The J Curve: A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall


What Freakonomics does for understanding the economy, The J Curve does for better understanding how nations behave. Bremmer's tour of the nations of the world — our friends, our foes, and others in between — shows us how to see the world fresh, get rid of shopworn attitudes, and discover a new and useful way of thinking.

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The J Curve: A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall

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What Freakonomics does for understanding the economy, The J Curve does for better understanding how nations behave. Bremmer's tour of the nations of the world — our friends, our foes, and others in between — shows us how to see the world fresh, get rid of shopworn attitudes, and discover a new and useful way of thinking.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A rare book that manages to be intellectually ambitious, policy-relevant, and layman-friendly. Bremmer convincingly argues that smart American diplomacy, harnessing the forces of globalization, can induce closed societies to open up without falling apart. Timely, thoughtful, and written with verve and clarity, this is an impressive work of analysis and prescription."

— Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution, former deputy secretary of state

"In one simple graphic, arguably the world's most pressing geopolitical challenge."

The Economist

"In The J Curve, Ian Bremmer (Tom Friedman with a Gladwellian streak) argues that nations follow a predictable path to democracy, one we should consider before invading them."

New York magazine

"The J Curve provides both policymakers and business strategists with an innovative set of conceptual tools for understanding political risk in rapidly changing societies, tools that integrate political, economic, and security perspectives in new and creative ways."

— Francis Fukuyama, author of The End of History and the Last Man

"This book is a must-read, and not only for its insight into foreign policy. Individual institutions can be assessed on the J curve as well and their evolution similarly evaluated. A stunning analysis, notable for its depth, scope, and clarity."

— Vinton G. Cerf, Chief Internet Evangelist, Google

"Thought-provoking...a welcome return to strategies that offer a more sustainable path for the future."

— James Steinberg, Austin-American Statesman

Publishers Weekly
With this timely book, political risk consultant Bremmer aims to "describe the political and economic forces that revitalize some states and push others toward collapse." His simple premise is that if one were to graph a nation's stability as a function of its openness, the result would be a "J curve," suggesting that as nations become more open, they become less stable until they eventually surpass their initial levels of stability. In other words, a closed society like Cuba is relatively stable; a more open society like Saudi Arabia is less so; and an extremely open society like the United States is extremely stable. Bremmer expertly distills decades-sometimes centuries-of history as he analyzes 10 countries at different positions on the J curve. North Korea is perhaps the most disturbing example of the left side of the curve, where a closed authoritarian regime produces effective stability; on the right of the curve sit stable countries like Turkey, Israel and India. This leads Bremmer to conclude that political isolation and sanctions often work against their intended results and that globalization is the key to opening closed authoritarian states. Bremmer persuasively illustrates his core thesis without eliding the complexities of global or national politics. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Can the democratic nations that fall along Eurasia Group president Bremmer's J Curve help their authoritarian brethren open up? With a five-city tour. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Novel analysis of how countries make the transition from autocracy to openness. Foreign-policy pro and political-risk consultant Bremmer offers an easy-to-grasp theory with a visual twist. Imagine a J-shaped curve on a graph; the vertical axis represents stability, the horizontal axis political openness. High up on the left side of the J curve are countries that are fairly stable but not open, such as North Korea, Cuba and Saudi Arabia. On the right side of the curve, which extends much higher than the left, are nations that are both open and stable: the United States, countries of Western Europe, Japan. Bremmer takes it as a given that the optimal place to be is high on the right side of the curve. But to make the transition, he argues, states must first slide down the left side of the curve into the dip, which is its most unstable point. For example, when a dictatorship collapses, simmering tensions within a country can be unleashed, e.g., Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Some countries, such as South Africa in the 1990s, make it through the dip with visionary leadership. Some-Bremmer cites Vladimir Putin's Russia-struggle with instability and slide back up, toward authoritarianism. Others, such as the former Yugoslavia, implode. Bremmer also scrutinizes Iran, China and Turkey, among others, suggesting ways to ease movement from left to right. The goal of U.S. policy, he writes, should not be to impose democracy, but to find ways of opening up closed countries to the outside world instead of isolating them, to foster economic reform and to encourage citizens to call for democracy from within. He credits the Cold War, in which America engaged on cultural, diplomatic, social,economic and military levels, as the model to follow. A shrewd and timely take on a continual dilemma of international relations.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743274722
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 9/11/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 785,266
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group, the world's largest political risk consultancy. He has written for the Financial Times, the Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times, and has authored or edited five books. He is a columnist for Slate, a contributing editor at The National Interest, and a political commentator on CNN, Fox News, and CNBC. He lives in New York City and teaches at Columbia University.

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Read an Excerpt


Stability, Openness,

and the J Curve

On February 10, 2005, North Korea's state-run Pyongyang Radio informed its captive audience that the president of the United States had developed a plan to engulf the world in a sea of flames and to rule the planet through the forced imposition of freedom. In self-defense, the newsreader continued, North Korea had manufactured nuclear weapons.

That evening, Rick Nieman of the Netherlands' RTL Television asked U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to respond to Pyongyang's assertion that North Korea needed nuclear weapons to cope with "the Bush administration's ever more undisguised policy to isolate...the Democratic People's Republic of Korea." Rice countered: "This is a state that has been isolated completely for its entire history.... They have been told that if they simply make the give up their nuclear weapons and nuclear-weapons program, to dismantle them verifiably and irreversibly, there is a completely new path available to them.... So the North Koreans should reassess this and try to end their own isolation."

That's the official U.S. policy on North Korea: If North Korea submits to the complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear program, Washington will end North Korea's isolation and support the integration of Kim Jong-Il's regime into the international community. If, on the other hand, North Korea persists in developing its nuclear capacity, Washington will "further deepen North Korea's isolation."

To many, this policy is grounded in common sense. If North Korea begins to behave as Washington wants, the United States should reward the regime. If it does not, Washington should further seal it off. If Kim will quiet the relentless drumbeat of war and renounce his campaign to build an arsenal of the world's most destructive weapons, Washington should allow North Korea to escape its wretched isolation. If, on the other hand, North Korea insists on causing trouble, bargains in bad faith, ratchets up tensions in East Asia, violates its agreements, and perhaps even sells the world's most dangerous weapons to the world's most dangerous people, the regime must be swiftly and soundly punished. Kim Jong-Il and those who administer his government must be persuaded that his broken promises and misdeeds doom his regime to perpetual quarantine.

If this policy is properly applied, so the thinking goes, the message will be received far beyond North Korea. Common sense demands that Washington demonstrate that America stands ready to achieve its foreign- and security-policy goals with the sweetest carrots and sharpest sticks available. So the thinking goes.

But, as we'll see in the next chapter, this approach has failed to help Washington achieve its goals in North Korea. In fact, it has produced policies that have had virtually the opposite of their intended effects. Of course, U.S. foreign policies that produce the reverse of their intended consequences are not limited to either North Korea or the George W. Bush administration. Policy failures over many decades in Iraq, Iran, Cuba, Russia, and many other states demonstrate that policymakers need an entirely new geopolitical framework, one that captures the way decision-makers within these states calculate their interests and make their choices — and one that offers insight into how more effective U.S. policies can be formulated.

