As President Obama declares that the US is preparing to boost its military presence in Europe to the tune of $1 billion, and NATO and the EU move quickly to deepen relations with Georgia and Moldova it is easy to conclude that the crisis in Ukraine and the recent actions of the Russian Federation are a very European issue. However, if we turn our attention to Mongolia, we can see that worsening US/EU relations with Russia are likely to have a far more global effect than may have been initially assumed.
Mongolia, for its part, seeks to simultaneously maintain good relations with its neighbors (Russia and China) while deepening relations with extra-regional powers such as EU member states, the US, Japan, and South Korea. While maintaining this balance and neutrality is difficult enough in a stable international environment, the recent increase in tensions between Russia and NATO/EU members has made playing both sides of the fence an increasingly delicate process.
The first sign that Mongolia was finding itself in an increasingly sticky situation appeared when the country chose to abstain from the UN resolution condemning the Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. Everything about Mongolian foreign policy and general international outlook would lead one to believe that Mongolian officials do not welcome Russia’s aggressive actions. Not only would Mongolia not be keen on Russia’s attempts to legitimize its actions by reference to historic rights and “arbitrary decisions” (this having the potential to set a precedent for claims on Mongolia’s territory by China), but this kind of action by a great power against a smaller neighbor more generally underlines Mongolia’s own vulnerability. That said, it is also clear that Mongolia is not in a position to upset its relations with the Russian Federation, given its importance to the Mongolian economy and its role as a neighboring balancer vis-à-vis China. “Abstain” was likely the only decision Mongolia could make.
It would appear that the Russian government is also watching how countries on its eastern borders will respond to the crisis in its relations with Europe and North America. Case in point: Russian President Putin met with Mongolian officials 2 times in just the last 3 weeks. The first time, Mongolian Prime Minister N. Altankhuyag met with Putin to discuss the two countries’ bilateral relationship at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. The second time, Putin met with Mongolian President Elbegdorj at the Confidence Building Measures in Asia meeting in Shanghai. Russia is eager to keep Mongolia from sliding towards the United States and Europe.
While I do not know if the current situation in Ukraine was discussed at these meetings, Ukraine was on the agenda during recent meetings between the Mongolian Minister of Foreign Affairs L. Bold and the British Minister of Foreign Affairs two weeks ago. I would also guess that U.S. Senators Steve Lynch and Steven Shabet mentioned the issue during their visit to Ulaanbaatar as part of an official tour of Asia.
Mongolia and other small states seeking to maintain relations with Russia and the “West” are going to find it increasingly difficult to maintain a favorable balance. As Russia becomes more assertive of its foreign policy and security interests, its relationship with NATO and EU member states is unlikely to improve. While Mongolia has navigated the international arena successfully for the past couple decades, that well thought-out success has a limit. As Mongolia’s international profile rises and relations between real and third neighbors deteriorate, I predict that Mongolia’s goal of an omni-directional foreign policy will become more and more difficult to maintain. Difficult, but by no means impossible.
(Many of the resources and links for the post came directly from my “Foreign Policy Roundup”, which be can found here).
For those of you just tuning in (readership, I have that right?), I also am a regular contributor to "Mongolia Focus", which is run out of UBC and headed by Dr. Julian Dierkes. Besides occasional posts on Mongolian foreign policy issues, I also post a bi-monthly review of Mongolian fopo news stories that I personally translate from the Mongolian press. In addition to showing off my Mongolian language skills, I hope that this will give me and others something of a rough archive on international relations news.
I don't always post them on this blog, but I really should! Please check is below
On invitation of the Mongolia Minister of Law X. Temuujin, the Chinese Minister of Law made an official visit to Ulaanbaatar to exchange ideas of possible cooperation in the sector.
Director of the Mongolian Parliament Z. Enkhbold received the Chinese Ambassador to Mongolia and the Head of the Chinese Investment Corporation. The meeting opened with an expression of gratitude for China’s contributions to the Confidence Building Measures in Asia meeting held in Shanghai. The conversation then moved to discuss the development of coal and natural gas related projects.
Russia’s Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs and Law met with the Mongolian Minister of Law X. Temuujin.
Mongolian Minister of Foreign Affairs L. Bold received the Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs I. V. Morgulov at the Mongolian Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Russia eyes Mongolia as transit country for energy trade in Asia.
