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Critics Warn Democracy Cannot Be Imposed

Intervention advocates say peacefully resolving disputes and establishing a democratic form of government are key to creating a stable, prosperous society. But critics warn that democracy cannot be imposed upon a country. VOA's Brian Padden reports on how the international community is trying to use soft power, education and assistance programs to change hearts and minds.

In the Kurdish city of Irbil, Chilura Hardi recently organized an outdoor art exhibit that focused on violence against women in the region. It is a crime she says that in the past often went unreported.

"This is a different day and maybe we should look at changing these kinds of things," she said.

Hardi heads a Kurdish women's center in Irbil that operates a call-in radio station, run by, and for women. International aid organizations fund the station. Failed states expert Pauline Baker with the Fund for Peace says these kinds of programs can a help the Kurdish region heal from years of war.

"If you can start developing a rule of law environment where people can redress those grievances through civilian institutions and be able to vent those grievances and get redress and remedy, then I think reconciliation will come down the road," Baker said.

Baker says after establishing security and rebuilding the economy, recovering states need to promote the rule of law and democracy in order to remain stable and secure. In Sierra Leone for example, international organizations worked in the background to support elections and the rule of law. Marie-Anne Isler, the European Union's chief observer during Sierra Leone's elections last year, says the peaceful transfer of power is the first test of a new democracy.

"That is really a new step, to accept the results. And maybe some of the political parties, they are not prepared for accepting the result. And that is the step of democracy, " Isler said.

The U.N.'s Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jane Holl Lute, says peaceful change also requires long-term commitment.

"Long after the headlines have faded, and long after perhaps all the attention was mobilized around the crisis and the fighting, but really the hard work of rebuilding in the aftermath of conflict need to go on for the 10 to 20 year period of time," Lute said.

Even some nation-building critics such as the Cato Institute's Christopher Preble support using money and expertise to influence, rather than using military might to impose democracy.

"I don't believe that the U.S. government is in a position to dictate or plan that process," Preble said. "Those kinds of institutions and norms develop over many years time and it is something that must be grown from within and not imposed from without."

Supporting fair elections does not always produce friendlier governments. The Palestinian elections in 2006 and more recently those in Pakistan rejected leaders more aligned with U.S. foreign policy. But these democracy supporters say elected governments are more likely to peacefully disagree.