There is a counterintuitive relationship between a nation's stability and its openness, both to the influences of the outside world and within its borders. Certain states — North Korea, Burma, Belarus, Zimbabwe — are stable precisely because they are closed. The slightest influence on their citizens from the outside could push the most rigid of these states toward dangerous instability. If half the people of North Korea saw twenty minutes of CNN (or of Al Jazeera for that matter), they would realize how egregiously their government lies to them about life beyond the walls. That realization could provoke widespread social upheaval. The slightest improvement in the ability of a country's citizens to communicate with one another — the introduction of telephones, e-mail, or text-messaging into an authoritarian state — can likewise undermine the state's monopoly on information.

Other states — the United States, Japan, Sweden — are stable because they are invigorated by the forces of globalization. These states are able to withstand political conflict, because their citizens — and international investors — know that political and social problems within them will be peacefully resolved by institutions that are independent of one another and that the electorate will broadly accept the resolution as legitimate. The institutions, not the personalities, matter in such a state.

Yet, for a country that is "stable because it's closed" to become a country that is "stable because it's open," it must go through a transitional period of dangerous instability. Some states, like South Africa, survive that journey. Others, like Yugoslavia, collapse. Both will be visited in Chapter Four. It is more important than ever to recognize the dangers implicit in these processes. In a world of lightning-fast capital flight, social unrest, weapons of mass destruction, and transnational terrorism, these transformations are everybody's business.

The J curve is a tool designed to help policymakers develop more insightful and effective foreign policies. It's meant to help investors understand the risks they face as they invest abroad. It's also intended to help anyone curious about international politics better understand how leaders make decisions and the impact of those decisions on the global order. As a model of political risk, the J curve can help us predict how states will respond to political and economic shocks, and where their vulnerabilities lie as globalization erodes the stability of authoritarian states.

J curves aren't new to models of political and economic behavior. In the 1950s, James Davies developed a quite different curve that expressed the dangers inherent in a gap between a people's rising economic expectations and their actual circumstances. Another J curve measured the relationship between a state's trade deficit and the value of its currency. The purpose of the J curve in this book is quite different and much broader. It is intended to describe the political and economic forces that revitalize some states and push others toward collapse.

What is the J curve? Imagine a graph on which the vertical axis measures stability and the horizontal axis measures political and economic openness to the outside world. Each nation whose level of stability and openness we want to measure appears as a data point on the graph. These data points, taken together, produce a J shape. Nations to the left of the dip in the J are less open; nations to the right are more open. Nations higher on the graph are more stable; those that are lower are less stable.

In general, the stability of countries on the left side of the J curve depends on individual leaders — Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin. The stability of states on the right side of the curve depends on institutions — parliaments independent of the executive, judiciaries independent of both, nongovernmental organizations, labor unions, citizens' groups. Movement from left to right along the J curve demonstrates that a country that is stable because it is closed must go through a period of dangerous instability as it opens to the outside world. There are no shortcuts, because authoritarian elites cannot be quickly replaced with institutions whose legitimacy is widely accepted.

"Openness" is a measure of the extent to which a nation is in harmony with the crosscurrents of globalization — the processes by which people, ideas, information, goods, and services cross international borders at unprecedented speed. How many books written in a foreign language are translated into the local language? What percentage of a nation's citizens have access to media outlets whose signals originate from beyond their borders? How many are able to make an international phone call? How much direct contact do local people have with foreigners? How free are a nation's citizens to travel abroad? How much foreign direct investment is there in the country? How much local money is invested outside the country? How much cross-border trade exists? There are many more such questions.

But openness also refers to the flow of information and ideas within a country's borders. Are citizens free to communicate with one another? Do they have access to information about events in other regions of the country? Are freedoms of speech and assembly legally established? How transparent are the processes of local and national government? Are there free flows of trade across regions within the state? Do citizens have access to, and influence in, the processes of governance?

"Stability" has two crucial components: the state's capacity to withstand shocks and its ability to avoid producing them. A nation is only unstable if both are absent. Saudi Arabia remains stable because, while it has produced numerous shocks over the last decade, it remains capable of riding out the tremors. The House of Saud is likely to continue to absorb political shocks without buckling for at least the next several years. Kazakhstan is stable for the opposite reason. Its capacity to withstand a major political earthquake is questionable but, over the course of its fifteen-year history as a sovereign state, it hasn't created its own political crises. How Kazakhstan might withstand a near-term political shock, should one occur, is far more open to question than in Saudi Arabia, where the real stability challenges are much longer-term.

To illustrate how countries with varying levels of stability react to a similar shock, consider the following: An election is held to choose a head of state. A winner is announced under circumstances challenged by a large number of voters. The nation's highest judicial body generates controversy as it rules on a ballot recount. That happened in Taiwan in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004. Demonstrations closed city streets, the threat of civil violence loomed, local economies suffered, and international observers speculated on the continued viability of both governments. Of course, similar events erupted in the United States in 2000, without any significant implications for the stability of the country or its financial markets.

Stability is the capacity to absorb such shocks. Anyone can feel the difference between a ride in a car with good shock absorbers and in one that has no shock absorbers. Stability fortifies a nation to withstand political, economic, and social turbulence. Stability enables a nation to remain a nation.


A highly stable country is reinforced by mature state institutions. Social tensions in such a state are manageable: security concerns exist within expected parameters and produce costs that are predictable. France may suffer a series of public-sector strikes that paralyze the country for several weeks. When these strikes occur, no one fears that France will renounce its commitment to democracy and an open society. Nor do they fear these shocks might generate a challenge from outside the country. No one worries that political battles within France might tempt Germany to invade — as it did three times between 1870 and 1940.

States with moderate stability have economic and political structures that allow them to function reasonably effectively; but there are identifiable challenges to effective governance. When Jiang Zemin passed leadership of the Chinese government, the Communist Party, and the People's Liberation Army to Hu Jintao, very few inside China publicly questioned the move's legitimacy. If any had — if Chinese workers had taken to the streets as French workers so often do — the state would have moved quickly to contain the demonstrations. Whether China's rigid, political structure can indefinitely survive the intensifying social dislocations provoked by its explosive economic growth is another matter.

Low-stability states still function — they are able to enforce existing laws and their authority is generally recognized. But they struggle to effectively implement policies or to otherwise change the country's political direction. These states are not well prepared to cope with sudden shocks. As an oil-exporting nation, Nigeria benefits from high energy prices. But its central government is unable to enforce the law in the Niger Delta region, where most of Nigeria's oil is located. A group called the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force has repeatedly threatened "all-out war" against the central government unless it grants the region "self-determination." The rebels briefly shut down 40 percent of Nigeria's oil production in 2003 and forced President Olusegun Obasanjo to negotiate with them. The problem flared again in 2005 and 2006.

A state with no stability is a failed state; it can neither implement nor enforce government policy. Such a country can fragment, it can be taken over by outside forces, or it can descend into chaos. Somalia fell apart in 1991, when several tribal militias joined forces to unseat the country's dictator, and then turned on each other. Since then, warlords have ruled most of the country's territory. Their rivalries have probably killed half a million and made refugees of another 750,000. More than a dozen attempts to restore order, mostly backed by Western benefactors, have failed. Any Somali leader who intends to restore Mogadishu's authority over all of Somalia's territory will have to disarm tens of thousands of gunmen, stop the steady stream of arms trafficking, set up a working justice system, and revitalize a stricken economy. Meanwhile, there are warlords, extremists, smugglers, and probably terrorists with a clear interest in scuttling the process. And while political conflicts in France don't encourage Germany to invade, there are clear threats to any future stability in Somalia from just across the border. One of the few African nations offering to send peacekeeping troops to help Somalia reestablish civil order is Ethiopia, a neighbor with a long history of troublemaking there. The arrival of any foreign troops, especially Ethiopians, could reignite Somalia's civil war.