Mongolia’s relations with NATO, EU, and Russia effected by situation in Ukraine.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, L. Bold, made an official visit to Sweden and Denmark and with his counterparts in the Swedish and Danish governments. While in Sweden, L. Bold also participated in a meeting of the Mongolia-Sweden Business Forum.
Deputy-Director of the Mongolian Parliament and Director of the Mongolia-Austria Parliamentary Working Group L. Tsog received the Austrian Ambassador to China, the Vice-President of the Austrian Economic Chamber, and economic attaché to the Ambassador.
Mongolia and Vietnam are marking 60 years of diplomatic relations. In honor of this anniversary, an article was released entitled “The First 60 years of Friendship and Cooperation.”
The Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Mongolia and South Korea held their 8th consultative meeting in Seoul.
B. Tsogoo made an official visit to Laos on invitation of the Laotian government.
Mongolia’s General Consul in Istanbul met with representatives from the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs to express Mongolia’s condolences following the mining accident in Soma, Turkey.
Turkey and Mongolia are celebrating 45 years of diplomatic relations.
On the invitation of L. Bold, the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs is making an official visit to Ulaanbaatar.
Mongolia is hosting a UN forum on trade and development in landlocked countries.
For previous postings, please CLICK HERE.
After a years’ worth of flip-flopping on how best to develop my research interests, I have finally come to a couple of conclusions. While I would normally leave my “scholar-soul searching” outside of the Small Matters @Miliatematters.com world, it is my hope that these new directions will influence the nature of the pieces I post here and elsewhere, so consider this the official announcement and warning of the changes to come.
In contrast to the pure area studies scholar, I never had any intention of studying Mongolia to the exclusion of other countries. While I am grateful for the amazing depth of knowledge that Mongolists make available, I also think that comparative work can broaden not only the applicability of my research and expand my ability to find general patterns, but can also contribute to development of a more…personal nature. To that end, and to avoid entering into a larger methodology-centric post (which is forthcoming), I am happy to announce that I will begin studying Burmese this summer at UW-Madison and will likely start Bengali the coming academic year.
The Mongolia-Myanmar connection has been noted by a number of scholars of contemporary Mongolia. Last year, my article on Mongolian-Myanmar relations was posted in The Diplomat. Dr. Julian Dierkes posted a short comparative chart on our blog, Mongolia Focus. The Mongolist author Brain White also visited Myanmar with an eye to looking at possible points of commonality. Dr. Daniel Lynch has been encouraging this move since I casually mentioned it several years ago. My own interests are clear to any follower of the website: small state foreign policy and indigenous self-determination.
I think that this move into inter-regional, comparative work will make a huge difference in my professional opportunities. Not only does it mean that I will likely have the opportunity to study at Australia National University with Dr. Nicholas Farrelly after comps, it will also put me at a critical intersection between South-Southeast Asia, meaning that I will be able to approach Myanmar through India and ASEAN, adding two crucial regions in addition to my already well-developed expertise in Mongolia.
Over the next couple of years, I will be shifting tracks to begin developing some substantive knowledge on the region. While this might mean a little less emphasis on Mongolia, I will still be working on the Foreign Policy Roundup and following developments as I can. Furthermore, the move is explicitly comparative; Mongolia is going to be part of my general area of expertise for a long time to come.
I recently came across and article in The Atlantic, which reported that Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev had suggested that perhaps the suffix –stan was responsible for Kazakhstan’s low global profile. He mentioned Mongolia, as a country that continues to attract international attention despite its still small economy and population. Perhaps a name change would help Kazakhstan develop a stronger international profile, he mused.
There is really only one good Russian response to this: Здравствуйте! ('hello' or in this case more like a saracastic 'good morning'). On the one hand this could just have been a interesting idea that the President was playing around with, which has no serious implications for the future of the country or his perception of its position in world affairs. On the other hand, it could point to some serious misconceptions on Nazarbayev's part.
Let's start with the statement that Mongolia has somehow benefited as a result of not being called something like Mongolistan. But, for every available economic indicator, Kazakhstan greatly outperforms Mongolia. This is, naturally, to be expected. Kazakhstan is a oil producing state, has a much larger population, and was more developed at the dissolution of the Soviet Union, giving it a greater starting point. Just looking at FDI, Kazakhstan hosts a huge figure at $111.5 billion, while Mongolia stands at just $4.5 billion! Anecdotally, it is more that clear enough that many more businessmen, students, policy makers, and analysts take a direct interest in Kazakhstan than in Mongolia when it comes to current affairs (naturally, I would suspect that Mongolia can command more than its fair share of historians). While it is beyond the scope of this casual blog post to offer a full comparison, I feel confident in saying that Kazakhstan's international profile is significantly more pronounced than Mongolia's.
