The J Curve Revisited: Assessing Backsliding and Reversal Among Unstable States

Just over ten years ago, Ian Bremmer published a treatise (2006) on the stability of states built on the notion that states fall along a curve resembling a slanted “J” when plotting their stability against openness.  The basic idea is that states to the right of the turnover (bottom of the curve) are increasingly open while those to the left are increasingly closed. As states transition from the left side of the curve to the right, they become more open to interactions with the rest of the world (e.g., free press), as well as in their own domestic politics (e.g., free elections). In doing so, they are expected to gradually replace the authoritarian elites of the old system with more democratic political institutions. However, states in the turnover process are considered unstable, and are at risk of either reversing to a closed and stable system or even collapsing. States on either side of the turnover exhibit increased stability the further they rise along the curve, with the implicit assumption that closed states cannot reach the same level of stability as the most open states.

Mali Fragile State Analysis and Policy Options

Executive Summary: Mali is one of the world’s 19 most fragile countries. Its severe fragility is exacerbated by an ongoing conflict in the country’s north. We assess the country’s key drivers of fragility and develop policies to begin addressing the conflict and support the move out of fragility. The greatest problem faced by the government and by partners is the government’s inability to exercise authority over its territory, deliver services to underdeveloped regions to reduce the horizontal inequalities that have fueled the conflict, and govern effectively. Government officials have been unable to carry out their duties due to unrest and violence,and elections scheduled for November have been pushed back again because of the conflict, damaging the legitimacy and credibility of the state. Corruption and human rights abuses are endemic to government and security forces.

Honduras Fragile State Analysis and Policy Options

Executive Summary: Honduras has exited fragility, but current trends raise concerns that the country may be stuck in a legitimacy trap or that conditions may worsen in the state, leading to continued or increased violence and impunity. Honduras’ legitimacy trap emerges from the consolidation of authority through an increase in authoritarianism and inequality under the guise of securitization. Widespread impunity for violence and crimes, coupled with extensive corruption – both of which extend to the government – undermine legitimacy. Legitimacy traps are difficult to confront because of issues with measuring the problem and efforts to do so are further complicated in states like Honduras which engage in isomorphic mimicry.  However, it is evident that escaping the legitimacy trap in Honduras will require addressing corruption to improve the state’s governance outcomes. Further efforts to reduce violence are necessary but rather than just continuing with the militarization of security services, the state must be engaged to make real commitments to addressing violence, impunity and vulnerability, and creating economic opportunities for all Hondurans. Honduras has been a country of focus for Canada since 2014 and is an economic partner of the state. Canada and Honduras are connected through foreign direct investment (FDI), free trade and development assistance, are members of many hemispheric and regional organizations, and Honduras’ crime and transnational gangs in Honduras have affected Canada. As a result of these ties, Canada is implicated in the success of Honduras and the Canadian government has a responsibility to engage the Honduran government. Canada should play a key role in addressing the challenges facing Honduras, including the key theme of corruption, which is a major driver of the impunity for violence, murders, human rights violations, and increasing inequality across Honduras. At a minimum, it is the duty of our policies to do no harm, but Canada can also have a positive impact on Honduras’ sustainable development. It is recommended that Canada engage with Honduras in support of current anti-corruption and -impunity efforts, while simultaneously undertaking a comprehensive strategy to promote sustainable agriculture to have a positive impact on the livelihoods of vulnerable Hondurans. Once corruption and impunity have been reduced, Canada should advocate for the creation of formal avenues for collaboration between the state and civil society to mend state-society relations and continue progress towards stronger institutions in Honduras that work for citizens.

Somalia Fragile State Analysis: Policy Options for The Government Of Canada

Executive Summary: Despite billions in aid and a series of international interventions, Somalia has ranked as the world’s most fragile state for much of the past decade. This raises the question as to what is driving fragility within the country and why aid is seemingly ineffective in this context. This report is designed to provide the Government of Canada (GC) with an analytical overview of the key drivers of fragility in Somalia and proposes targeted initiatives where development aid is more likely to be effective. The Authority, Legitimacy, Capacity (ALC) model developed by Carment et al. provides the theoretical framework through which the issues in Somalia are analysed. Specifically, it reveals that weak governance, weak security institutions and slow economic growth are the key drivers behind fragility and undermine ALC. Three policy recommendations are proposed that target these drivers and address components of ALC: training of the Somali National Army (SNA), support for the federalization process, and agricultural aid.