In August 2005, South Africa went public with concerns that its neighbor Zimbabwe stood on the brink of becoming just such a failed state. Representatives of South Africa's government said a sizable loan designed to rescue Robert Mugabe's country from default on International Monetary Fund obligations might be conditioned on Mugabe's willingness to include the opposition in a new government of national unity. South Africa has good reason for concern. When state failure strikes your neighbor, the resulting chaos can undermine your stability as well, as refugees, armed conflict, and disease spill across borders.


Democracy is not the only — or even the most important — factor determining a nation's stability. To illustrate the point, consider again the U.S. presidential election of 2000. Did America sail through the political storm with little real damage to its political institutions simply because the United States is a democracy? Taiwan is a democracy too, albeit a less mature one, but its citizens felt the jolt of every pothole on the ride through its electoral crisis. In Turkmenistan — not a democracy by any definition — the open rigging of presidential elections produces hardly a ripple, nothing like the unrest produced in Taiwan. Much of Turkmenistan's stability is based on the extent to which its authoritarianism is taken for granted; a rigged election is not the exception. Democratic or not, countries in which stability is in question are more susceptible to sudden crises, more likely to unleash their own conflicts, and more vulnerable to the worst effects of political shock. Yet, for the short term, authoritarian Turkmenistan must be considered more stable than democratic Taiwan.

At first glance, the J curve seems to imply that democracies are the opposite of authoritarian states. The reality is more complicated. In terms of stability — the vertical axis on the J curve — police states have more in common with democracies than they do with badly run authoritarian regimes. In other words, in terms of stability, Algeria has more in common with the United States than it does with Afghanistan. Consolidated democratic regimes — Germany, Norway, and the United States — are the most stable of states. They can withstand terrible shocks without a threat to the integrity of the state itself. Poorly functioning states — Somalia, Moldova, or Haiti — are the least likely to hold together. But consolidated authoritarian regimes — Cuba, Uzbekistan, and Burma — often have real staying power.


A nation's stability is composed of many elements, and while one of these elements may be reinforcing the state's overall stability, another may be undermining it. On the one hand, Turkey's possible entry into the European Union enhances the nation's political and social stability. So long as Ankara remains on track for EU accession, Turkey's government has incentive to implement the reforms the Europeans require — reforms that strengthen the independence of the nation's political institutions, increase media freedoms, decrease the army's influence in politics, and protect the rights of minority groups, such as Turkish Kurds, who might otherwise provoke unrest. The accession process also binds Turkey more closely to European institutions.

On the other hand, the presence in northern Iraq of militant members of the Kurdistan Workers Party heightens concern that instability there could spill over into Kurdish communities in southeastern Turkey and threaten Turkey's security. Ankara is also concerned that, if Iraqi Kurds achieve greater autonomy, they may seek to regain control of the oil-rich northern Iraqi town of Kirkuk, in order to create the financial base for a future independent Kurdish state with claims on Turkish territory.

History, geography, culture, and other factors give each state its own particular strengths and vulnerabilities. As a consequence, each state has its own J curve, though each curve retains the same basic shape. North Korea's J curve is much lower than Saudi Arabia's, because North Korea lacks the resources, like oil, that can raise stability at any given level of openness. When oil prices rise, a country like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, or Nigeria brings in more revenue and can use the extra cash to create jobs, buy a new weapons system, fund a social safety net, hire more people to monitor Internet traffic, or any number of other measures that increase short-term political stability. India's J curve is higher than Pakistan's because its history of multiparty politics allows it to better absorb shocks to the system than the more brittle governments of its neighbor, where the military has a well-established history of intervention and suppression of dissent. Government crackdowns enhance stability in the short run, but overreliance on them for peace and tranquillity breeds underlying social tensions that must be continually managed. Over time, the management of these tensions saps government resources and energy.


If stability is a measure of a state's capacity to implement government policy in the instance of shock, how do we define "shock"? There are natural disasters — a drought in Sudan, an earthquake in Japan, a tsunami that destroys lives in Thailand and sends floodwaters raging across coastal Indonesia. There are man-made shocks — the assassination of an influential Lebanese politician, a terrorist bombing in the Philippines, a flood of refugees in China, a secessionist crisis in Mexico. There are shocks that originate inside a country — a government default in Argentina. There are shocks that come from outside — the 9/11 attacks.

No country, stable or unstable, has the capacity to prevent all shocks from happening. But less stable states are more likely both to produce their own shocks and to experience shocks from beyond their borders. Shocks in an unstable state are also more likely to be larger in magnitude — ill-considered environmental policies make weather extremes more likely; inadequate health care provokes more frequent outbreaks of infectious disease; poor economic planning raises youth unemployment.

It's important not to confuse shocks with instability. Over the next five to ten years, reasonably stable left-side-of-the-curve states like Syria, Venezuela, Iran, and Russia may be forced to absorb a number of shocks. Syria may face serious divisions within its ruling elite. Venezuela could experience a return to widespread labor unrest. Iran may wander into military confrontation with Israel. A drop in the price of oil could punch holes in Russian, Venezuelan, and Iranian coffers and produce civil strife. But the effects of these potential shocks are likely to be limited. Syria remains one of the most effective police states in the world. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez remains popular enough to fend off direct challenges to his presidency. Iran's security apparatus remains loyal to the ruling religious conservatives, and Russia has yet to produce a viable and dynamic political opposition. Serious cracks may appear in the foundation of any of these countries ten years down the road. They're all vulnerable in the long term to challenges to their immature political institutions. But none of them are headed for real unrest this year or next. For now, stability in each of these states is relatively high.

If the worst shocks don't materialize, unstable countries can survive for a surprisingly long time. They just have to be lucky. Take Ukraine: before the election crisis in late 2004, Ukraine's stability was never hit with a large enough wave to sweep it away. In the turbulent years in which Leonid Kuchma held the presidency, a series of low-level controversies rattled the country. Ukraine endured widespread social discontent and substantial poverty, with living conditions little improved from Soviet times. Demonstrations demanding Kuchma's resignation and parliamentary no-confidence votes were common. Russia regularly interfered in Ukraine's domestic politics — even threatening at times to cut off most of the country's supply of natural gas. Despite all this, Ukraine avoided the big one — the shock substantial enough to push Ukraine's government out to sea.

The Berlin Wall once seemed the world's most formidable barrier. It was an illusion. In their haste to build the Wall literally overnight, East German soldiers added pebbles to low-quality cement to make the Wall sturdier. It stood for more than a quarter century as a symbol of the impenetrability of the Communist world for those on the western side and the futility of hoping for a better life for those to the east. But in 1989, a few blows with a hammer and chisel brought down the Wall with the same stunning speed with which the nations of the Warsaw Pact slid down the steep left side of the J curve toward irreversible change. Without the swing of the hammer, the Wall might still stand. But once the shocks of 1989 began, the Berlin Wall was no match for even a single solid blow.

