In preparation for a larger piece, I want to briefly explore a couple thoughts regarding Mongolia’s Third Neighbor Policy. What is the rational for this policy and what factors might indicate its success or failure?
The Lead Up
Unless you are one particularly silly friend of mine, you probable recognize the fact that Mongolia is bordered by two mammoth nations: The People’s Republic of China and The Russian Federation. This is hardly the environment that a small state is likely to survive in; in fact, Mongolia has faced it fair share of domination at the hands of its two neighbors. In 1691, the last of the Mongolian princes submitted to Qing authority, beginning several centuries of Chinese/Manchu domination over the Mongolian steppe. The Qing domination of Mongolia was, as the word domination suggests, a brutal affair, permanently etched in the Mongolian psyche as a period of humiliation, abuse, and almost the complete annihilation of the Mongolian people. Indeed, when the Bogd Khaan declared Outer Mongolia’s independence in 1911, the population had dropped significantly. (This is a blog post, so you have to forgive the lack of exact figures).
Following Mongolia’s communist revolution in 1921, the country remained de facto independent, but de jure Soviet satellite. 1921-1990 marks the second phase of the foreign domination of the Mongolian state. At this time, Mongolian political elite under the consultation of the Soviet Politburo committed massacres against the Buddhist monasteries, destroying almost all of Mongolia’s Buddhist heritage, will simultaneously following suit with the Stalinists purge, under Mongolia’s own Choibolsan. Let no one be confused, Mongolians committed these atrocities, and Mongolian soldiers followed these orders, regardless of whether the Soviet Union might have pushed their hand. At this time, Mongolia was politically and economically dominated by the Soviet Union.
Democratic Foreign Policy
In 1990, following Mongolia’s peaceful democratic transition, the country’s policy makers were determined to find the most effective way to guard Mongolia’s uncertain sovereignty in the face of two huge, historically problematic neighbors. When then US Secretary of State, James Baker, declared the United States to be Mongolia’s third neighbor, Mongolian foreign and security policy makers seized a golden opportunity to grab and re-work this phrase to include countries beyond the US. The birth of Mongolia’s first Concept of Foreign Policy and Concept of Security, thus defined the state’s goal to establish neighborly relations with countries outside of its physical geography. To put it a different way, Mongolia’s third neighbor policy is an effort to ensure that the country has close relations with as many actors as possible, not just Russia and China.
Mongolia is not foolish, however. The state does not undertake this policy thinking that its third neighbors would fly to the rescue should some conflict develop between itself and its physical neighbors. (It is not Georgia, after all!). In fact, a vital component of the third neighbor policy is to maintain strong relations with its two real neighbors as well. Rather, Mongolia seeks to maintain a situation where many foreign players exist and have a stake in Mongolia’s continued sovereignty and to avoid economic or political domination by any one country. (See the work of Dr. Munkh-Ochir).
Although the above is an admittedly brief, and all together over simplified portrayal of history, the policy’s development, and its goals, it is (I believe) a good introduction. The real problem comes down to how we should judge the success of this policy. If we take its goal to be to use foreign policy to protect Mongolia’s security interests by seeking to guarantee the continuation of Mongolian sovereignty over Mongolia, then any judgment of the policy’s success would have to be based on at least the following three factors: military relations, political relations, and economic relations.
Mongolia’s military has been completely reworked into an effect domestic force as well as a major contributor to UN peacekeeping missions and the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In response, the US provides training and equipment to the Mongolian Armed Forces. In particular, the annual Khaan Quest military exercises stand out as a particularly well-publicized training. Additionally, the Indian Government trains Mongolian peacekeepers through the Nomadic Elephant exercises as well as providing English language training. International support for training Mongolia’s armed forces to be more effective peacekeepers and a force for domestic stability is useful for Mongolia and international missions alike. Moreover, it has made the country a US “partner”, putting Mongolia on the US geostrategic map in a way that politics and economics could not have achieved alone. Military relations = Success.
