Some foreign policy experts say early intervention through targeted assistance and diplomatic pressure can help solve problems before they reach a crisis. VOA's Jim Teeple takes a look at efforts under way in the Israeli occupied West Bank, East Timor, and Kosovo, and examines how the international community can help prevent a weak state from becoming a failed state.

The police bomb squad in Nablus seals off a street in the heart of this volatile city - a stronghold of militants and criminal gangs in the West Bank. Until recently, Palestinian police were rarely seen on these streets. But that is changing.

With international donor assistance, President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian government is sending 500 newly trained Palestinian police to Nablus - to help prevent a collapse into anarchy. Samhar Abdo, who heads the bomb squad unit, says the program is working.

"Now they (militants) are feeling the danger that the security apparatus is coming back and is really forcing itself in the street really firmly," Abdo said. "Now they (militants) are trying to be friends, because if they do not, they will face jail and prison."

Pauline Baker is president of the non-governmental organization Fund for Peace, which publishes a yearly Failed States Index that looks at both the causes and possible solutions to countries in crisis. She says efforts like the one in Nablus can provide much-needed stability.

"If we had gone into some of these states, not militarily necessary, but diplomatically, economically, and particularly promoted the rule of law, very often a lot of states, I think, could have avoided descending into conflict," Baker said.

In East Timor factional violence recently spiraled out of control, putting the country at risk of becoming a failed state.

A senior U.N. official involved in peacekeeping activities, Jane Holl Lute, says sometimes an outside force is needed to separate hostile local factions.

"Sometimes the international community needs to help create the conditions so that again people and leaders who have been in very serious disputes that have resulted in extraordinarily grotesque levels of violence and destruction can move back from those levels of violence and destruction," Lute said.

But experts say while security assistance can help, economic assistance is more important - especially when it comes to helping a country recover from years of conflict.

Selvete Kokolliari makes shoes as an apprentice in a U.N.-sponsored program in Kosovo.

She says the program has changed her life for the better.

U.S. Congressman Adam Smith says projects like the one in Kosovo address one of the major causes of instability in the world today - the economic gap between rich and poor countries.

"We have a world, right now, with 2.7 billion people living on less than two dollars a day," he noted. "That is fundamentally immoral that we have a great divide between the haves and the have-nots in the world."

Congressman Smith and others say helping to rebuild a failed state can be done by giving people jobs like those at the shoe factory in Kosovo, and by providing them with the security they need to get to those factory jobs. International assistance in Kosovo also supports the emerging Kosovo police force, providing Kosovars with the two things they need most to rebuild their lives after years of turmoil and violence; security and jobs.