Unchallenged instability does not necessarily lead to crisis. But the probability of state failure is highest when governments have the least political capital with which to respond to turmoil — the very moment when these states are most unstable. Think of state failure as the pull of a magnet under the J curve. As a country approaches the bottom, one sudden shock will have a destabilizing effect and can easily lead to collapse. An August 1991 coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev failed. But his government never recovered from the blow to its legitimacy produced by the fact that it was Boris Yeltsin and other reformers, not Gorbachev, who faced down the coup plot. Four months later, the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

The nation-state that replaced it — the Russian Federation — narrowly missed some serious political shocks of its own in the early and mid 1990s. The 1993 standoff between the Kremlin and the Russian Duma ended only when Boris Yeltsin shelled his country's parliament building. A war with Chechen rebels turned disastrously costly and had to be abandoned. Despite all this, the country avoided the series of earthquakes that were devastating the former Yugoslavia. Russian markets were chugging along with the high confidence — if not quite irrational exuberance — of international investors.

But then Russia's luck ran out when a real shock hit. In August 1998, a newly appointed, out-of-his-depth prime minister, Sergei Kiriyenko, made a political decision to simultaneously devalue the Russian ruble and default on the government's debt. Investors quickly discovered that Russia's calm had been the eye of a hurricane. Only a deliberate climb up the left side of the J curve toward more authoritarian, less transparent governance ultimately helped Russian elites restore political and economic stability.

This raises an important point about the shape of the J curve: the left side of the curve is much steeper because a little consolidation and control can provide a lot of stability. It is faster and easier to close a country than to open it. It's more efficient to reestablish order by declaring martial law than by passing legislation that promotes freedom of the press. Nations with little history of openness and pluralism have a habit of responding to turmoil with a centralization of state power; that habit is a hard one to break. The Kremlin's recent moves toward authoritarianism are therefore not surprising. Russia's government committed itself to democratic reform only in 1991 — following a thousand years of authoritarianism.

Russia's crisis makes another point about stability: it takes a lot more than money to build it. Filling the world's deepest pockets of instability with cash will not by itself protect a state from the worst long-term effects of a political shock. The Marshall Plan to rebuild countries devastated by World War II was a success because it quickly mobilized resources to help restore normalcy to nations with a history of stable governance. Not all states have such a history.

Most developing countries have no experience of stable normalcy to return to. Throwing money at social and political problems in order to finance the construction of new infrastructure ignores the problem revealed by the J curve: developing countries become less stable before they become more so. It's one thing to build a new parliament building. It's quite another to populate the building with legislators dedicated to pluralist governance. The latter takes time, and before it can be achieved, the process of building an open state requires a period of significant instability.

Finally, some kinds of shock can be minimized. A nation can avoid unnecessary and destabilizing actions that bring a state into conflict with other nations or with its own citizens. Visionary leaders like Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and David Ben-Gurion, for example, limited their new states' territorial ambitions when failure to do so might have compromised their ability to build stability at home.


Economic reform — especially reform to begin a transition from a centrally planned to a market economy — creates enormous social dislocations. Inefficient industries have to be closed; workforces have to be "downsized." This downsizing swells the rolls of the unemployed, lowers living standards, decimates aspirations, and may well provoke dangerous unrest. The most volatile moment for any emerging market — and the time when the reform process is most likely to fail — is precisely at the inflection point between the two systems. Governments have a finite amount of economic capital at their disposal to maintain a functioning state. Reforms require the expenditure of that capital. That's why economic reform is destabilizing.

The same holds true for political reform. Political capital — the consent, or at least the acquiescence, of the governed — is as precious as economic capital. Movement from a command political structure to a consolidated, effective democracy requires that this capital be spent. As a government undertakes political reform — either voluntarily or as the result of processes beyond its control — the account risks running into deficit. An example: Russian President Vladimir Putin recognizes that his country's social safety net is fiscally unsustainable. Because his popularity rating has long been at 70 percent, he has some capital to spend on reforms that, among their least desirable consequences, sharply undermine the purchasing power of pensioners. Once those reforms are implemented, Russia's senior citizens feel the pinch, and some of them take to the streets. Putin blames others for the reform program's worst effects, but his popularity falls. Street demonstrations encourage Russia's would-be opposition to challenge the now-less-popular president on other issues. Investors express concern that other needed reforms may now be postponed as Putin seeks to refill the Kremlin's political coffers with new capital.

Brazil's President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva is swept into power by previously disenfranchised voters who hope the country's first "left-wing" chief executive will aggressively spend government revenue to reduce the wealth gap between Brazil's richest and poorest citizens. But because Lula is enormously popular, he has a war chest of political capital to spend on another urgent priority — a demonstration to international investors that he will honor the promise of his predecessor to reserve a preestablished percentage of Brazil's government revenue for the repayment of international debt. Lula has the political capital to spend on this unpopular move — and he spends it.

Bowing to pressure from within and without, Egypt announces it will hold a multicandidate presidential election. Egypt's rulers have not historically felt obliged to factor domestic approval ratings into their decisions as directly as the presidents of Russia and Brazil now do. But they too have domestic constraints to consider as they create policy. They must let off pressure for change in increments to avoid unrest — even a political explosion.

The world's most authoritarian leaders hold significant political capital. Kim Jong-Il, Fidel Castro, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko have full control over their countries' levers of authority: the police, army, legislature, and judiciary. As long as that remains true, very little threatens the continued rule of these regimes. As authoritarian leaders spend political capital and institute reform, political opposition groups may gain the capacity to mobilize and challenge the existing system. The countries become less stable. That's why leaders like Kim, Castro, and Lukashenko don't institute political or economic reforms unless they believe their survival may depend on it.


The left slope of the J curve is much steeper than the right side because a country that is stable only because it's closed to the outside world can fall into a deep crisis very quickly. Weeks after Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaus¸escu basked in the glow of the nearly hour-long standing ovation that marked the "re-election" meant to extend his forty-year rule, governments across Eastern Europe (East Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia) began to crumble. A Ceaus¸escu speech from a balcony overlooking a public square in Bucharest was, for the first time in decades, interrupted by hecklers. Days later, following a brief public trial, his bullet-ridden corpse was tossed into a ditch. When such regimes finally fall, they fall hard.

As mentioned before, the reverse is also true: a closed country can substantially reinforce its stability — and become even more authoritarian — through the implementation of measures that further isolate the nation's people. When the king of Nepal wants to sack his prime minister's government and reestablish his own personal authority, he cuts international phone lines, shuts down Internet access, and closes other media outlets. Castro jams antiregime radio broadcasts from Miami. When hard-line Soviet conservatives launched the ill-fated 1991 coup against Gorbachev's government, early word of the putsch created a race by both sides to television and radio stations. The coup plotters wanted to control the airwaves; opposition groups wanted journalists to continue broadcasting news to the outside world. In 1991, openness triumphed over the attempt to stifle dissent. Unfortunately for Russia, that wasn't the last time soldiers with rifles entered a Moscow television station.

In any left-side-of-the-curve state, it's easier to close a country than to open it. But once mature political institutions are fully constructed and embraced by a nation's people, they are a lot more durable and do far more to protect the viability of the state than any police state tactic can. And communications technology can't be controlled forever. In February 2005, Chinese citizens celebrated the Lunar New Year by sending and receiving a total of 11 billion text messages. If text-messaging had been as readily available in the spring of 1989, the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square might well have ended differently. What happens the next time a spontaneous large-scale demonstration in China takes on a life of its own? That question may already have been answered in the Philippines. Text-messaging there helped topple a government in 2001. Opposition organizers used text messages to direct 700,000 demonstrators to Manila's People Power shrine to demand the removal of then President Joseph Estrada.

