Alexander Cooley

Claire Tow Professor of Political Science and Director of The Harriman Institute

International Relations

Alexander Cooley is the Claire Tow Professor of Political Science at Barnard College and the current Director of Columbia University's Harriman Institute. Professor Cooley’s research examines how external actors– including international organizations, multinational companies, NGOs, and foreign military bases – have influenced the development and sovereignty of the former Soviet states, with a focus on Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Cooley is the author and/or editor of six academic books:

Great Games examines the multipolar politics of US-Russia-China competition for influence in Central Asia and was described by Asia Policy as "possibly the most cogent critique of post-Cold War orthodoxy published to date." It received an Honorable mention from the Central Eurasian Studies Society 2014 Book Prize committee. Reviews: NYRB, Asia Policy roundtable, Foreign Affairs, Survival, LSE Review of Books.

In addition to his academic research, Professor Cooley serves on several international advisory and policy committees (see below); he has testified for the United States Congress, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission and briefed US and international officials on Eurasian politics. Cooley's opinion pieces have appeared in New York Times, Foreign Policy and Foreign Affairs and his research has been supported by fellowships and grants from the Open Society Foundations, Carnegie Corporation, Smith Richardson Foundation and the German Marshall Fund of the United States, among others. Cooley earned both his MA and Ph.D. from Columbia University. 

Recent Media Appearances and Quotes

Author's interviews for Harpers, Foreign Affairs in Focus, Radio Free Liberty/Radio Europe, The Atlantic, World Politics Review, and  Hollings Center.

Academic Focus: 

Academic Specialties and Research Interests

External actors and regional relations in Eurasia and Central Asia

Emerging Powers and Global Governance

International Sovereignty and Limited Sovereignty

Politics of United States and Russian overseas military bases

Politics of International Rankings and Ratings 

Post-Western International Relations and Governance

Western Values Advocacy in a Multipolar world


Courses Offered

You will find selected syllabi published on-line.

HSPSGR 8445  Legacies of the Empire & Soviet Union
POLS BC 3805 Colloquium on International Organization

POLS W 4820 International Relations of a Post-Western World

INAF U 6570 Challenging Sovereignty in the Post-Communist States

POLS V 3615 Globalization and International Politics

Awards & Honors: 
  • Honorable Mention, 2014 Central Eurasian Studies Society Book PrizeGreat Games, Local Rules.
  • 2014 Graduate Student Choice Speaker, Center for Slavic and East European Studies, Ohio State University
  • Tow Professor for Distinguished Scholars and Practitioners, Barnard College, 2011-2013
  • Open Society Foundations, Global Fellow, 2009-2010
  • Marshall Shulman Prize 2006 (Cowinner) for Logics of Hierarchy. Awarded by the ASEES for the Best Book in Foreign Policy and International Relations of the Former Communist Countries.
  • German Marshall Fund of the United States, Transatlantic Fellow, 2004-05
  • Smith Richardson Foundation, International Security Grant, "The Global Defence Posture Review: Will New Bases Create Old Political Dilemmas?," 2007.
  • Gladys Brooks Foundation "Junior Faculty Excellence in Teaching" Award, 2006-07
  • Carnegie Corporation Project Grant, Co-investigator, The New United States Imperialism? Intervention and Self-Determination (Grant No. B 7142R01), 2003-05 (with Kimberly Zisk Marten)
Professional Affiliations: 

International Advisory and Committee Appointments (Standing)

Academic Affiliations and Governance

  • Director, The Harriman Institute, Columbia University. 2015-.
  • Chair, Department of Political Science, Barnard College. 2012-2015.
  • Deputy Director (for Social Sciences Programming), Harriman Institute, Columbia University, 2013-. Executive Committee Member since 2009.
  • Faculty Representative to the Barnard College Board of Trustees, 2013-2016.
  • PONARS Eurasia, since 2006. Executive Commitee Member, 2008-2010.
  • Associate, George Washington University, Central Asia Program. 2012-

Project Advisory Appointments

Public Testimony

  • Prepared Testimony for US-China Economic and Security Commission's hearing "Looking West: China and Central Asia." March 18. 2015.
  • Prepared Congressional statement on allegations of corruption in fuel contracts at the US air base at Manas Kyrgyzstan. April 22, 2010.
Presentations / Recent Lectures: 

Upcoming Public Lectures and Presentations

  • March 7. One Belt One Road: The Challenges of China’s Engagement with Central Asia". Fung Global Fellows Program, Princeton University.