Support to Mongolia’s political development is largely based on the fact that Mongolia is a functioning democracy in a neighborhood of authoritarianism. I have posted before on why Mongolian democracy matters internationally; however, I should also clarify that international support to Mongolian political development has been largely ideological. Beyond words of support, some political analysts cite little real institutional support. That being said, it remains unclear to me what institutional support would look like beyond advisement, which I imagine to be easily available. In fact, the limits of domestic political support might be based on the corruption and patronage of the Mongolian political elite, rather than a lack of international support. What might also be missing from the equation is the international community supporting Mongolian interests internationally. I need to investigate this further to fully understand what that would entail, but I venture a quick guess that it would mean promoting Mongolia as a constructive member of the international community, and giving the country the opportunity to participate and take a leadership role in international organizations. Political relations = Limited.
Economically, it is still clear who has the largest stake in Mongolia: China- exactly the country whose role Mongolia seeks to limit. In second place in terms of trade: Russia. Mongolia has no significant trading partners beyond its two neighbors. Still, this may be the one sector where Mongolia has the most control. In contrast to military and political relations, which are largely determined by the willingness of larger powers, in economics business is business. With the continued improvement of the Mongolian investment and business climate, Mongolia might be able to continue to attract foreign interests. This is why large mining projects, such as Oyuu Tolgoi, continue to favor non-Russian/Chinese companies. Threatening to ruin the potential reform of current third neighbor economic failure is growing resource nationalism and calls for increased Mongolian ownership in foreign mining operations. It was recently expressed to me that foreign ownership of slightly over 50% would work to increase political interest in Mongolia since diplomatic missions are often established to support economic interests. Indeed, it seems that in order for US-Mongolian relations to move beyond their current state, Mongolia will need to grant some economic concessions to the US; perhaps a license for US-owned Peabody Mining? Economic relations = Failed, but with potential.
Expanding the Concept
Mongolian foreign policy is highly sophisticated and well thought out. While the third neighbor policy might not be a golden egg just yet, it is certainly a developing policy with potential for even more development in the near future. As far as this observer is concerned, the policy is largely successful, despite its limitations.
What I think we need to keep in mind, however, is that while Mongolia might be the only country with a “third neighbor policy”, it is by no means the only small state to approach its security interests through a foreign policy aimed at maintaining close relations with as many players as possible, not just their immediate bordering states. Southeast Asian states are well versed in playing the US, China, and sometimes India off of each other, hedging their bets, so to speak. (Dr. Evelyn Goh has written about hedging and omni-entrechment in some length). Burma’s transitional process is likely to have prompted by a desire to ensure that the country has more options than just China. Nepal has been exploring for some time how to effectively play China and India off each other to achieve its own national interests. Even the Central Asian states, long tied solely to Russia, are enjoying “the new Great Game” between Russia, the US, China, and India for influence and access to the region. In short, I believe that most small states approach a similar line of balancing foreign interests. (More on this later, as it is a topic of my upcoming M.A. Thesis).
“Mongolia is important and Mongolian politics matter” is a phrase we don’t hear very often, neither from policy makers, politicians, nor academics. Still, with increased interest in Mongolia on the international stage, and several new Mongolian Studies projects being pursued by world-class universities, perhaps it is time to start asserting that SMALL MATTERS.
This website starts with a simple, although potentially groundbreaking, presumption: small states matter in international politics and security. In this post, I want to focus on why Mongolia matters, and some preliminary ideas on what international actors are looking for from Mongolia as related to the most recent elections. While Mongolia is by no means a world power, a sophisticated foreign policy coupled with a booming mining sector and proven democratic stability has allowed the country to attract international attention on a scale usually reserved for larger actors. I propose that the 2012 Parliamentary election was important for two interrelated reasons: 1) a show of democratic strength and commitment to democratic development; 2) a test of stability for the economic/investment climate.