That said, I would suspect that Nazarbayev was more concerned with a different kind of indicator, namely something more related to soft power. (I detailed Mongolia's «small power» here). In this case, Mongolia is certainly outperforming Kazakhstan, and it has nothing to do with a little Perso-Turkic suffix. Mongolia is a proven democracy, and has consistently shown its committment to engaging with the international community and improving its own democratic credentials. While Mongolia has eshewed further deepening its relationship with the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan is part of the Eurasian Custom's Union and CIS, tieing it to the Russian Federation. While Mongolia has sought to further its relationship with the European Union and North America, Kazakhstan remains a difficult partner because of its authoritarian political system and continued abuses of basic civil/human rights. Even with these limitations, Kazakhstan does enjoy good relations with the E.U. and the United States, but the relationship remains limited, largely as a result of Kazakhstan's own domestic and foreign policy choices. While Mongolia has sought to rise above its own geographical position, Kazakhstan's leadership continues to avoid a more balanced relationship with the Russian Federation, to the direct detriment of its other foreign policy goals. (In fact, Kazakhstan's political system is also a key reason for the underdeveloped nature of Kazakhstan-Mongolian relations, outlined here).
At the end of the day, Kazakhstan's economy is stronger and its economic ties to North America and Europe outperform Mongolia on most indicators. If Kazakhstan has any lessons to learn from Mongolia it is that democracy matters as much as a domestic policy as a lever for diplomatic relations. Democracy matters, names and suffixs don't.
The last two weeks have shown Mongolia’s commitment to furthering its relationship with the European Union, and its ability to use past Soviet-era relationships to fulfill that goal.
President Elbegdorj arrived in Sochi on February 7, to attend the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The president of the Mongolian Organization for Peace presented a medal to the Consul-General of the Russian Federation in Darhan-Uul for his role in Mongolian-Russian relations over the past 30 years.
Upon returning to Ulaanbaatar, Minister L. Bold met with the Korean and Japanese Ambassadors to Mongolia.
Two Mongolian citizens have been transferred from South Korea to Mongolian custody to stand trial under the “Treaty on the Exchange of Criminals” between the two states.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, L. Bold, made his first official visit to Latvia, to discuss the expansion of trade relations between the two countries. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mongolian-Latvian relations were stronger, with many Mongolians studying in Riga.
Following his visit to Latvia, Minister L. Bold traveled to Lithuania. With his Lithuanian counterparts, he discussed how Lithuania could be a key country for Mongolia’s evolving partnership with the EU, and that Mongolia could serve as a gateway for Lithuania into the Northeast Asian economy.
After his tour of the Baltics, Minister L. Bold made an official visit to Poland, where he met with the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs. In recent years, Mongolian-Polish diplomatic and economic relations have expanded rapidly.
The 2014 Mongolian-Hungarian Business Council was held in Veszprém, Hungary to discuss the facilitation of investment, economic, and trade relations.
Mongolia’s newly appointed Ambassador to the Malta, Sh. Odonbaatar, presented his credentials to the Maltese President.
The newly appointed Mongolian Ambassador to Lebanon, B. Odonjil presented his credentials to the Lebanese President.
Mongolia’s Permanent Representative to the UN made a speech at the recent small assembly meeting in Geneva, in which he focused on the danger of the spread of nuclear weapons.
For last year’s 2013 Foreign Policy Roundup postings, please CLICK HERE.
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.
With the election right around the corner, we thought it would be helpful to offer a brief comparison of the foreign policy proposals from the three candidates. Since setting foreign policy measures is one of the primary roles of the president as head of state, it is not only a pertinent topic, but one which the candidates can directly effect, should they choose.
(All information from official Mongolian-language action plans as found on official websites or Mongolian news sites, if I incorrectly translated anything, please do let me know. I am not a native Mongolian speaker).
Ts. Elbegdorj – Democratic Party
Incumbent President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj’s action plan saves his foreign policy plans for the last of its 5 sections. The proposal is primarily concerned with Mongolia’s international image, probably in response to some notable scandals lately, including the money laundering issue, and perhaps even the one-sided reporting on Enkhbayar’s arrest last year.