Selected Recent Lectures and Presentations

  • October 29, 2015. "The Emerging Poltiics of International Rankings." Watson Center, Brown University.

  • October 28, 2015. "Offshore Central Asia." Davis Center, Harvard University.

  • October 15, 2015. Keynote Speaker: "Locating Central Asia's Geopolitics." Annual Central Eurasian Studies Association conference. George Wahsington University.

  • May 15, 2015. Keynote Speaker: "Great Game(s) in Central Asia and Beyond: Exploring International Regional Rivalry Using Historical and Cultural Lenses." Amercian University in Central Asia. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

  • April 16, 2015. "Great Games, Local Rules, Contested Orders: Central Asia's Lessons for the Post-Western World." Lindenwood University.

  • February 27, 2015. "Russia and Asia: The Bear Looks East?" EPIIC Annual Symposium, Tufts University.

  • January 29, 2015. Report Launch "Scripts of Sovereignty: The Freezing of the Russia-Ukraine Crisis and Eurasia's Governance Dilemmas." Center for Global Interests, Washington DC.

  • November 12, 2014. "Toward the Discipline of Ranking and the Emerging Politics of Ratings." Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute, Florence.

  • September 22, 2014. “Tending the Eurasian Garden? Russia, China and the Dynamics of Regional Integration and International Order.” “New Perspectives on Sino-Russian Relations. Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies, Oslo, Norway.

  • August 4, 2014. “The Eagle has Landed: Geopolitics and Securitization in Western Central Asian Studies, 2001- 2011." Knowledge Production and Knowledge Transfer in and on Central and Inner Asia. Ulaanbaatar University, Mongolia

On-leave from Barnard College- Spring 2017 & Spring 2018.


 Selected Recent Publications

"How the Demcoratic Tide Rolled Back," Real Clear World. January 17, 2017.

"The Emerging Political Economy of OBOR: the Challenges of Promoting Connectivity in Central Asia and Beyond." Reconnecting Asia. Washington DC: CSIS, October 2016.

"Rank has its Privileges: How international Rankings Dumb Down Global Governance," (with Jack Snyder) Foreign Affairs November/December 2015.

"Putin's Potemkin Intervention: the Weakness of Moscow's Syrian Adventure," (with Dan Nexon) Foreign Affairs  October 18. 2015

"Countering Demcoratic Norms" Journal of Democracy. Vol. 26, No. 3. July 2015.

"Blurring the Line between Licit and Illicit: Transanational Corruption Networks in Central Asia and Beyond" with Jason Sharman Central Asian Survey. March 2015.

"Offshore Central Asia: An introduction" with John Heathershaw Central Asian Survey. March 2015.

"Scripts of Sovereignty: The Freezing of the Russia-Ukraine Crisis and Eurasia's Governance Dilemmas." Center for Global Interests, Washington DC, January 2015.

"Okinawa: A Crack in the Pacific Pivot to Asia" National Interest. June 27, 2014.

"Learning from Crimea" with Lincoln Mitchell Foreign Policy. June 16, 2014.

"Dictators without Borders" with John Heathershaw Open Democracy Russia. April 30, 2014.

"Russian Rule-Breaking as Power Politics." Opinio Juris Ukraine Insta-Symposium. March 7, 2014.

"'The Empire Will Compensate You': The Structural Dynamics of the US Overseas Basing Network" Persepctives on Politics Vol. 11, No. 4 (December 2013): 1035-1050. Copyright: Cambridge University Press.

"Vote of the Living Dead" [Azerbaijan's Ghost Election Monitors] with Christopher Walker Foreign Policy October 31, 2013.

"The Elusive Quest for Political Stability in Central Asia and Beyond" DAG-3QD Quarterly Peace and Justice Symposium September 19, 2013. Responses by Pavel Baev and David Lewis.

