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For a Global Peoples' Assembly


By Andrew Strauss and Richard Falk


Top Stories from the Editorial/Opinion pages of the
International Herald Tribune, Friday, November 14, 1997

WILMINGTON, Delaware - The recent dramatic announcements of record-setting contributions to international causes by Ted Turner and George Soros suggest tremendous possibilities for the future.These two men signify the rise of a new breed of global philanthropist active in fashioning an international civil society. It was globalization that gave them the opportunities to amass extraordinary wealth. It now provides them and others with a unique opportunity to contribute to human well-being.

This includes pushing for the democratization of the global order, a goal that governments are reluctant to promote.

Such individuals could do this most imaginatively by providing funds for the establishment of a popularly elected Global Peoples' Assembly, which would provide the world's citizens for the first time with a forum to express their planetary aspirations and grievances outside the traditional nation-state context.

Elections for this assembly could be organized and administered by an international citizens' committee and overseen by the respected Swedish organization International Democratic Elections Assistance, or IDEA. Once established, the assembly could lobby governments for formal recognition within the UN system.

To begin with, however, such an assembly would have an international legal status similar to that of nongovernmental organizations like the Red Cross or Amnesty International. Unlike them, however, it could lay claim to speak on behalf of the peoples of the world. As the only such body, it would have the potential to be highly influential even before receiving formal recognition.

Specifically, how would this assembly make its influence felt? Like the UN General Assembly, whose official powers are largely recommendatory, such an assembly would contribute to the creation of planetary norms of behavior by issuing resolutions and pro-clamations, and more generally by expressing views on critical issues of global policy.

In a more and more integrated world that increasingly ascribes to democratic principles, the case for such an assembly seems unassailable.

First, because the globalization of the world economy inevitably requires the development of global regulatory institutions, the preservation of freedoms now enjoyed demands we begin to structure these institutions along democratic lines.

Second, the very existence of a citizen-controlled international assembly would both ideologically and practically reinforce democratic practices within countries and undermine authoritarianism.

Third, allowing representatives from different countries and civilizations to work together to advance mutual interests and discuss differences in an assembly setting would help promote a climate of civility in global affairs, encouraging universal values to prevail over more parochial concerns, as well as over sectarian loyalties and beliefs.

Finally, the establishment of such a global assembly with direct electoral accountability to workers, peasants and other citizens would give currently vulnerable groups a voice and help them regain some of the power lost to international capital as a result of globalization.

The major argument likely to be advanced against such an undertaking is that it is naive, idealistic and, at best, premature. To be sure, logistical problems would have to be overcome. Worldwide elections would have to be independently organized. A voting formula based upon one person, one vote would have to be put into place, and elections would need to be certifiable as free and fair.

There would, of course, be glitches. Some governments would undoubtedly not allow such elections to occur on their territories, and until sufficient pressure could be brought to bear their citizens would have to go unrepresented. But these problems would not be fatal to the endeavor.

There is no reason to think this lies beyond the realm of the possible. Indeed, a bold, visionary undertaking at the start of a new millennium might activate the political and moral imagination of all those who aspire to construct a world order more responsive to the values associated with democracy.

Those with the resources have the capacity to make this proposal a reality by seizing the initiative and promoting the democratization of the emerging international order. Democracy at the global level is needed and long overdue.


Mr. Strauss and Mr. Falk, international law professors at Widener and Princeton Universities, respectively, contributed this to the Herald Tribune.













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