As I have stated in previous posts, Mongolian democracy matters not only as a domestic regime, but also as a type of international PR. For example, Mongolia’s democratic system has streamlined its relations with the United States. Mongolia has enjoyed US military assistance in training and technology in exchange for its support of the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Mongolia has contributed hundreds of troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, and has stationed peacekeepers around the world as part of various UN missions. In fact, much of Mongolia’s defense forces have been converted into a well-trained international peacekeeping force, with plans to increase the number to 2,500. The US has carried out much of this training out in the annual Khaan Quest military exercises.
The US-Mongolian relationship is greatly strengthened by shared democratic values. The US and Mongolia are both committed to the rule of law and both governments gain their legitimacy as a result of the democratic process. Unlike the CCP in China, the Mongolian state’s legitimacy is not solely based on the ability to provide economic returns (although that is certainly a very important factor). Rather, Mongolian elections must also be seen as legitimately reflecting the voters’ decisions. Concerns over electoral fraud and corruption add an extra complication to the state’s legitimacy. However, to date there has been no proof of any fraudulent activity large enough to suggest that the whole election was bought, and as a result the in-coming MPs will be at least largely legitimate, even if not necessarily viewed as such by all their constituents.
This election is yet another brick in the wall of proof that Mongolia has implemented a largely successful democracy. As a democracy, it is better able to cooperate with other democratic players: nations that would otherwise have little interest in Mongolia. Turning to Mongolia’s larger foreign policy goals, we can see that relations with other democratic nations are a key factor in the country’s efforts to extend itself beyond its immediate neighborhood. Mongolia is surrounded by two huge, distinctly non-democratic countries- Russia and China- both of which have exercised varying amounts of control over its domestic policies in the past. Mongolia is distinctly aware of the fact that as a small country between giants its sovereignty and general ability to control its own domestic policies are anything but a given. In response to this potential complication/threat, Mongolia has implemented a policy of cultivating relations with other world actors outside of its immediate geography through what is widely referred to as the “Third Neighbor Policy”. Notably many of Mongolia’s “third neighbors” are stable democracies with good human rights records. These include Japan, South Korea, India, the US, and various EU countries (i.e. Germany, France, the Czech Republic, and several others). Investors in Mongolia do not have to justify the morality of their investments to the same extent that they might when investing in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, for example.
Shared democratic values, as demonstrated by successful elections such as the one this June, provide Mongolia with a way to deepen relations with other actors and address its larger foreign policy, security, and economic interests.
Mongolia’s economy grew over 17% in real terms this past year, making it the fastest growing economy in the world! This little fact is often shocking to people, who write of the country as part of an undefined “third world”. Of course, this is up 17% from a rather low starting point, but still this remains a sign of development and is perhaps indicative that international investment in the mining sector is paying off for the country in general. Without judging prematurely, it is clear that international investors were watching this election closely for two things: signs of instability and signs of populism-influenced protectionism in the Mongolian market.
“Do you expect a repeat of the events of 2008?” many people, foreigners and Mongolians alike, asked me during the build up to the election. For those of you unfamiliar with Mongolian politics, let me briefly explain. Following the announcement of an MPRP (now MPP) victory in the 2008 Parliamentary elections, the DP called a protest, saying that the elections were fraudulent and corrupt. Things quickly got out of control and what started as a peaceful protest outside the MPRP headquarters turned violent, resulting in 5 deaths, the complete destruction of the MPRP building, and the partial destruction of the Cultural Palace (located unfortunately close to the party building). I did not expect a repeat of these events this year, and I am very happy to have been proven correct. Even though the events of 2008 where contained by the morning, such riots are by their very nature unpredictable and international investors and observers were notably anxious that any such repeat might have the potential to spiral out of control.
