With Vice President visiting Japan and the NATO assisted Libyan rebels consolidating (one hopes) their control of Tripoli, this is an odd and impolitic moment to say so, but the decline of the trilateral alliance is picking up speed.Trilateralism was the response of the US and its closest allies to the perceived decline in American power during the 1970s. (For younger readers, predictions of American decline have been one of the pundit industry’s major offerings since the Great Depression, with a new spike in prophecies of American decline every ten to fifteen years.) The idea was that the rise of West Germany and Japan would eclipse American power and so the unilateral American leadership of the post World War Two years would yield to a three legged stool: Europe, Japan and the US would run the Free World together. The Trilateral Commission was the dreaded hate object of the tin hat brigades of that era and organizations like the G-7 (expanded to the G-8 as a sop to Russia’s wounded pride) were established to embody the trilateral approach.Japan and western Europe in those faraway days were the places that the fashionable pundits used as sticks to beat America with; we had to get over the illusion of American exceptionalism and realize that in the brave new world the state guided approaches of the Europeans and Japanese would beat the pants off our more individualistic and laissez-faire capitalist model. Japan and Europe were building high speed rail; stuck in the mud American was falling behind in this critical technology that would generate the jobs of the future. (In those days the “population bomb” was the Malthusian menace that would destroy us all without massive government action and expensive international programs; these days we have climate change.)One reason intellectual scams like this can be repeated is that each new generation of young people comes on the scene without memories of the last time these vapid arguments dominated the world of policy chat. These days the same arguments are trotted out about China, the same methods of projecting statistical trends out to infinity are used to make confident but utterly wrongheaded statements about where the world is headed, and, as always, used to argue for more power and more resources to the planning and administrative elites for the sake of the common good. America’s inevitable decline and high speed rail: to proclaim the first and advocate the second is a great way to tell young people that you can be safely ignored.It was George Orwell who said that the dark night of fascism is always falling on America but landing on Europe; substitute the word ‘decline’ for ‘fascism’ and add Japan to Europe, and you get a pretty good picture of world affairs. Europe’s financial crisis is leading to further cutbacks in military spending; NATO is becoming a hollow alliance as even Britain and France accelerate their military decline. Moody’s has just downgraded Japan’s debt — a far more consequential and meaningful exercise than the S&P downgrade of the US.One of the most important secrets of American power over the decades is the way our interests complement those of so many other countries. The world of geopolitical balance and shared prosperity through trade that the US seeks to build is close enough to the world that others want so that we have always been able to count on the cooperation of allies. Our key allies in Europe and Japan are no longer enough — not because of US decline but because of European and Japanese problems. We need now to reach out and find new allies interested in helping us propel this system forward into the 21st century; India, Turkey and Brazil are three of the countries who spring to the minds of American policy planners. They are not alone.Our trilateral friends are not going to vanish; Europe and Japan still have roles to play, and it is quite possible that one or both will recover the dynamism to play a growing not a shrinking role in world affairs. From the US point of view that would be a plus, but for now the basic American calculation must look at our traditional trilateral partners as allies committed to decline.