller, "America's Future", p. 19.
Rockefeller, quoted in Business Council for the United Nations
Briefing, Winter 1995, p. 1 (emphasis added).
Rockefeller, The Council at 75, September 1997, at the CFR website,
Rockefeller, Memoirs, ibid. (emphasis added).
38. ibid., p.
419 (emphasis added).
Rockefeller, "Facing Up to the Hard Facts of Inflation", Vital
Speeches of the Day, November 15, 1980, p. 76.
Rockefeller, "Multinationals Under Siege: A Threat to the World
Economy", The Atlantic Community Quarterly, Fall 1975, pp. 313-314,
41. ibid., pp.
322 (emphasis added).
Rockefeller, "International Financial Challenges", Vital Speeches of
the Day, November 15, 1969, p. 86.
Rockefeller, quoted in Anthony Sampson, The Money Lenders, Viking
Press, 1981, p. 188.
Rockefeller, "Multinationals Under Siege", pp. 312-313.
Rockefeller, "What Private Enterprise Means to Latin America",
Foreign Affairs, April 1966, pp. 410-411 (emphasis added).
46. Council of
the Americas, 2000 Annual Report, Council of the Americas, 2001, p.
4 (emphasis added).
David Rockefeller, "A Hemisphere in the Balance", Wall Street
Journal, October 1, 1993.
Rockefeller, "What Private Enterprise Means to Latin America", p.
402; and David Rockefeller, "The US Business Image in Latin
America", Vital Speeches of the Day, October 15, 1964, p. 8.
Rockefeller, Memoirs, pp. 434-435.
50. For a
recent scathing review of the impact of these policies on the
region, see William Finnegan, "The Economics of Empire: Notes on the
Washington Consensus", Harper's Magazine, May 2003.
Rockefeller, Memoirs, pp. 436-437.
Rockefeller, "A Hemisphere in the Balance".
Rockefeller, "Give Clinton Fast Track, Or We'll Pay the Price", New
York Times, November 7, 1997.
Rockefeller, Memoirs, p. 438.
55. See Robert
Pastor, Toward a North American Community, Institute for
International Economics, 2002; and Pastor, "Become a Resident of
North America", Emory Report, February 4, 2002.
Hills et al., Memoirs: The Rockefeller Family in International
Affairs, Panel discussion on David Rockefeller's new book at the
School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University,
October 31, 2002.
David Rockefeller, "New Trends In The Financial Markets", Vital
Speeches of the Day, February 15, 1964, p. 268.
"Rockefeller's prescription for world growth", Australian Financial
Review, November 23, 1978, p. 2; and Committee for Economic
Development of Australia, David Rockefeller in Australia, CEDA,
1979, pp. 21, 25.
Rockefeller, "The Chief Executive in the Year 2000", Vital Speeches
of the Day, January 1, 1980, pp. 163-164.
Rockefeller, "Giving: America's Greatest National Resource", Vital
Speeches of the Day, March 15, 1985, p. 329.
Rockefeller, "America After Downsizing", Vital Speeches of the Day,
March 15, 1985, p. 40.
Rockefeller, Memoirs, p. 406 (emphasis added).
on Global Governance, Our Global Neighbourhood: The Report of the
Commission on Global Governance, Oxford University Press, 1995, pp.
David Rockefeller, quoted in Business Council for the United Nations
Briefing, Winter 1995, p. 1.
"A Message from David Rockefeller", For A Better World: An
Exhibition of Posters from the United Nations, 1945 to the Present,
December 18, 2000, at
Rockefeller, Memoirs, p. 406.
Rockefeller, "Why We Need the IMF", Wall Street Journal, May 1,
Rockefeller, "America After Downsizing", p. 42.
Rockefeller, "Looking for New Leadership", Newsweek, February 1,
1999, p. 41 (emphasis added).
Rockefeller, quoted in Business Council for the United Nations
Briefing, Winter 1995, p. 1.
71. David Rockefeller, quoted in
Buzz Hargrove, "Corporate Success, Social Failure, Corporate
Credibility", Context Newsletter, March 15, 1998.
and Rockefeller, quoted in "Call for US Philanthropies To Address
Global Problems", San Francisco Chronicle, October 31, 1989.
73. For an
examination of this underreported role of NGOs, see David Davenport,
"The New Diplomacy", Policy Review, December 2002-January 2003, and
John R. Bolton, "Should We Take Global Governance Seriously?",
Chicago Journal of International Law, Fall 2000. Bolton is now Under
Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security in
the Bush Administration.
Susan George, "Democracy at the Barricades", Le Monde Diplomatique,
Rockefeller, quoted in "Rockefeller: globalization has increased
world poverty", TheNewsMexico.com, December 3, 2001,