Perhaps more importantly, investors want to ensure that their investments are protected and that their contracts with the Mongolian government will be honored. When Mongolia implemented a windfall tax overnight on mining profits in 2006, investors became acutely aware that the rules of the game could change at the drop of a hat. While the windfall profits tax legislation was eventually repealed in 2009, it remains something of a scandal, and worried many investors, while simultaneously scaring off others (presumably). While some Mongolian political players are more or less predictable and open to international investment, one party in particular had a particularly populist slant: the MPRP-MNDP “Justice” Coalition. Dr. Julian Dierkes previously identified the MRPR-MNDP vote as a sign of populism, citing the fact that supporters are often drawn to the message of standing up to international market forces as well as resource nationalism. After winning 11 seats in the Parliament and quite likely becoming part of a coalition with the DP, we might conclude that some elements of populism remain popular in the Mongolian political and social sphere. Indeed with rising xenophobia, this seems hardly surprising. (See my previous post on Fears of Survival). Whether this will will translate into harder times for international businesses in uncertain, but I would venture to guess not, seeing as the DP will the be leading figure in any coalition and it clearly pro-business.
Considering increased economic interest in Mongolia following a record year of growth as well as the PR potential of democracy and adherence to human rights norms, I conclude that this election had at least some level of importance to Mongolia’s international partners. Although, let me admit that while from Ulaanbaatar everything Mongolian seems significant, the likelihood that any international players were loosing sleep over this election is not likely. What is also interesting is the fact that, from what I could tell, none of the parties had any explicit foreign policy message in their action plans/policies. While I maintain that Mongolia exercises notable agency in its foreign policy decisions, as a small country a domestic political change cannot upset foreign policy to the same extent that Presidential elections in the USA can. (More on Mongolian agency and choices later).
Note: A version of this article was published in the July 23rd edition of the UB Post, Mongolia’s leading English-language newspaper. Hopefully, a link to follow.
Looking at the results of Mongolia’s 2012 Parliamentary elections, everyone wants to know with whom the Democratic Party will ultimately form a coalition. Before Naadam, the Democratic Party officially announced that it would be looking into the possibility of a coalition with the MPRP-MNDP. As one of only 2 other parties holding enough seats to give the DP a majority, MPRP-MNDP is certainly a statistically viable partner. Indeed, it seems the partnership only makes sense numerically.
Politically it is hard to imagine two more different parties in the Mongolian political spectrum. Enkhbayar’s Justice Coalition (MPRP-MNDP) ran on a distinctly populist platform pushing for more government control over the economic system as a way of battling economic inequality. But don’t let this confuse you. This is not about the kind of government reform that many of us are pushing for in the US and other developed countries. This is a policy made to play off irrational fears of foreign companies and even the entrenched anti-Chinese feelings that many Mongolians harbor. It is a party that has the potential to derail foreign investment and negatively impact Mongolian economic development.. In addition, its controversial leader, N. Enkhbayar, also makes the party a less-than-welcomed ally to the DP. Voters that support the DP are likely not to approve of a coalition with the MPRP-MNDP. They voted for the liberal economics and human rights supporting policies of the DP. What is even more worrisome (at least to me) is the potential political strength that such a coalition would give the “Justice Coalition”.
As part of the political bargaining process, the MPRP-MNDP will be granted a number of ministerial positions in exchange for their support to a DP Prime Minister. Mongolia, like many countries, appoints ministers on a political basis. Professional capacity does not seem to be a pre-requisite. And this brings me to my point: the political appointment of ministers does not support real institutional development, but is an impediment to that process. If Mongolia wants its ministries to operate as effectively and efficiently as possible, the heads of these institutions cannot be temporary political appointments. It seems to me to be an “issue of genre”, by which I mean that it is an issue of specialty. Is it so radical to expect that the head of the Ministry of Education, to take one important example, be an expert in education policy?
Of course, I recognize that this is a common practice, and the posts for the US government’s various departments are political appointments as well. Indeed, in some cases these appoints seem to work well. Hilary Clinton, for example, is possibly the best Secretary of State the US has ever had. Still, I can’t help but think that we need a reordering of political business as usual. In the case of Mongolia, I am sure that DP voters, which represent the majority in this past election, are uneasy with the appointment of MPRP-MNDP ministers. The final coalition remains to be determined, and the DP might ultimately form a coalition with CWGP and some select MPPs that might choose to the cross the floor. Still, the problematic nature of political appointments remains.