In moments of acute crisis, which the Tiananmen Square protests might have become, staying on the curve and avoiding the total collapse of the state requires a resolute move up the curve — in one direction or the other. A regime may try to stabilize the state by closing it as quickly as possible. That's the logic that led Deng Xiaoping to order tanks to crush the prodemocracy demonstrations. Or a government may try to reform its way toward the right side of the curve by increasing democracy, transparency, and openness to the outside world. South Africa's governing African National Congress allowed for the creation of a well-publicized "truth and reconciliation commission" whose sessions were open to the public and the media in order to prevent fear and thirst for revenge from becoming the primary drivers of the nation's politics. Following each of modern Turkey's military coups, the army quickly passed executive authority back into civilian hands, honoring the Turkish tradition of civilian rule. Left or right, the state must move away from the dip in the curve. If it doesn't, the state will collapse and fall off the curve into chaos.

Some economists assume movement along the curve is one-way only, left to right, "developing" to "developed." They refer to developing states as "emerging markets" (ever heard of a "submerging market?"), with the underlying presumption that hunger for progress and modernity and the invisible hand of international markets push these countries toward maturity and their political structures toward greater degrees of independence. A state, they believe, may hit bumps along the long road toward freedom and prosperity, but the market will prevail and the country will ultimately develop.

But emerging markets need not emerge. If their political leaders don't have enough economic capital to carry out the process, they may be forced to abandon it. That's the fear of international investors in Brazil whenever Lula loses a domestic political battle. They wonder if he still has the popularity and political will to tell his people that money sitting in the Brazilian treasury can't be used to build new hospitals and factories in the countryside because it's needed to pay off debt to the IMF. The Treuhandanstalt, a commission set up in the newly reunified Germany to enable inefficient East German industries to privatize with a minimum of social dislocation, was constantly buffeted by political controversy. It made progress in fits and starts, and pressure to slow — or even backtrack on — forced privatizations sometimes carried the day.

Political development works the same way. Just as economic capital is a necessary but insufficient condition for state development, leaders must be willing and able to spend political capital to bring about reform. Even before his death in 2004, it was clear Yasir Arafat would be remembered as a man with a genius for steering the ship of the would-be Palestinian state through storms. But he is also remembered as a man who lacked the political will to finally bring that ship into port. To have political capital is not enough. You have to spend it. Otherwise, an emerging democracy may never emerge.

It's a lot safer on the left side of the J curve than at the bottom. A leader may take the vessel out of the harbor, by instituting real reforms to bring pluralism into government and entrepreneurial energy into the economy, only to lose his nerve as the first threatening waves of instability crack over the bow. That's what happened in Burma in the early 1950s. One of Asia's most promising developing countries completely cut itself off from the outside world. A little over half a century later, it is one of the world's most repressive. The regime is reasonably stable, but its long-term position becomes more precarious as the world outside its borders changes. And, of course, leader X may know that political reform is, for himself at least, political suicide. If China becomes a genuine democracy, its current political leadership will be swept aside. The same is true for Kim Jong-Il, Fidel Castro, the clerics who rule Iran, the Saudi royal family, Bashar al-Assad, Hosni Mubarak, the Burmese military, Alexander Lukashenko, and many others. Only those who believe they might survive reforms are likely to genuinely pursue them.

All states are in constant motion on the J curve. In left-side-of-the-curve states, there is a constant tension between the natural pull toward greater openness and an authoritarian state's efforts to continually reconsolidate power. Street protests and widespread strikes open a country to both greater communication among opposition activists and international media attention, and move the country down the curve toward instability. The state responds by declaring martial law and a news blackout to increase stability by closing the country. Even in a right-side state, unrest in a volatile region and the state's response to it can produce movement in both directions along the curve.

In addition, the J curve itself is in motion up and down. When, for example, a natural disaster strikes, a nation's entire J curve may slip lower. Such a shift indicates that, for every possible degree of openness, there is less stability. The curve can also shift higher. If a state's economy depends on oil revenues, and the global price for oil moves higher, the added revenue increases stability at every possible level of openness.

When a powerful tsunami hit Indonesia in December 2004, its horrific effects pushed the country's entire J curve lower. But the massive inflow of international humanitarian relief aid shifted the entire curve higher again, because, once the money arrived, the country became more stable at every level of openness.

There are many factors that can suddenly and powerfully shift a state's J curve up or down. Drought conditions in India, a substantial move in energy prices that alters Nigeria's growth prospects, an IMF loan for Argentina, or an earthquake in Pakistan can all provoke a sudden shift in these countries' stability at every level of openness.

Clearly, some states are more vulnerable to these shifts than others. Hurricane Katrina had less effect on U.S. stability in 2005 than the tsunami had in Indonesia a few months earlier. That's in part because the United States enjoys a much higher level of economic, social, and political stability than Indonesia and is far less vulnerable to shocks. A country with a smaller economy is more vulnerable to economic and social shocks than one with a larger economy.

Finally, a country whose economic growth depends too much on the revenue produced by one commodity will face J curve shifts that occur more often and with greater effect. A drop in oil prices will destabilize Venezuela far more than it will a better-diversified oil-exporting state like Norway.


If consolidated authoritarian regimes tend to be more stable than democracies in transition, and if stability is critical to averting disaster in today's world, why not drop the whole question of reform and bolster those closed authoritarian regimes? Many have accused the United States of precisely that approach. We'll look closely at policy challenges in the final chapter but one question in particular is worth briefly addressing here. Why push for political reform in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Russia, and other states on the left side of the J curve that are at least somewhat friendly to U.S. interests? In the interests of global stability, why not encourage them to consolidate domestic political power? There are several reasons.

First, the most stable authoritarian regimes are obviously the world's most repressive. The dynamism necessary to survive in the modern world comes from the intellectual energy and freedom to innovate of a nation's people. In addition, dictatorships can't last indefinitely. The costs of protecting a consolidated authoritarian state from cataclysmic instability can't be sustained forever. These states will eventually collapse under their own repressive weight and the energy released will send them hurtling down the left side of the J curve without brakes — or a steering wheel. In an age of weapons of mass destruction and transnational terrorism, the damage such states can do on the way down is unprecedented in human history.

Authoritarian states are only as stable as the hold on power of an individual leader or group of oligarchs. The viability of such states has little to do with stable institutions. In Cuba, Fidel Castro is the revolution. Loyalty to the Cuban government is loyalty to Castro himself. When he dies, the chances are good that the Cuban Communist Party will have to work hard to establish new political capital with the Cuban people. It can be done. The Bolshevik movement survived the death of Lenin in 1924 — although the Communist Party preserved his body to help preserve its legitimacy and Stalin's methods might now be difficult to duplicate.

