A couple of weeks ago, I attended a lecture by Dr. John Mearsheimer entitled Can China Rise Peacefully? Many of you will know that Dr. Mearsheimer has been making this same talk for a good number of years, and I suspect the structure has varied little in that time. Suffice to say that he believes China cannot rise peacefully, but that conflict will likely stop short of a WWIII-type scenario.
For this blog post, however, I want to focus on the first part of the lecture where he presents structural realism. Mearsheimer, like most scholars of International Security, is primarily concerned with great powers. That said, I think that one could use structural realism to look at small state security concerns with some notable adjustments.
As summarized in his lecture, structural realism makes 5 assumptions about the nature of world politics:
1. The international system is populated by states in anarchy
2. All states have some offensive power
3. While states can know the capabilities of other states, they cannot know their intentions
4. The principle goal of states is to survive
5. States are rational actors
These 5 assumptions entail 3 important behaviors:
1. States fear each other as a result of anarchy
2. States understand that they live in a self-help system
3. Power is necessary for survival, which means that states will want to be a regional hegemon and ensure that other regional hegemons do not emerge
This argument generally makes sense to me as far as it can be applied to great power politics. (Note that I am not saying the theory holds true in all situations, just that from my perspective the argument is sound and I could imagine it truly representing international politics). However, for non-great powers, the assumptions and behaviors fail in several respects.
First, in claiming that all states have some kind of offensive power, Mearsheimer seems to assume that such power is considered useful by states in that it can mitigate the vulnerability of anarchy. For many small states, this is simply not the case. Mongolia, for example, has little need for offensive power. There is really no military option that could protect Mongolia if Russia or China decided that their interests would be served by negating Mongolia’s independence. Of course, there is really no foreseeable scenario in which I can imagine China or Russia making overt moves against Mongolian sovereignty, but the possibility does exist. As a result of this inherent vulnerability, the Mongolian armed forces are being reworked into a peacekeeping force for international missions, and maintaining the ability of offensive (or defensive for that matter) military projection solely in domestic contingencies.
Second, while I agree that states exist in a self-help system, where they cannot take for granted any outside support and maintenance of their sovereignty, I do think that this needs to be considerably nuanced for application to the system’s smaller members. I would argue that international cooperation could mitigate some of the dangerous anarchy that small states find themselves in. The Baltics, for example, as EU and NATO members have some insurance that their independence will be respected in these organizations and that that any countries that might seek to challenge their autonomy (ahem…Russia…ahem) would meet resistance not only from the states themselves, but by the E.U. and NATO as well. The system might be self-help in the long term, but this can be mitigated by active foreign policy making on the part of small states.
Thirdly, becoming a regional hegemon is simply not on the agenda for any small state, and perhaps not for any non-great power. Mongolia is not going to be a great power without some major, magical, globe-shifting miracle that collapses the international state system as we know it.
With that, here are my revisions to the theory of structural realism to account for the unique position of small states in the contemporary international system:
1. The international system is populated by states
2. Small states will maintain defensive capabilities to the extent they may actually be useful.
3. While states can know the capabilities of other states, they cannot know their intentions
4. The principle goal of states is to survive
5. States are rational actors
1. Small states will fear their primary security threats, but will want to cooperate with other states (w/o fear)
2. The system might be self-help, but cooperation can mitigate some of the insecurity.
3. Instead of seeking regional hegemony, small states will support multipolar regional development.
Missed something in Mongolian foreign policy news over the past two weeks or just need to review the headlines? Below you will find brief summaries of news in foreign affairs, translated from Mongolian-language news sources, and organized by region.
The Director of the Mongolian Parliament, Z. Enkhbold, received Kazakhstan’s Ambassador to Mongolia, K. I. Koblandin. The ambassador noted Kazakhstan’s intention to further engage with Mongolia and that he hoped both countries would support each other in international organizations, ahead of Kazakhstan’s membership on the UN Security Council in 2017-2018.
President Elbegdorj attended the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Z. Enkhbold met with the President of the European Development Bank, on his official visit to Ulaanbaatar. Since joining the organization in 2006, the Bank has arranged over $1 billion in direct investment and loans to the country.
The first meeting of the French-Mongolian Governmental Cooperation Group was declared a success. Among other things, they discussed the fact that a French company had won the contract for the development of a new power station.
The Prime Minister of Belarus made an official visit to Mongolia. Mongolia’s relations with Belarus have been making headlines lately with visa liberalization and a technology agreement between the two countries coming to light recently. During the visit a new agreement on cooperation on military-technology was signed.
Mongolian diplomatic passport holders will now be allowed to stay in Italy up to 90 days without a visa.
Tony Blair visited Mongolia to consult with government on policy issues ranging from education and health to foreign direct investment.