For Mongolian language news on the appointment of ministers please go to:
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, visited Ulaanbaatar today (July 9th) as part of her Asia tour. Her statements as reported in the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times, present an interesting picture of the visit and point to some important points in the relationship between Mongolia and the United States.
Firstly, China matters. Sec. Clinton made strong statements supporting democracy and political freedoms as steps just as important to economic growth. The news reporters are very much on the right track with pointing out that this is a clear message to China that the US continues to expect political reforms in addition to liberal economic policies. This was explored at length in both articles.
Secondly, Mongolia matters. What was just barely touched on in these articles is that Mongolia’s democratic system is important not just for Mongolian domestic concerns, but also on the international stage. Mongolian democracy stands out in stark contract to it neighbors, Russia and China, as well as when compared across the larger post-communist world. Central Asian authoritarian states, such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan stand out in clear contract to Mongolia. Despite all its “robustness/rowdiness” (as terms used in other publications), the Mongolian political system is clearly democratic, though with notable problems that have been explored in this blog already.
Mongolian democracy and continuing commitment to improving its human rights situation is not only a domestic issue, but it also serves as one factor in Mongolia’s foreign policy. Looking at Mongolia’s “Third Neighbors” (India, Japan, South Korea, and the United States- to name the larger players), all are thriving democracies. While much of the attention Mongolia enjoys on the international stage relative to its small economy, is tied to the growth of the mining sector, we should not be too quick to avoid factoring in the good press that Mongolia enjoys as a result of its developing democratic system. Not only is it one country that can prove that democracy is suitable for Asian nations, but it also means that the US and other countries can interact with Mongolia as one democracy to another.
Human rights concerns and pushes for democratic reform complicate US relations with many other countries. This is one complication that Mongolia has managed to avoid, and perhaps this plays a role in US and international interest in the small country.
Some more links to newspapers and programs quoting me. It looks like Mongolian elections are the one time when being a young Mongolist and political analysis is an in-demand skill.
The Global Post has published an article exploring discontent and disillusionment in Mongolian politics, making use of a rather large quote from me: http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/120702/mongolia-elections-democracy-voter-apathy
More significantly, Dr. Julian Dierkes and myself have written a joint article on the issue of trust in elections, which has been published by the East Asian Forum: http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2012/07/05/mongolia-electronic-counting-but-no-trust/
Finally, I offered a statement to Chinese News (CCTV) on the Mongolian elections, the video footage from which is available here: http://newscontent.cctv.com/news.jsp?fileId=146949
“There are parrots and cockatoos walking the streets as if they were common pigeons!” I exclaimed after only a couple hours in Canberra, Australia. Seriously, wild parrots! I am here for a 4-day conference and lecture series at Australian National University called Asia-Pacific Week. With events and sessions planed from 8am-8pm, it will be hard to blog about it in depth, but I would like to briefly explore some takeaways from the first two sessions and discussions and point to some points that I feel are particularly relevant to the theme of small states that I am trying to address with this blog. For the first time so far, this post will NOT focus on Mongolia; however, there are parallels to be made.
1. The Asian Century:
Our first panel addressed the “Asia Pacific Century”. While the goal of the panel was to begin a discussion on the changes taking place in Asia and probably to set the tone for the rest of the week, the heavily Sinocentric narrative of the panel left me thinking about what happened to rest of the Asia Pacific. China has managed in the past 20 years to conduct its economic policy in a hugely successful fashion; it is by far the largest indigenous military power in the region; has a population of 1.3 billion; and, has become a major contributor to international development through FDI. This is, of course, just a quick look at what China has become and why it matters. Luckily for me, we are far past the stage of having to convince anyone that China is important. Rather, I am left with the impression that it may be necessary to prove that China is not the only country that matters.
