The Paula Gordon Show Logo The Paula Gordon Show
Democratic Neighbors

Robert Pastor

     ... political scientists and policy maker. Robert Pastor is Vice President of International Affairs and a Professor of International Relations at American University. A foreign affairs consultant to government, business and NGOs, he was director of Latin American and Caribbean affairs on the National Security Council (1977-81), and founding director of The Carter Center's Latin American and Caribbean Programs and Democracy and China Projects. Author of 14 books with one in press, they include Toward a North American Community and Exiting the Whirlpool


The world's driving question should be, "How can we spread democracy?" now that the principle of the consent of the governed is a universal value, says veteran policy maker Robert Pastor. Why? Because the lack of democracy is the source of many of the world's problems, including poverty and injustice, he's convinced. Democracy won't necessarily solve problems overnight, says Dr. Pastor, but the lack of it over an extended period will make things very much worse. With assistance, he's convinced every place in the world today is capable of being democratic under the right conditions, with the right assistance and mediation over the long haul.

Dr. Pastor's seen democracy's special magic -- institutionalized uncertainty among leaders, transmitted at the ballot box -- at work around the world. What makes democracy fragile, he's observed, is not people's desire for freedom. It's leaders' desire for power.

Mature democracies face a special risk, he warns. They take too much for granted and fail to do democracy's work: constant improvement and renewal of democratic institutions at all levels. Dr. Pastor's number one example is the United States. America's democracy suffered a grievous set-back in the presidential election in the year 2000, he observes. Americans were denied a fundamental of democracy -- the right to choose their leaders -- because the nation permitted an electoral system with a margin of technical and administrative error which grossly exceeded the margin of difference between the two leading candidates. How did it happen? America wasn't paying attention. It permitted a decentralization of electoral accountability to the point of complete dysfunctionality. This urgent problem has yet to be addressed, he reminds us.

Most Americans understand the need to be engaged in the world, says Dr. Pastor, and recent events have shown the importance of cooperation with other countries and of multilateralism. But the hard part, he believes, is to visualize why collective action and cooperative multilateralism is in America's interest in the long term. That, he says, will require real leadership and statesmanship by political leaders who have too often yielded to America's urge to solve it's problems acting alone -- unilateralism -- rather than accepting the need for cooperative internationalism.

Dr. Pastor's love of policy is deeply practical. He's watched as America, Canada and Mexico have benefited mightily from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Now Dr. Pastor wants NAFTA countries to shorten the next step by learning lessons from the European Union. Focus on education and infrastructure as means to narrow the monumental economic gap between Mexico and its neighbors to the North, he suggests. All three will benefit, as EU countries did when they helped lift up their once-poor neighbors in Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and Greece.

Will America have the humility to learn from others? That, says Dr. Pastor, may be the hardest thing of all for Americans. The country has a proud heritage of having given a lot to the world, yet the temptation is strong to solve problems alone. The question for Dr. Pastor and for us all is which of these two inclinations will prevail in the years ahead.

[This Program was recorded November 15, 2001 in Atlanta, Georgia,]

Conversation 1

Robert Pastor describes for Paula Gordon and Bill Russell the fundamental tension in a democracy -- the people's desire for freedom versus leaders' desire for power.

Conversation 1 RealAudio6:57

Conversation 2

Democracy is always hard, Dr. Pastor assures us with examples. He cautions against the danger of losing democracy in countries that take it too much for granted. He describes the special magic of newly found democracy, as he experienced it in a Chinese village. Democracy, he says, is the institutionalization of uncertainty among leaders; he expands on elections as the centerpiece of democracy. The principle of the consent of the governed is now a universal value, Dr. Pastor says, with examples. He considers the United States' desperate need for election reform.

Conversation 1 RealAudio9:44

Conversation 3

The Western Hemisphere and the Americas provide Dr. Pastor with examples of how countries have recently found new bonds with which to reinforce delicate political transitions. He reminds us of once-chronic political instability in much of the region, then describes the role that President Jimmy Carter, The Carter Center and he (Dr. Pastor) played in the historic democratic transition in Nicaragua. He describes the revolutionary government's acceptance of the outcome of the election as "stunning" and reviews the process that led to it. He argues that every place in the world is now capable of democracy with some assistance, then elaborates on two elements key to understanding an election.

Conversation 1 RealAudio10:29

Conversation 4

There is no such thing as a perfect democracy, it's a work in progress in which people must constantly be engaged improving and renewing institutions, Dr. Pastor reminds us. He explores the idea in light of America's presidential election in 2000 which he calls a grievous set-back -- citizens were denied choice. He makes an urgent call for election reform in America. The conversation turns to Dr. Pastor's belief that the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) countries of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico can learn a lot from the successes of the European Union. He calls for meaningful first steps addressing infrastructure and education and tells why.

Conversation 1 RealAudio12:12

Conversation 5

If we do nothing, nothing will change, Dr. Pastor says. He explains his interest in finding ways to spread democracy, confident the lack of democracy is the source of worldwide problems including poverty and injustice. He elaborates. He gives an example of how Americans and the media can better balance coverage of crisis events with the creation of long-term solutions that lead to such events. Crises can be anticipated and prevented, Dr. Pastor believes, and explains how. He sees America equivocating between unilateralism and cooperative internationalism and gives examples, convinced that most Americans understand the need to be engaged in the world.

Conversation 1 RealAudio11:07

Conversation 6

Dr. Pastor proposes immediate enhancements of NAFTA, including a simple, lean advisory institution to facilitate partnerships. He outlines enormous potential gains for all three NAFTA countries, urges Americans to resist the temptation of unilateralism and remember how American generosity helped structure today's unique international system.

Conversation 1 RealAudio6:13


Particular thanks to the Institute for International Economics for their ready response to our interest in Dr. Pastor's books. We also were delighted to get a preview of his upcoming revision of Exiting the Whirlpool, for which we thank the publicists at Westview Press.

The Commerce Club of Atlanta welcomed us for this program and, as always, we appreciate General Manager Bill Kessler and his staff's interest and flawless service.

Related Links:

Among more than a dozen books Dr. Pastor has written and/or edited are: Exiting the Whirlpool: U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Latin American and the Caribbean, newly revised and published by Westview Press and Toward a North American Community: Lessons from the Old World for the New, published by and available from the Institute for International Economics.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell has a different view of the "neighbor to the south," the U.S.

Richard Rodriguez argues that America's historic fixation on the east-west axis should now be shifted to a north-south focus.

As Dr. Pastor noted, much of the pull of the U.S. to immigrants both legal and illegal is the dramatic economic discrepacy between nations.  Jason DeParle, David Shipler and Eric Schlosser have, in their unique ways, looked at the effects of these income gaps within the U.S.

Former Finnish Ambassador to the United States Jukka Valtasarri understands the view from the other end of the telescope ... small countries trying to cope with the very large.

Quick buttons

© 2006 The Paula Gordon Show.
All materials contained on this website are copyrighted by The Paula Gordon Show and may not be used for any commercial purpose without the express, written consent of Paula Gordon. Non-commercial use is permitted and encouraged provided that credit is given to The Paula Gordon Show, appropriate urls cited, links are provided where possible and meaning is not altered by editing.