G. Tsogtsaihan, of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, met with Spain’s Minster of Foreign Affairs in Madrid, where they discussed their bilateral relations in the context of Mongolia’s security cooperation with the European Union.
Loran Fabius, France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, visited Mongolia. During the trip, she met with the Minister L. Bold and attended a meeting of the Mongolian-French Business Council.
Mongolia’s Ambassador to Serbia presented her credentials to the Serbian President. During the meeting, she expressed Mongolia’s wish for increased societal and economic relations with the country.
A meeting on EU-Mongolian cooperation was held in the Government Palace.
PM N. Altanhuyag began his first official international tour in Japan. During his trip, he met with representatives of the Mongolian-Japanese Economic Commission. Following the meeting, the Japanese Cooperation Bank announced that it would be extending an 8 billion yen loan to Mongolia. In the final days of the visit, he met with representatives of the Japanese Parliament, and the Japanese Emperor. He also met with Mongolian citizens working and studying in Japan. Finally, he signed a new official agreement between the countries outlining their strategic partnership for the next five years.
Middle East and Africa
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs circulated an internal memo condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and expressed a hope that fighting would be stopped and solution between all sides be found.
As part of Mongolia’s goal to establish diplomatic relations with all members of the UN, relations with Togo were formally established on September 6 in New York.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, L. Bold, met with a series of new ambassadors, including those from Spain, Argentina, Greece, Brazil, Australia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Columbia.
Director of Parliament, Z. Enkhbold, met with representatives from 14 countries to exchange opinions on various facets of Mongolian policy, including domestic matters.
I recently came across an older article published in The Kazan Times, which attempts to take on modern racial ideas in contemporary Mongolia, namely the highly problematic distinction between “true Mongols” and not-so-true Mongols. (I more often here this expressed as жинхэнэ/цэвэр Монгол and эрлийз, or real/clean Mongol versus hybrid, but terminology in this case seems irrelevant).
In part, I agree with the article that the distinction between real and not-so-real Mongol is controversial at best, ahistorical at worst. It pulls from the same ideological pool of dangerous virulent nationalism that's used to justify the xenophobic attacks of hypernationalist gangs, etc. But, the author ends up making the argument that by not recognizing Mongols outside of Mongolia as true Mongols, that the Mongolian state is betraying the national interest. This I find to be completely false.
The author relies on a glance at ancient history, referencing Chinggis Khaan’s Empire and his uniting of the Mongol tribes under one banner as evidence that today’s Mongolia has failed its people.
Put simply, ancient history is not enough. Yes, at one point, all "Mongols" were united as a political unit, but now this is not the case, and proposing that Inner Mongolians and Buryats (or Kalmyks, and so on) should be recognized as the same as Outer Mongolians is to ignore vastly differing historical experiences over hundreds of years. Yes, Mongolia only became independent 100 years ago, but Inner Mongolia was administratively distinct since the 1700s, and Buryatia has been part of Russia since the 17th century. To suggest that Mongolians (by which I mean Mongols in independent Mongolia) should automatically feel a sense of solidarity and seek to support all Mongolic peoples based on a sense of shared nationality and ethnicity is not only naive, it is almost as offensive as “true Mongol” racism, to begin with.
Isn’t it inherently problematic to argue that all Mongols are the same? Inner Mongolians have a much different history than (Outer) Mongolians. They live in an autonomous region that is over 80% Han Chinese, forcing them to use Chinese for most official purposes. Likewise, Buryatia’s population is over 50% Russian, with the Russian language a much more often used language in the republic than Buryat. Different languages and political/demographic realities are just the start. Let us not forget that Buryat Mongols have been a separate cultural group from eastern Khalkha since a clear “Buryat” group could be identified. Likewise, there are tribal distinctions between Inner Mongolians and Mongolians-proper.
I hesitate to even take on the issue of Hazaras. Hazara’s have been part of the Afghan political landscape for centuries, PERHAPS originating from a military contingent sent to the country during the Mongolian Empire, but nothing is conclusive on this issue. They speak a dialect of Persian (albeit with some distinctly Mongolian words thrown in), they are Shia Muslims and live in Afghanistan, a far cry from Mongolia in almost every way. Expecting Hazaras and Mongolians to identify with each other is odd, to say the least.
Backing up a bit, let me point out again that I am by no means arguing in favor of the racism that Inner Mongolians in Mongolia face, and I find the “hybrid” distinction to be distasteful garbage. Nor am I saying that Mongolia, or any state should ignore the human rights abuses committed in Inner Mongolia. What I am saying is that pan-Mongolism and its close cousin, Mongol irredentism, is equally as problematic in as far as it serves to deny historical, cultural, and linguistic differences, brushing over diverse peoples with a unitary paintbrush.