The header to section 5 says that special attention will be paid to Mongolia’s international reputation, as well as the development of policies that strengthen the country’s security, independence, and autonomy. The predictable statements of developing multilateral and bilateral relations (5.1), and cooperating with neighbors and other countries (5.2) are referenced. Attention will be paid to Mongolia’s participation in the regional economy, infrastructure, and security apparatuses (5.3). Specific reference is made to Asia, the Pacific, and Europe (5.5), perhaps setting the parameters of Mongolia’s main geographic focus. He states that Mongolia is committed to strengthening human rights, rule of law, and transparency throughout the Asian continent, with specific attention to Northeast Asia (5.6), which further supports Mongolia’s identity as a Northeast Asian country, as opposed to Central Asian. Foreign and Domestic policy cross paths with reference to Mongolia’s cooperation with internationally backed health initiatives including those against alcoholism (5.8). Section 5.9 and 5.10 support the development of Mongolian studies internationally, although I am bit confused as to how exactly this would be done, and would suggest that it is in large part a concession to more nationalist-leaning voters. Section 5.12 is related, with a proposal to increase Mongolian participation in the in global arts and culture, as well as sports.
B. Bat-Erdene- Mongolian People’s Party
Candidate for the MPP, B. Bat-Erdene, makes significantly less focus on foreign policy issues. While foreign policy will undoubtedly be central to Mongolia’s economic, environmental, and physical security, the section of the action plan devoted specifically to foreign policy is significantly shorter than Elbegdorj’s proposal. He titles the section “It is the president’s responsibility to (to ensure) balanced and friendly foreign relations”.
The obligatory statement that government policy will continue Mongolia’s valued peaceful relations is first on the agenda (7.1). Mongolia’s dignity in the international community will be strengthened (7.2). He seems to place additional emphasis on relations with Mongolia’s neighbors by devoting a separate subsection to the issue (7.3), but he is still devoted to furthering Mongolia’s “third neighbor policy” (7.4). He calls for an integrated government foreign policy (7.5), which I find really odd, since Mongolia’s foreign policy has always seemed centralized and united. Like Elbegdorj, he also makes reference to supporting Mongolians abroad, which is likely in reaction to recent incidents against Mongolian citizens in China, but aimed at increasing voter participation in the Mongolian ex-pat community.
N. Udval- Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party
N. Udval, candidate for the MPRP, presents an action plan that differs significantly from the rest of the competition. As we saw in the 2012 Parliamentary elections, the MPRP is a largely reactionary party, and seeks broad reforms throughout the country coupled with a decidedly non-subtle appeal for resource nationalization. Foreign policy is covered in number 4 of her 5 action pillars. The MPRP showed an interesting play on numbers in 2012 by using the phrase шударга ёс (justice) coalition, while also presenting 9 candidates (ёс also being the Mongolian word for nine and numerologically significant as 3x3). This year, the party presents 5 policy pillars each with 5 subsections (organization a social scientist is happy to see, I dare say!). Oddly enough the section is not even labeled foreign policy/relations, but rather “Ways of protecting and strengthening national independence and the economy”.
She gets off to a classic enough start calling the enrichment of friendly relations with Russia and China as well as the expansion of the third neighbor policy (4.1). After that, however, the proposals become more specific and interesting than the broad proposals of the other two candidates. The next proposal (4.2) makes specific reference to the importance of access to international markets for landlocked countries, and that she will strive to enhance international cooperation on this front. Subsection 4.3 declares that foreign investment must be helpful and fair to the country, as well as stating that domestic investors should have the upper hand. This is pretty striking and rather odd, considering the still limited avenues available for domestic investors. Subsection 4.4 proposes the implementation of Mongolian majority ownership for strategic mineral resources, such as Oyu Tolgoi and Tavan Tolgoi. 4.5 calls for refurbishing rail and road links from Mongolia to Europe and Asia. This is certainly an important consideration and goes hand in hand with 4.2; however, I am unsure what effect this might have on rail links from OT into China/Russia, considering differing rail gauges and Russian joint-ownership of the Mongolian railway system.
Looking at these summaries and combining information from other posts on this blog, three important points come up.
1) Mongolia has limited policy options. None of these proposals are particularly revolutionary when it comes to the basic tenants of Mongolian foreign policy. All three support continued good relations with Russia and China, balanced by support to the «third neighbor policy». No serious political party can possibly seek to upset relations with Russia or China as the country's top economic partners, but no one wants to see a Mongolia economically or politically dominated by either or both neighors, necessiting the continued engagement of outside powers, regional and global.
