The field of Central Asian studies needs this book. Cliché-ridden thinking blights much popular commentary on the region and the putative competition under way there among China, Russia, and the United States. Cooley brings firsthand research and a detached, sensible eye to a complex, fast-moving subject. In brisk steps, he demonstrates that the “game” today is not the same one played by the great powers in the nineteenth century. Although competition exists among the major players, so does a considerable degree of cooperation. In today’s game, the Central Asian states are not helpless pawns but more than adept at writing and then exploiting the rules. That said, the way the greater powers pursue their agendas has an ugly side: increased corruption, human rights abuses, and political entropy. In addition to crafting a refined assessment of Chinese, Russian, and U.S. policies in the region and the Central Asian response to them, Cooley also speculates about what the dynamic in Central Asia indicates about how an emerging multipolarity might figure in other key regions of the world.
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