In This Review

State Erosion: Unlootable Resources and Unruly Elites in Central Asia
State Erosion: Unlootable Resources and Unruly Elites in Central Asia
By Lawrence P. Markowitz
Cornell University Press, 2013, 216 pp

The countries of the former Soviet Union form fertile ground for the study of how powerful security forces, opportunities for corruption and looting, and the tug of war between local bosses and central authorities can combine to produce fragile and sometimes failed states. Markowitz, using the cases of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, stresses the importance of “immobile capital” -- for example, cash crops such as cotton or coffee, which require the sanction and facilitation of officials high up in the food chain. When local authorities, security services, and senior officials collude to profit from the sale of these goods, the state, although warped and weakened, hangs together. When such resources are scarce and local elites cannot find any willing patrons ready to make deals, those elites compete among themselves, suborn the security forces in their regions, and turn their backs on central authority. Such, Markowitz maintains, is what happened in the Tajik civil war of the 1990s. He concludes by applying his theory to six other cases, in Eurasia, the Middle East, and Africa.