Individual personalities — cult of personality or no — are far less durable than institutions. As a consequence, authoritarian states tend to be much more volatile. The process of political succession is dangerous for an authoritarian state's stability, because much of the political capital vested in an individual dies with him. Maintaining stability in a closed society requires quick reflexes. Time for strategy is a luxury dictators can rarely afford. Following Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's assassination, Hosni Mubarak assumed power and moved to limit political volatility by jailing as many of his and Sadat's enemies as he could. It was not Egyptian law that determined the nature of the regime; the regime dictated the law. Mubarak protected Egypt's stability by jailing senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood — those he considered most dangerous to his government.

Consolidated authoritarian regimes shouldn't be bolstered, but that doesn't imply that the correct policy is "regime change" — certainly not in the military, statue-toppling sense. The right approach to closed states is usually inducement and containment. Societies can be persuaded to accept policies that open the country incrementally to the outside world and build a dynamic and financially independent middle class capable of changing society from within. That's why the United States is right to help promote Chinese and Russian membership in the World Trade Organization and might do well to offer support for eventual membership even for North Korea. None of these governments wants to empower potential opposition groups by allowing them independent control of financial resources, but all want to dynamize their economies. Egypt has been induced to increase trade ties with Israel through deals that open American markets to Egyptian goods made with a fixed percentage of Israeli inputs. That will profit an Egyptian middle class that will one day provide the engine for change in Egypt. If Pakistan's middle class were as vibrant as India's, the country might not have a military ruler or so many young religious extremists.

Where inducement fails, containment can prevent behavior that destabilizes states, regions, and the world. The only viable approach to North Korea's nuclear program is probably aggressive enforcement of the Proliferation Security Initiative, a quarantine on weapons and weapons technology entering or leaving the country. In the most extreme case, air strikes may prove the only way to slow the development of Iran's nuclear-weapons capability until change from within alters the way Iran defines its national interest.

Thus, the developed world should neither shelter nor militarily destabilize authoritarian regimes — unless those regimes represent an imminent threat to the national security of other states. Developed states should instead work to create the conditions most favorable for a closed regime's safe passage through the least stable segment of the J curve — however and whenever the slide toward instability comes. And developed states should minimize the risk these states pose the rest of the world as their transition toward modernity begins.

The J curve provides the ordering principle for this book. The next four chapters will focus on individual states — their place on the J curve and the direction they may be headed. This structure is meant to give the reader a framework with which to understand the pressures and motivations that guide these countries' leaders and, as a consequence, how policymakers should interpret the challenges these countries pose for the effective implementation of policies toward them.

The chapters that follow bring together countries that pose vastly different kinds of challenges for the United States and the world. Some countries' policy choices are critically important for the future of American foreign policy, and the actions their leaders take have global significance, as in North Korea, Iran, and India. Some, like Cuba, have very little direct impact on global security, but illustrate what the J curve can teach us about the effective formulation of foreign policy. Some states, like Russia and China, already test the wisdom and resourcefulness of U.S. foreign policy and play vitally important roles in global politics. Others, like Saudi Arabia and Israel, are unlikely to alter the global order for several years, but will eventually reach a moment of truth in their political evolutions that demand foresight from all whose futures they might change. An analysis of policy toward Saddam Hussein's Iraq demonstrates how costly ill-considered strategies can be and how counterintuitive some of the solutions are to the world's most intractable foreign-policy problems. There are two other historical cases, South Africa and Yugoslavia, which provide important examples of what happens when states slide all the way down the curve into the most dangerous levels of instability.

Chapter Two is devoted to three countries near the peak of the left side of the J curve: North Korea, Cuba, and Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Chapter Three examines states that remain on the left side of the J curve but risk an eventual slide toward instability: Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. Chapter Four moves down the slope into the dangerous central section of the curve for a look at two countries that have been there: South Africa and the former Yugoslavia. Chapter Five features three countries on the right side of the curve, examines how they got there, and considers what factors will determine whether they stay: Turkey, Israel, and India. Chapter Six is devoted to a single country, the state whose political, economic, and social development and whose potential for instability pose the greatest challenges for the United States and the world over the next generation: China. The seventh and final chapter will offer some policy conclusions and a few ideas about the future of stability and globalization.

