The struggle between Russia and Great Britain over Central Asia in the nineteenth century was the original "great game." For the British, control over the region protected their vital possessions in the subcontinent. For an expanding Russian Empire, Central Asia represented the next step in their evolution as a great power. In the past quarter century, a new "great game" has emerged. Not only is the region enmeshed in America's global war on terror, it sits between a newly aggressive Russia and resource-hungry China and alongside one of the volatile areas in the world: the long border region stretching from Iran through Pakistan to Kashmir. Russia, the U.S., and China all see Central Asia as strategically important and have devoted extensive financial and human resources there. In Great Games, Local Rules, Alexander Cooley, one of America's most dynamic international relations scholars, explores the dynamics of the new competition for influence over the region since 9/11. All three great powers have crafted strategies to build their influence the region, which includes Afghanistan and the former Soviet republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.
All three are pursuing important goals: basing rights for the US, access to natural resources for the Chinese, and increased political influence for the Russians. However, overlooked in all of the talk about this new great game is fact that the Central Asian governments have proven themselves critical agents in their own right, establishing local rules for external power involvement that serve to fend off external involvement. As a result, despite a decade of intense interest from the United States, Russia and China, Central Asia remains a collection of segmented states, and the external competition has merely reinforced the sovereign authority of the individual Central Asian governments. Cooley's careful and surprising explanation of how small states interact with great powers in a vital region greatly advances our understanding of how world politics actually works.