The J Curve is a tool designed to help policymakers develop more insightful and effective foreign policies, and allow investors to better understand the risks they face abroad. The horizontal axis of the J curve is openness; the vertical axis is stability. Openness is defined as a measure of the extent to which "a nation is in harmony with the crosscurrents of globalization—the process by which people, ideas, information, goods, and services cross international borders at unprecedented speed".
I found Ian’s argument that it is openness, not democracy that is the tool of change pretty compelling. Ian argues the UK and European states should work with international institutions to help the more closed countries through the often difficult transition to openness and more enduring political stability.
So, the argument goes, instead of employing sanctions against North Korea we should open the borders, and in doing so create social unrest which would lead to a period of instability but allow North Korea to begin the tortuous climb up the right hand side of the J Curve.
If you think this sounds nuts – remember that this was exactly what the CIA were planning in the late 1990s regarding Iraq, using propaganda programs like a "Radio Free Iraq" broadcast to Baghdad, with the aim of undermining Saddam Hussein by showing Iraqi citizens that he was not invincible, strengthening his opponents inside Iraq and trying to ignite a rebellion within his inner circle.