Copyright © 2006 by Ian Bremmer

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Stability, openness, and the J curve 3
Ch. 2 The far left side of the J Curve 27
Ch. 3 The slide toward instability 79
Ch. 4 The depths of the J curve 147
Ch. 5 The right side of the J curve 191
Ch. 6 China's dilemma 237
Ch. 7 Conclusion 265
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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Ian Bremmer Q: Why is it important that we understand what the J curve is? A: At its heart the J curve explains how national decision makers define their interests and make their choices, and how those choices effect the rest of the world, so it's hardly surprising that you literally can't turn on the news today, or open a newspaper, without seeing something that the J curve can explain. If you really want to understand why our gas prices are so high in the summer when we all try to go on vacation, why there have been layoffs in your home town caused by U.S. outsourcing, the real story behind the current conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, or how we could impact what happens next in Cuba with succession looming, you need to understand the J curve, how it works, and what it reveals. The J curve is not just for foreign policy types or business execs. It applies to what is happening on the front pages of our newspapers every day and it affects us all. Q: One of the central tenets of The J Curve is that we're not properly dealing with authoritarian regimes and their leaders because we don't truly understand how they define their interests. Can you elaborate? A: Any leader of any government has as their first goal the stability and continuity of their own governance -- their ability to continue to rule. If you're the leader of a stable democracy that means you're going to want to continue integrating your country into the global order and improving the educational level and economic well-being of your people. And you'd tend to respond to outside incentives to do keep that going. But in authoritarian countries -- in the most threatening rogue states -- leaders accomplish their goal of remaining in power not by educating their population or improving their country's integration into the broader global community but rather by furthering their country's isolation and keeping it there. Every week we see headlines about President Bush, Condi Rice, and various European leaders expressing a policy toward rogue states that amounts to a variation of "If these guys don't behave we'll isolate them." Well, that makes sense if you're an adult talking to a child. But what they don't understand is that's precisely what the leaders of authoritarian countries need to stay in power. I'm not saying that the U.S. is wrong in what it's trying to do, or that the goals of the Bush administration (or the Clinton administration before it) are malevolent or wrong-headed. America has long stood for individual rights and freedoms, liberty, openness, and economic prosperity. Those are all great goals. But we're being increasingly challenged all around the globe and it's vitally important we get things right. Unfortunately the policies and incentives that we and the international community have been using to deal with these crises are not working; they're not resolving the conflicts because they're based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what motivates the leaders of countries in the developing world with which we have the greatest problems. And these problems will only get bigger as the energy crisis deepens and as the proliferation of nuclear weapons and weapons technology increases. We ignore this misunderstanding at our peril. Q: Why exactly are sanctions so ineffective? A: Effective sanctions serve no purpose (and by "effective" I mean sanctions that the U.S. can get the international community to buy into, as opposed to, say, the U.S. sanctions on Iran which the international community essentially ignores.) The end result of these sanctions is that targeted countries have less access to the world. They're closed off from a certain level of economic interaction. In that kind of environment, and particularly in an authoritarian state, what typically happens is that the limited measure of goods and services that do come into the country get controlled by the regime's leader, making that person even more important. At the same time the cross-pollenization of ideas and communication and international standards outside the country have no way of getting in. Look at Iran today. The U.S. and Europe need to recognize that they have two goals with Iran. One is to prevent them from developing nukes and the other is to change the Iranian regime. The first goal may be impossible to attain. And to the extent that it is possible, limited international inspections as well as constraints -- with Russian cooperation -- on selling the Iranians nuclear relevant goods and technologies may potentially be effective. As to the second goal, the best way to do that is to globalize the country. Wire it. Invest more in it. Allow more travel to Tehran and more Iranians to travel to other places. Encourage more foreign direct investment into the country. Do everything you can to increase the capacity for the average Iranian to be aware of how the developed world functions. The reason North Korea continues to be run by a ruthless dictator is that he has hermetically sealed his country off. There's essentially no way into that country, no defectors, no information getting in or out. The average North Korean doesn't have a clue as to what things are like in the out side world. Similarly, there's a reason why the world's longest serving head of state (at least until the recent transfer of power) is in Cuba. And a large part of the reason is U.S. sanctions. I want to emphasize, once again, it's not because the U.S. is being malevolent or because our goals are somehow impure. The point is not that the U.S. wants to do the wrong thing with Cuba, but rather that the mechanism we're using to implement our goals is not actually punishing Castro but rather helping him maintain his grip on power. Q: If punitive sanctions, and a policy of isolating rogue states, are so ineffective why did they work so well in forcing South Africa to give up apartheid in favor of stable, open governance? A: I think part of the answer is the South African government did not want to be completely isolated; they didn't want to be an authoritarian state. They were keeping a significant portion of their population out of governance but they recognized they needed international investment to survive. And they recognized if they continued what they were doing they were going to fall apart no matter what. South Africa never made it to totalitarian and was never going to get there. They knew for their survival they needed a certain level of engagement or investment, so cutting off the international community wasn't an option like it was for Cuba, Turkmenistan, Albania or North Korea. Another interesting point to make here involves China, which has been buffeted by increasing openness. They recognize it causes them instability -- and so they're trying to slow it down -- but they also want to grow economically. The very same factors that make China more interesting to investors and which are helping their economy to grow are also destabilizing that regime. And they're caught. It's not yet clear whether economic growth or political tensions will eventually win out. But both are growing. China may be a lot like South Africa in that regard. It may be that they'll make it through with fundamental changes to the nature of their regime. But they may also fall apart. Or they could try to go back to being a much more authoritarian state and lose some of their economic growth. The J curve tells you what your options are. If you're on the far left of the curve you have to have isolation to keep it all together. South Africa wasn't on the far left of the curve. Q: Why do you say a descent toward instability in Saudi Arabia is virtually inevitable? A: Saudi Arabia is facing a demographic disaster. With a high birthrate and virtually no family planning its population is growing at a radical rate. And while the country's energy resources are enormous its economy has never really diversified beyond the energy industry. That's not changing anytime soon. The way they've been able to hold the country together so far has been by using that oil money for unprecedented amounts of state-sponsored patronage. This ensures the loyalty and dependence of local leaders, creates temporary make-work projects to appease the angry unemployed, and buys off the regime's critics. But over time per capita income has declined and a significant percentage of the population lives below the poverty line. The country is slowly moving in the direction of becoming a normal developed state. They're trying to join the World Trade Organization, improve education, improve the political process, and bring women into the workplace. But these moves will also sow the seeds of instability. Saudi Arabia has always functioned with an iron hand. Dissent was never tolerated. (You get the benefit but you also don't question it.) The more you provide education and open the country to the global economy -- things that will allow the Saudis to survive long term -- the more you also free the government's grip on dissent. That's a real problem in a country where per capita income is slipping, where the population of young people is growing, where there are no jobs for them, and where their only opportunities to find a place for themselves are in Wahhabi-controlled schools and mosques run by men well armed with money and influence who are at war with the modern world. It's a sure-fire recipe for instability. Q: President's Bush's rationale for going to war and the poor planning for operations designed to stabilize and rebuild Iraq have been soundly criticized. By this time it is universally accepted that better preparations for all these problems could and should have been made. You argue that these critiques, although justified, miss the heart of America's failed policy there. What is the true lesson of the J curve as far as Iraq is concerned? A: U.S. policymakers should never have had to choose between the best of three bad options: counterproductive sanctions, capitulation, or a costly war that left U.S. troops to play a principal role in rebuilding Iraq's stability. The lesson of the J curve is that a process of creating opportunities for ordinary Iraqis to profit from access to the resources of the outside world would have destabilized Saddam at less cost to both the Iraqi people and to the United States. To be fair, it's not realistic to believe George H. W. Bush or Bill Clinton could have made an effective political case for punishing Saddam by extending Iraq an invitation to join the WTO. Nonetheless, policies that provided resources and created opportunities for Iraqis to interact as fully as possible with the outside world and with one another might have forced Saddam to contend with pressures for change from within Iraq. U.S. policies designed to isolate North Korea and Cuba have led to the same false choice: capitulation or costly confrontation. Q: If the key to averting disaster in today's world is stability, shouldn't we stop pushing for political reform in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Russia, Egypt and other countries on the left side of the J curve that are at least somewhat friendly to U.S. interests? Why shouldn't we encourage them to consolidate domestic political power in the interests of global stability? A: There are a number of authoritarian regimes around the world that are quite stable and yet you wouldn't want them to stay in place in the long-term because they still represent a global threat. There are other authoritarian regimes that are likely to become deeply destabilized because of the process of globalization. This is true of much of the Arab world where regimes at present have been quite stable and friendly to international interests but are not likely to persevere in their present form for another generation. Take Pakistan for example. What happens if Musharraf dies? Consolidated authoritarian regimes typically have stability invested in one leader or a small coterie of leaders. When they destabilize they destabilize very quickly. So in both those cases it behooves the international community to try to prepare for better outcomes. Not taking a decision and ignoring the problem has widespread implications for our national interests, particularly in an age of weapons of mass destruction and transnational terrorism where the damage such states can do on the way down is unprecedented in human history. Q: What does the J curve have to say about the current situation in Lebanon? A: As a country moves from left to right on the curve you're going to find entrenched interests that see themselves as losing. What happened in Lebanon is that the radical wing of Hezbollah saw the more moderate integrationist wing becoming part and parcel of governance in Beirut. They knew that if that were to continue Lebanese society would be better off economically but their political careers -- their ability to hold sway and influence events-would be finished. After seeing Israel's response to the kidnapping of a single solder in Gaza it was clear to them that the taking of two Israeli soldiers (and the killing of at least eight others) would lead to an overwhelming Israeli military reaction and that's exactly why they did it. They were already on the back foot in Lebanon: the U.N. Security Council had passed resolutions calling for their disarmament and one of their key supporters, Syria, had been kicked out of the country. They're not on the back foot anymore. Q: What do you think will most surprise readers of this book? A: I think they'll be surprised at how global it is, and how consistently its arguments apply over space and time. These are processes that have affected nations and empires throughout history. And although I do a detailed analysis of just twelve countries, I actually write about more than 90 countries in the book. Q: What is the connection between the war on terror and the war on drugs? A: America's war on drugs has never yielded the hoped-for results because the clear majority of resources devoted to winning it have been focused on combating the supply of drugs -- at the expense of efforts to lower demand (through treatment or rehabilitation.) Seventy-five percent of the $40 billion spent on the drug war over the past two decades has gone to destroying crops, capturing or killing cartel members, and locking up dealers. But the suppliers of drugs can always find new vendors to peddle their wares. Why? Because there is demand. And where there's demand there'll always be supply. It is precisely on this supply-side principle that the U.S. risks losing the war on terror. There is demand for terrorism in parts of the Muslim world. Unfortunately there are also plenty of undereducated, underemployed, angry young Muslims willing to supply that demand -- willing to surrender their lives in exchange for an outlet for their anger and a sense of pride and purpose. These men have little stake in the success of their nations. They have little hope of lawfully altering their fates. If this or that Al Qaeda captain is captured or killed, a young Muslim looking for a war will find another officer to enlist him. Just as a drug-dealer can always find a new street corner on which to pedal his product, bin Laden moved from Saudi Arabia to Sudan to Afghanistan. And when he's finally captured or killed, those who demand a champion to lead the terrorist jihad will create a new leader. Clearly the real war that has to be fought is the battle to decrease the demand. Unfortunately the current strategy for both the war on drugs and the war on terror assumes that the devotion of overwhelming resources to a steady stream of high-profile victories over the suppliers of drugs or terrorism is the only way to show tangible, consistent progress: high-profile arrests, infrastructure destroyed, "bad guys" slain. The patient methodical work of reducing demand for drugs and terrorism doesn't make the men who wage the war any more popular with their electorates. Demand-side strategy has therefore been neglected. But it is precisely that effort, combined with the continuation of an aggressive strategy to bring to justice the purveyors of drugs and terrorism that will bring change from within the troubled societies that produce them. Q: Why do you feel America's Cold-War strategies hold the key to winning the war on terror? A: During the Cold War, Western governments used every means at their disposal -- military, diplomatic, cultural, economic, and social -- to help open Communist-bloc states and to undermine both the Soviet supply of Communism and the demand for it from within Soviet satellites, the USSR itself, and the developing world. The former Warsaw Pact countries aren't democracies today because America imposed democracy from the outside. In fact, the U.S. never directly attacked the suppliers of Communism by invading a country under Moscow's direct control. The former Warsaw Pact states embraced democracy because they wanted democracy. The West contained the advance of Communism successfully enough and long enough for reformist forces inside the Soviet Union and Communist-bloc countries to unravel the fortress mentality of their closed societies. If such an achievement were possible in the effort to open other authoritarian states from within, the results would bring more global stability than a dozen successful military regime changes, each of which might be prohibitively expensive in terms of money and lives, and each of which might produce terrible unforeseen consequences. Q: 9/11, and subsequent attacks in Europe, has helped create a bit of a siege mentality. That in turn has provoked calls for limits on immigration -- essentially for the establishment of the U.S. and EU as "gated communities," protected by a security perimeter that keeps outsiders out. Why do you consider this an unwise strategy? A: There's no doubt that Homeland Security needs to continue focusing on keeping terrorists out of America. The same goes for security forces in the European Union. Anyone who could have blocked the entry into the U.S. of the 9/11 hijackers would have done so without hesitation, even if it meant excluding a thousand innocent Saudis or Egyptians or Pakistanis as well. But we also need to recognize that at the end of day one of the few things that creates a stronger level of relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and the like is that a large number of their sons have been educated in this country. They've lived with average Americans. They have a sense of what life is really like here. And some of them are going to translate those experiences into working at home for political and economic reform. It's going to be a huge problem if those countries end up with a generation of leaders whose only experience of the U.S. is what they see in the media. There are also economic implications to the notion of closing our borders to outsiders. The U.S. has always attracted the best and brightest from around the world-top engineers, software designers, scientists and the like. There's a price to pay -- that others such as China will gladly take advantage of -- if we allow that to stop in the interest of keeping outsiders out. And finally, if the vast majority of would-be immigrants from Muslim countries are denied access to the U.S., if the European Union demonstrates to the Muslim world that Europe is a Christians-only club, demand in the Muslim world for terrorism and Islamist authoritarianism will surely grow. Left to their own devices, the citizens of states excluded from globalization's benefits will turn to the only widely practiced method of leveling the global playing field available to them: insurgency and terror. Q: What do you want readers to get out of this book? A: I want them to be able to see the world in a new way. When they're reading their newspapers, watching TV, listening to the radio I hope they'll see applications of the J curve around them in the world. I hope they'll say, "I get it! I hadn't thought about it in that way before but it makes sense." That's what a good book does. It shouldn't just confirm what you know it should make you think about the world in new ways. If The J Curve succeeds in doing that then I've done my job.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2007

