Central Asia and Transnational Corruption
A theme of the podcast has become the blurred line between national and international politics. Ronald Deibert explained how autocrats use technology to repress opponents even after they flee their country. A few years ago Christopher Walker coined the term sharp power. Walker writes sharp power “involves efforts at censorship, or the use of manipulation to sap the integrity of independent institutions.” He calls it sharp rather than soft, because it “seeks to ‘pierce, penetrate, or perforate’ the political and information environments of targeted countries.” However, sharp power is the tool of powerful nations such as China and Russia.
Meanwhile, less powerful authoritarian nations also take advantage of the international system as well. Alexander Cooley and John Heathershaw wrote a fascinating book a few years ago called Dictators without Borders: Power and Money in Central Asia. They revisit common misconceptions of Central Asia as isolated economies detached from world events. Instead they show how globalization has supercharged the kleptocratic practices of their leaders. Moreover, Western nations do not simply turn a blind eye to kleptocracy. Rather the neoliberal economic system encourages corruption because it increases resources for investment in the West.
The book offers an important read as policymakers and intellectuals reassess their role in transnational corruption in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It’s important to recognize Russia is not alone in corrupt economic practices. Cooley and Heathershaw provide an extraordinary dissection of lesser known Central Asian countries. Moreover, they show how the economic globalization has allowed for political control and influence beyond their borders. At the same time, I do not want to make the case against globalization. Still, Cooley and Heathershaw show economic liberalization has surprisingly enabled some of the world’s most illiberal despots. Definitely worth a read. It’s even available on Audible.