The J Curve
In the segment “Globalism: The New System” I offered “Globalism” as our focus for foreign affairs instead of the myopic “War on Terror” because Globalism accounts for many more forces at play in our world today. We should replace the “Neocon’s agenda of military global domination” with a “Globalists effort to engage the new world order” so we can better weigh the positive and negative effects of our actions in the world. Now I offer something in place of the “Bush Doctrine” as an approach to foreign policy: Ian Bremmer’s “The J Curve”.
First some credentials: 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 political commentator on CNN, Fox News, and CNBC. He lives in New York City and teaches at Columbia University.
Once again this is not a cure all. He speaks broadly and he says that a one size fits all approach to foreign affairs is a recipe for failure. Yet, he does a better job of speaking about the world than our current policy makers rhetoric of ‘evildoers threaten us from their outposts of tyranny’. Closed states should not journey to open globalization until they are prepared to do so. Globalization is a destabilizing process for states, yet if they can manage the shift to openness and exchange, the resulting connectedness can lead to an enduring stability.
The J curve has an x-axis of ‘openness’, a y-axis of ‘stability’ and all nation-states constantly fluctuate to some extent along the J curve. Bremmer explains that what makes a society stable while being on the right side of the curve are enduring institutions and that their culture is open to global and interior exchange of ideas, goods and services. Nation-states on the left side of the curve find stability in the form of an authoritarian governments yet these forms of governments are closed to the exchange of ideas, goods and services. What separates these two forms of stable governments is a gulf of instability.
Bremmer comments, “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 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.”
Bremmer argues quite persuasively that sanctions do not work. The goal of states on the right side of the J curve is to raise the entire arc of a country on the left side of the J curve as they journey through the swoon of instability. To raise the arc is to increase the wealth of a country thus establishing the demands of a middle class for more openness and the creating a heightened awareness of the people living inside of the country to the outside world by means of providing people access to technology, media so that they have the understanding that “we don’t have to live this way”. This is a slow, patient process indeed. What it means is that we can not force democracy on people by the points of our bayonets. We must persuade others to come along with us down the road of globalization. This means the creation of fair and balanced global institutions that encourages participation without the fear of being exploited by the dominant countries on the right side of the J curve.
Bremmer also demonstrates that the Bush Doctrine is ineffective because you can not force massive amounts of reform on a people. Too much reform all at once forces a country into the unstable depths of the J Curve, much like Iraq is now. More likely than not the people will turn to an authoritarian personality to provide jobs, food and security. A people plunged into instability will want a quick fix and they will give up their civil liberties instead of the long trial of establishing effective institutions.
“When a state suddenly becomes unstable, its citizens may demand a restoration of stability at the expense of all meaningful reform. When the soviet Union collapsed, the government of the Russian Federation took steps to establish Russia on the right side of the curve. Boris Yeltsin’s government subjected Russian society to economic “shock therapy.” At the same time, opposition parties and the national media, which had up to that point been completely under state domination, were freed to do and say virtually anything. The combination of spiraling inflation, social insecurity, Chechen separatist attacks, unchecked crony capitalism, and heightened public awareness of all these problems created a frightening sense of chaos across the country. The widespread sense that society was in free fall prompted many Russians to support moves to hit the brakes on Russia’s reform-driven politics. In other words, the deep social anxiety provoked by so much reform all at once-created demand for an imposed order, for closed politics. That’s an important reason why Russia has retreated over the last half-decade to the left side of the curve.”
A second reason that the Bush Doctrine has failed is that the U.S. armed forces do not have the resources to sustain such an aggressive long term agenda. ‘Military regime change is prohibitively expensive as a major component of U.S. foreign policy. The (Bush) administration lacks both the material resources and the political capital to continue to use these tools…” New York Times reports, “strains on the Army from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have become so severe that Army officials say they may be forced to make greater use of the National Guard to provide enough troops for overseas deployments.”
Reuters notes that most soldiers are facing their second or third deployment. “About 102,000 of the 142,000 U.S. troops in Iraq are Army soldiers, as well as 16,000 of 21,000 troops in Afghanistan.”
In the past two months, the Pentagon has extended two brigades of nearly 4,000 soldiers each beyond their scheduled departure date from Iraq -- which can undermine morale and upset families at home.
Army leaders are expressing concern over getting sufficient resources to sustain overseas deployments and replace and fix tanks, armored vehicles and other equipment battered in Iraq.
The Congressional Research Service reports that the Iraq war is costing American taxpayers $2 billion a week -- that’s about twice as much as in 2003. Afghanistan -- where the 9-11 hijackers were linked -- is costing $370 million a week, up 20 percent from 2005.
These costs fly in the face of the Administration’s pre-war assessments, which assured Americans that the bulk of reconstruction costs would be shouldered by Iraq and that the total cost of the war would be around $50 billion.
Part of the cost increase is related to “semi-permanent support bases,” which means that the Pentagon tacitly believes the US military will be in Iraq for the long-haul. This is not unlike the $2.5 billion that the Congressional Research Service found the Pentagon “diverted from other spending authorizations in 2001 and 2002 to prepare for the invasion.”
And yet a new poll shows that six-in-10 (60%) of Iraqis “say they approve of attacks on U.S.-led forces.” Most Iraqis (about 80%) believe the crux of the controversial NIE report: the US presence in Iraq “provokes more violence than it prevents.”
Bremmer goes on to be critical of the administrations policy by adding ‘the strategy is dangerous precisely because the Bush administration hasn’t fully articulated how states that aren’t ready for the transition (from stable, closed authoritarian states to stable, open international participants) can withstand the buffeting they’ll face in the depths of the curve. Foreign policy is not an abstraction, and a one-size-fits-all approach is doomed to failure.”
However, Bremmer does not preach American isolation. “U.S. policy makers 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.”
“The countries on the right side of the J curve have a collective political, economic, and security interests on working together to help move left-side states through instability to the right side of the curve. But they must recognize that the most powerful agents for constructive, sustainable change in any society are the people who live within it.”