Categorization of States Beyond Strong and Weak

Peter Tikuisis, PhD

Emeritus Defence Scientist / Defence Research and Development Canada, Toronto

Adjunct Professor / Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada


David Carment, PhD

Professor / Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

Centre for Global Cooperation, Kate Hamburger Kolleg, Germany


The discourse on poor state performers has suffered from widely varying definitions on what distinguishes certain weak states from others.  Indices that rank states from strong to weak conceal important distinctions that can adversely affect intervention policy. This deficiency is addressed by grouping states according to their performance on three dimensions of stateness: authority, legitimacy, and capacity. The resultant categorization identifies brittle states that are susceptible to regime change, impoverished states often considered as aid darlings, and fragile states that experience disproportionately high levels of violent internal conflict. It also provides a quantifiable means to analyze transitions from one state type to another for more insightful intervention policy.

From a policy perspective, this study applied longitudinal data to assess the trajectories of different state types using a mixture of data-driven and concept-driven approaches. What our categorization of states cannot directly answer are questions such as will ODA push a fragile state towards impoverished status or does movement to I lead to greater ODA. Or will conflict push a state towards fragile status or does movement to F lead to (greater) conflict?  Unpacking such causal relationships requires deeper analysis.  That is, if the goal of policy relevant interventions is to be fulfilled, then a crucial next step would be to identify the sub-indicators (i.e., the components that comprise the Worldwide Governance Indicators) where changes are most likely to alter the possibility of deterioration or improvement for weak states (i.e., transitioning into or out of impoverished, brittle, struggling functional, and fragile states). For example, to advocate a policy response to poor legitimacy, targeting a state’s control of corruption, and/or voice and accountability only provides general direction; in-depth country analysis is required for a specific response.

A subsequent second step would be to develop specific scenarios for each country case to complement a risk analysis (e.g., CIFP Fragile States Report 2014).  Scenarios would provide the analyst with an opportunity to determine how hypothetical variations in the ALC variables are likely to effect the country’s trajectory and the level of interdependence among the ALC dimensions within a specific country setting (‘knock on effects’). A third step would be to match ALC outcomes to specific policy responses in order to determine the level, kind, and duration of effort needed to promote positive transitions. Country profiles capturing the full range of potential entry points would be useful at this stage of analysis.

Ideally, the drafting of such scenarios would be conducted in partnership with a specific end user from the policy community who would work with the research team to identify the resources needed to generate effective policy response.  Complementary analyses focusing on events data, leadership profiles, and decision making processes are also crucial components to the larger early intervention enterprise (Carment et al. 2009, O’Brien 2010). Such findings need to be shared and incorporated into a broader study to achieve the objectives of synthesis, accumulation, and integration – all hallmarks of a successful policy relevant research programme.

Corresponding Author:

Dr. Peter Tikuisis

Defence Research and Development Canada – Toronto

1133 Sheppard Avenue West

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

M3M 3B9

Pan-Canadian Focus Group Workshop: Realistic and Credible Policy Advice for Canada’s Defence Review


On 8 August 2016, 34 academics, 14 students and 10 government participants were invited to Carleton University to engage in a defence review workshop funded by a grant from the DND’s Defence Engagement Program (DEP) and coordinated by the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, Queen’s Centre for International and Defence Policy and Carleton’s Centre for Security, Intelligence and Defence Studies. Participants were drawn from the former Security and Defence Forum (SDF)-funded centres, along with representatives from the Conference of Defence Associations (CDA and the CDA Institute (CDA Institute) and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute in a day-long workshop designed to examine four broad policy issues: the threat environment; the status of the Canadian Armed Forces; force readiness, and missions and allies.

Summary of Pan Canadian Defence Review Workshop Findings

Other working papers of interest can be found here