    A new way of looking at nations' identities

    Nation states today are part of a delicate, interconnected global system, so one country's failure can create worldwide instability. While individual countries' problems seem disjointed, author Ian Bremmer provides a unified, overall way of explaining how nations develop in a world of constant change. He uses a ¿J curve¿ graph ¿ featuring a center line shaped like a sans-serif J anchored in the upper right corner and tilted like a fishhook ¿ to categorize countries according to their openness and stability. With this analytical system, Bremmer explains how each country flows along the J curve according to its unique history, culture and politics. Because his profiles make the world situation easier to understand, we consider this a major contribution to fostering a comprehensive view of world affairs. This book may not change the world, but it will help more people understand its intricate interconnections and why certain countries act as they do.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2006

    'J-Curve' Makes You Look at the World in a New Way

    Ian Bremmer is a good friend of mine. And I do some work for Eurasia Group. So you have have been forewarned. But it's a great book anyway. ****** The basic concept of the J-Curve is that closed states (police states and authoritarian regimes) can raise the level of their stability by becoming more closed domestically and internationally, while states based on open governance can do the same by becoming more open, and that the transition from a closed state to an open state is fraught with the dangers of increasing instability. The J-Curve is a visual representation of this concept. Important policy implications flow from this and other subsidiary insights, such as that stability in an open country is self-perpetuating but stabilty in a closed one is brittle. The book gives twelve examples of states with various degrees of openness 1) Revolutionary ideas, which change the way we think forever, are usually simple in form and easy to take in, if not always easy to fully understand. They often gcome with that 'Why didn't I/anybody think of this before?' feeling. By these criteria, The J-Curve is, as the subtitle claims, 'a new way to undestand why nations rise and fall'. 2) Great ideas, of course, usually are not generated spontaneously. Thus, many people will no doubt claim this and that part of the thinking in this book as their own, or that it s not truly original at all (unless they like you or fear you so much that they just cant't bring theirselves to carp). They miss the point that a new idea is valuable precisely beause it brings together a large number of facts and thoughts and offers a unified whole. 3) The book is also well-written. The examples are all convincingly laid out in a crisp, no-nonsense style. (The sentences are mercifully short and punchy.) 4) Having said all that, this is a book for the general public. So perhaps Ian should be forgiven for not giving us a precise prescription including dosage for each and every example of left-of-the-curve regimes in the book. As well as for including in his J-Curve graph grids that raise false hopes that the J-Curve is a quantitive theory. In fact, Ian in his day job has developed a quantitive framework to analyze political rsk and has parlayed it into a multimillion-dollar advisory business. Perhaps at the end of the day each case, every situation is unique and it's ultimately a judgment call by policymakers. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to know how the J-Curve and the Eurasia Group methodology complement each other. 5) SoI guess my question to Ian is, how long do we have to wait for the next book? Postscript: Will the term J-Curve catch on, like 'Soft Power'? It's short and catchy. But there are other J-Curves, and you have to italicize the 'J' to make it fit the diagram in the book. So the jury will be out for a while.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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