As the name of this blog suggests, I am arguing that small countries do matter in international affairs more generally, and international security affairs on a slightly more specific level. This panel presentation seemed to take China’s continued rise as a given, and posed Asian security as a singularly US-China issue. They further assumed a fixed-pie of influence and power in the Asia Pacific, whereby China’s rise meant a lessening of US power in the region. However, I think that this perspective is confounded by the case of Asia’s other players. When one turns to Southeast Asia, one can quickly identify a number of players that are responding to China’s rise by inviting the US to take a stronger role. Singapore seems to welcome the US with open arms as a source of stability; the Philippines benefits from a strong security relationship with the United States; Thailand has been a military ally of the US for many years; and, Vietnam and the US recently signed military medical agreements that point to increased cooperation- just to point to a few examples. In fact, it looks like China’s rise might actually be an opportunity for the US to further entrench itself in Asia as many states will be looking to hedge against a possible Chinese threat. The small states of Southeast Asia, the developed states like South Korea and Japan, and to some extent Mongolia might actually help keep the scale tipped in the US’s favor. Small matters have Big Results.
China has made many astounding accomplishments in the past 20 years, but it is far from being able to command the kind of soft power that the US has managed for many decades. “Peace Rise” notwithstanding, China’s history of aggression and domination are not going to be soon forgotten. While few are hesitant to take advantage of the Chinese market to foster their own domestic development, at the same time even fewer would assume that no counter measures are necessary. States are willing to trade with China and maybe make some diplomatic/political concessions to maintain good relations; however, policies will continue to be taken to protect state sovereignty. Simply put, no state wants to bow down to every Chinese demand, and in an effort to prevent overwhelming Chinese economic and political domination, many smaller states in the region will attempt to ensure that they also maintain deep relationships with other major regional powers, including (and perhaps most importantly) the United States. Whether we call this balance of power, balance of threat, hedging, omni-entrenchment, or even a “Third Neighbor Policy” (as Mongolia has done), the fact remains that China’s rise will be embraced on one end, and balanced on the other. To end with an example that I have brought up many times today, let me point to Mongolia (again, eh?). When the Dalai Lama visited Mongolia in 2002, China responded by cutting railway services to Mongolia for the duration of the visit. With the vast majority of Mongolian exports going to China, this was a clear effort to remind Mongolia of its proper place. This is exactly the type of situation that every country in Asia will want to avoid. (Mongolia’s planned rail-line from Oyuu Tolgoi up to Russia seems to be partly in response to this 2002 event, as well).
2. “The Arc of Instability”
I have to admit that I have never encountered this term before, but apparently it is readily identifiable to Australians. It refers to directly the island nations of the Pacific Ocean that arc around Australia, including such states as the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji. Who knew? This is one of those black places on the map for me, and I have to admit that I have almost no knowledge about these small states. What is clear, however, is that they have taken measures in their foreign policies and security initiatives that are seem common to my developing understanding of small states. Firstly, they all seem very close to Australia as a potential guarantor of their sovereignty and stability, which, as the arc suggests, is a far from certain thing. Secondly, they have all become well versed in how to play with giants. One excellent example that was brought up in this second session was that many of them have continued to recognize Taiwan was an independent state in return for Taiwanese development aid, while simultaneously entertaining and courting the PRC for more development assistance. Needless to say, in my future comparative work on small state foreign policy, I will explore several of these states in more detail. More information to come.
For more information on ANU Asia Pacific Week, visit:
Here you will find a detailed program, the other delegates profiles, and information on the application process. I highly encourage people to apply for next year’s event. It has just started and I am loving it. Not to mention, that food and lodging are provided for 5 days, AND travel funding was also available.
Analysis, Thoughts, Ideas
This blog will be an online publishing site for smaller analytical projects, news stories that I find relevant to small state foreign policy and indigenous autonomy, as well as a testing ground for new ideas and new projects that I may pursue.