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State Erosion

Unlootable Resources and Unruly Elites in Central Asia

by Lawrence P. Markowitz

Publication Year: 2013

State failure is a central challenge to international peace and security in the post-Cold War era. Yet theorizing on the causes of state failure remains surprisingly limited. In State Erosion, Lawrence P. Markowitz draws on his extensive fieldwork in two Central Asian republics—Tajikistan, where state institutions fragmented into a five-year civil war from 1992 through 1997, and Uzbekistan, which constructed one of the largest state security apparatuses in post-Soviet Eurasia—to advance a theory of state failure focused on unlootable resources, rent seeking, and unruly elites.

In Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and other countries with low capital mobility—where resources cannot be extracted, concealed, or transported to market without state intervention—local elites may control resources, but they depend on patrons to convert their resources into rents. Markowitz argues that different rent-seeking opportunities either promote the cooptation of local elites to the regime or incite competition over rents, which in turn lead to either cohesion or fragmentation. Markowitz distinguishes between weak states and failed states, challenges the assumption that state failure in a country begins at the center and radiates outward, and expands the “resource curse” argument to include cash crop economies, where mechanisms of state failure differ from those involved in fossil fuels and minerals. Broadening his argument to weak states in the Middle East (Syria and Lebanon) and Africa (Zimbabwe and Somalia), Markowitz shows how the distinct patterns of state failure in weak states with immobile capital can inform our understanding of regime change, ethnic violence, and security sector reform.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Figures, Tables, and Maps

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pp. ix-x

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiv

In response to my request for a dependable research contact in Surkhandarya Province, my friend’s relative—a mid-level employee in Uzbekistan’s security apparatus— made an extraordinary offer. Having just detained a driver from Surkhandarya for (unwittingly) transporting narcotics in his taxi, he would assign the driver’s older brother to take me to the region, ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xv-xvi

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pp. 1-15

State failure is a central challenge to international peace and security in the post–Cold War era. It has emerged with alarming frequency in contemporary weak states, contributing to a rise in civil wars, insurgency, and terrorist attacks. Having rapidly gained currency in the 1990s, the problem of state failure ...

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1. Rethinking the Resource Curse

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pp. 16-29

Rural Central Asia closely approximates the highly unequal, labor-repressive landholding economy that Barrington Moore believed to be susceptible to peasant insurrection. As anyone who spends time on farms in Tajikistan or Uzbekistan can attest, what Moore called “the spread of the state’s authority” is quite thin ...

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2. Resources and Rents under Soviet Rule

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pp. 30-50

The successor states of the former Soviet Union fit well within the broader universe of postimperial orders. Like the image of the African colonial state as Bula Matari (crusher of rocks), the Soviet state swept away many pre-Soviet institutions. In place of those institutions emerged a Soviet system that deeply embedded neopatrimonial relationships down to the lowest levels of the state. ...

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3. Pathways to Failure: Tajikistan and Uzbekistan

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pp. 51-76

During my second visit to southern Tajikistan’s Amirshoev Farm, after failing to catch up with the farm chair (whose BMW outran my driver’s twenty-year-old Jiguli), I turned to others at the farm to interview. Amirshoev is the furthest farm from Kuliab’s district center, requiring a thirty-minute drive over deteriorated roads through well-maintained cultivated fields. ...

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4. Tajikistan’s Fractious State

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pp. 77-99

Since the war ended in 1997, Tajikistan’s central government has struggled to establish its monopoly over organized violence. Throughout the republic, criminal gangs engaged in drug smuggling, political rivals of President Rakhmon posed threats of a coup d’etat, Islamist groups exploited links to Afghanistan, and former civil war commanders staged insurgencies, ...

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5. Coercion and Rent-Seeking in Uzbekistan

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pp. 100-123

On May 13–14, 2005, state security forces suppressed an uprising in Andijan city, resulting in the deaths of hundreds—possibly seven hundred—civilians (including many women and children).1 The crackdown after the uprising spread well beyond Andijan Province, resulting in a wave of arrests, a refugee crisis in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, ...

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6. Weak and Failed States in Comparative Perspective

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pp. 124-146

The core argument of this book is that weak states defined by low capital mobility have specific political ramifications for local elites. Those elites may command resources, but they cannot convert their resources into rents without patrons and protection within the state. This promotes various combinations of rent-seeking opportunities for local elites, ...

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pp. 147-156

In the eyes of local elites, the dramatic events during the collapse of the Soviet Union have long ceased to threaten their access to rent-seeking opportunities. The disruptive economic reforms, large-scale political purges, and sweeping mass demonstrations of the early 1990s are already part of history in many postcommunist textbooks. ...


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pp. 157-158


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pp. 159-192


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pp. 193-196

E-ISBN-13: 9780801469466
E-ISBN-10: 0801469465
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801451874
Print-ISBN-10: 0801451876

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1