What is more amazing to me is not the divisions in Mongolic society, but rather the amount of cooperation and mutual solidarity that does exist. Rather than questioning why some Mongolians don’t accept other Mongolic peoples as “real Mongols”, isn’t it more interesting to ask why the Mongolian government apparently felt a strong enough sense of solidarity with Hazaras in Afghanistan that it has offered a number of scholarships for Hazaras to live and study in Ulaanbaatar? Isn’t it amazing that anti-Chinese sentiment pops up when abuses of Inner Mongolians make the headlines? Is no one interested in the fact the Kalmyks and Mongolians have managed to construct meaningful cultural relations despite their geographic and historical differences? These are the questions that might actually matter.
At the end of day, it is certainly not an issue to be decided by foreigners, including myself. Mongols, Mongolians, and Mongolic peoples decide and work out these issues on their own. As an invested observer, however, I would certainly argue against a belief that Mongolia as an independent and modern state is at all obliged to act as some kind of pan-Mongolian support group. Indeed to do so would be politically dangerous, confirming long held Chinese fears of Mongol irredentism and likely prompt actions against its sovereignty by both its neighbors.
The national interest of Mongolia is to survive as an independent political entity, able to balance its neighbors and work globally to ensure its survival. The idea that Mongolia should be an advocator for all Mongols/Mongolic groups is NOT in the national interest, it is a danger to it.
Missed something in Mongolian foreign policy news over the past two
Mongolia’s Ambassador to Pakistan, Ts. Sukhbaatar, presented his credentials to President Asif Ali Zardari. Among other things, they discussed Mongolian-Pakistani cooperation in the ADB’s Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) program.
Mongolia’s director of Parliament, Z. Enkhbold, met with a group of Thai representatives in Ulaanbaatar, expressing that Thailand is a key partner for Mongolia in Southeast Asia. This year, Mongolia and Thailand mark 40 years of diplomatic relations.
Mongolia’s ambassador to Thailand presented his credentials to the Thai Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.
On official invitation from the Mongolian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs visited Mongolia, and met with L. Bold. They discussed ways to increase mutual cooperation, and signed a Memorandum of Understanding on furthering cooperation.
L. Bold attended a meeting in Japan on Oita-Mongolian Friendship and Cooperation.
Leader of Parliament, Z. Enkhbold, received Mr. M. Xayashi, head of the Mongolian-Japanese Friendship Forum. The meeting of the Forum focused on societal and economic cooperation as well as student exchanges.
The Secretary of Administration of the Mongolian Parliament, B. Boldbaatar, received Sultanov Marat Abdrazokovich, a member of Kyrgyzstan’s Parliament current on an official trip to Mongolia.
The Diplomat and East Asia Forum ran an article on Mongolian-Kazakhstani relations proposing 3 reasons for the limited ties between the two countries: historical political boundaries, Kazakhstani-Russian relations, and the democratic-authoritarian restrictions.
Mongolia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, L. Bold, met with Ireland’s Ambassador to Mongolia, where they discussed relations in the broader context of Mongolian-European affairs.
The Mongolian Embassy in Stockholm opened a “Citizen’s Room” where Mongolians can come together to discuss a variety of issues and seek council as needed.
Consultations were held between the German and Mongolian Ministries of Foreign Affairs, during which they discussed opportunities for cultural and governmental cooperation in the area of education. They also took the time to mark 40 years of diplomatic relations.
The Mongolian-Czech Governmental Commission held their 5th meeting.
Mongolia’s ambassador to the Czech Republic, D. Zumberellham, met with the Czech Vice President, to discuss economic affairs ahead of a meeting of the Mongolia-Czech business forum.
The director of the Russian Federation’s Election Commission visited Mongolia an expressed interest in Mongolia’s experience with new electoral technologies.
On the invitation of vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, D. Gankhuyag, Russia’s undersecretary of foreign affairs I. V. Morgulov made an official visit to Mongolia. During his trip, he met with the Mongolian Prime Minister and head of the Mongolian-Russian Governmental Commission. They also held official consultations between their respective Foreign Affairs Ministries.
Mongolian passport holders can now travel to Belarus visa-free for up to 90 days. Mongolia and Belarus are also preparing to conclude an agreement on cooperation in science and technology.
Minister of Defense, D. Bat-Erdene, met with U.S. Senator John MacCain and Sheldon Whitehouse in Ulaanbaatar to discuss US-Mongolian defense cooperation.
Mongolian appointed a new consulate in the Kingdom of Jordan, which will operate out of Mongolia’s Embassy in Cairo. The consulate will not only handle issues of trade of investment, but also provide protection for Mongolian citizens’ interests in the country.
East Asia Forum has published a slightly altered version of my article on Mongolian-Kazakhstani relations, this time focusing on Central Asia's failed regionalization and Mongolia's ability to opt-out of regional affairs.
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.