Book Review Roundtable of Great Games, Local Rules: The New Great Power Contest for Central Asia, featured in Asia Policy 16 (July 2013). Author's response: "Can We Change the Rules? External Actors and Central Asia Beyond 2014."

"Revolutions, Corruption and Intrigue," Review of Restless Valley, by Philip Shishkin. Quartz May 16, 2013.

"The League of Authoritarian Gentleman," Foreign Policy January 30, 2013.

Review of Guantánamo: An American History, by Michael Hansen. American Historical Review. Vol. 117 (5): December 2012.

"Good Days for Oil Generals, Bad Days for Russia," Review of Wheel of Fortune: The Battle for Oil and Power in Russia, by Thane Gustafson. Quartz November 7, 2012.

"After Afghanistan, A New Great Game," New York Times August 22, 2012.

"The New Great Game in Central Asia: Geopoltiics in a Post-Western World," Foreign Affairs online August 7, 2012.

"In Central Asia, Public Cooperation and Private Rivalry." New York Times June 8, 2012.

"Afghanistan's Other Regional Causualty," Oxford University Press blog post. May 23, 2012 Republished on May 23, 2012.

“US Military Involvement and its Impact on US-Central Asian Relations.” Central Asia Policy Forum. Washington DC: George Washington University. April 2012. Roundtable with Stephen Blank, Alexander Cooley, Andrew Kuchins and Joshua Kucera.

"Roadblocks on the Silk Road: the Challenges of Externally Promoting Economic Cooperation in Central Asia." EUCAM Watch No. 11, February 2012.

"A Counterproductive Disdain [Abkhazia's Elections]" with Lincoln Mitchell. New York Times August 31, 2011.

"Great Games, Local Rules," ​Cairo Review of Global Affairs Vol. 1, no. 2 (Summer 2011).

"Bahrain's Base Politics: The Arab Spring and America's Military Bases," with Daniel Nexon. Foreign Affairs online. April 5, 2011.

   - Reprinted in ​The New Arab Revolt: What Happened, What it Means and What Comes Next. New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 2011, 221-228.

"Engagement without Recognition: A New Policy Towards Abkhazia and Eurasia's Unrecognized States," with Lincoln Mitchell. The Washington Quarterly Vol. 33, No. 4 (October 2010), 59-73.

"Base Closings: The Rise and Decline of the US Military Bases Issue in Spain 1975-2005," with Jonathan Hopkin. International Political Science Review Vol. 31, No. 4 (September 2010), 494-513.

After the August War: A New Strategy for US Engagement with Georgia. New York: Harriman Institute of Columbia University, 2010. Also published as a special issue of the Harriman Review Vol. 17, Nos. 3-4 (May 2010).

"Manas Hysteria: Why the United States can't keep buying off Kyrgyz leaders to keep its vital air base open," Foreign Policy. April 12, 2010.

"Russia and the Recent Evolution of the SCO: Issues and Challenges for US Policy," in TImothy Frye, TImothy Colton and Robert Legvold Eds. The Policy World Meets Academia: Designing US Policy towards Russia. Cambridge, Mass: American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 2010, 8-19

"Cooperation gets Shanghaied: China, Russia, and the SCO," Foreign Affairs online. December 14, 2009.

"No Way to Treat Our Friends: Recasting Recent US-Georgian Relations," with Lincoln Mitchell. The Washington Quarterly Vol. 32, No. 1 (January 2009), 27-41.

Contracting States: Sovereign Transfers in International Politics, with Hendrik Spruyt  (Princeton University Press, June 2009.)

Base Politics: Democratic Change and the U.S. Military Overseas (Cornell University Press, 2008).

Logics of Hierarchy: The Organization of Empires, States and Military Occupations (Cornell University Press, 2005).



Tel +1 212.854.9544
Fax +1 212.854.3024

twitter: CooleyOnEurasia

Office Hours: 

As of July 1, 2015:
1214 IAB, 420 West 118th Street

Spring 2017 Office Hours:

1214 IAB, 420 West 118th Street


MA, MPhil, PhD, Columbia University

B.A., Swarthmore College

In the News

Learning, Thinking, Leading

Professor Alexander Cooley has been named director of the Harriman Institute, one of the world’s leading academic institutions for the study of Russia, Eurasia, and East Central Europe.