2) Most of the proposals are made to appeal to voters, not policy makers. By this I mean that for the most part the limited changes proposed seem to be aimed more at attracting voters with vague statements that change is necessary rather than meaningful policy measures. B. Bat-Erdene's proposal calls for more consistency in policy measures, but I have yet to see any evidence of disjointed policy making from Ulaanbaatar. Rather this seems aimed at dicrediting Elbegdorj's policies. N. Udval does make reference to some radical proposals (such as the nationalization of stategic resources and the role of domestic investors) that would change the Mongolian landscape significantly, but I can't see anyway that as president she or her party could effectively implement such measures. The MPRP is in coalition with the DP for the time being, so nationalization is off the table, although some re-negotiation might be a possibility. The role of domestic investment is still limited in a country where the per capita GDP is just over $5,000. Rather, she seems keen to capitalize on the MPRP voter base, which has included a more nationalist-leaning segment of the population since its creation last year.
3) Third parties make Mongolian politics more interesting. The status-quo DP and MPP are making far more moderate proposals than the MPRP, and while international investors might be worried about her proposals, it certainly does add a strong new voice to the political arena. Her approach is decidedly different, and the move for infrastructal integration and policies to mitigate the country's landlocked status are laudable (although her role in these policies as president is limited). The MPRP got slightly over 20% of the vote last year, which is significant as a third party. I would certainly like to see some counter proposals by other thrid parties, such as the Social Democrats or the Civil Will, Green Party. While they might not want to waste resources on a campaign they cannot hope to win, new voices and action plans can certianly contribute to Mongolia's political development.
(This post can also be found at Mongolia Focus.)
On April 9th, I had a short article published online for Asia Pacific Memo. You can see the full memo here. I am starting to look seriously at resource issues, but from the perspective of foreign policy. This memo is my first official step into looking at how international mining investment is influenced by small state foreign policy and security concerns.
In the works: I have drafted another small article comparing Tatarstan, Uighur Xinjiang, and Iraqi Kurdistan's moves for regional autonomy and the role of mineral wealth in these movements. Still working some of the kinks out, but I think it has some potential. More to come.
On January 15, Foreign Affairs released an intriguing essay on Azerbaijan's relations with Iran and Israel (here). Not only did I learn a lot about Azerbaijani foreign policy, but it also got me thinking that Azerbaijan might be another example of a small state implementing what I called "small power" in a previous post, albeit in a way very different from Mongolia.
Alex Vatanta presents compelling evidence that tensions between the U.S./Israel and the Islamic Republic of Iran are evidenced in the newly developing ties that Azerbaijan enjoys with Israel and its tense relationship with Iran. Azerbaijan has had a remarkably fraught relationship with its southern neighbor. These tensions are the result of several historical and contemporary issues. The most important for our purposes being the following:
1) More ethnic Azeris live in the Northern Iran than in Azerbaijan, the declared homeland of the Azeri people.
2) Occasional remarks from Iranian politicians suggest that they still see the South Caucasus as part of their historical domain/rightful sphere of influence.
3) Iran supported Armenia over Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, fearing that Azerbaijan might be trying to unite the "greater Azeri nation".
In response, Azerbaijan as sought closer ties not only with the Russian Federation, but also with the United States. More surprising to me, however, was that Azerbaijan and Israel are showing ties of increased cooperation. Both countries have an expressed interest in seeing Iran contained, monitored, and ultimately subdued as a regional threat. In response, Iran has attempted to improve relations with Azerbaijan, with overtures including the release of Azerbaijan citizens accused of spying in Iran and other diplomatic motions.
I suggest that Azerbaijan has taken steps that look an awful lot like "small power". It seems to me that Azerbaijan is developing a policy of subtle balancing behavior, whereby it can best achieve its foreign policy and security goals. By maintaining ties with Russia, but also bringing the "West" and Israel into the mix, Azerbaijan can ensure two things: one, it is not dependent on any one larger country; two, Iran is now in a position to take Azerbaijan seriously. Iran's previous heavy-handedness pushed Azerbaijan to take measures to ensure that Iran did not become a threat. Now, Iran will have to court this small Caucasian nation, to ensure that Azerbaijan does not become a larger concern than its small size and population might have suggested in the early 90s. The alternative, that Iran take actions against Azerbaijan, seems unlikely since Azerbaijan has not taken any definitive action against Iran and a pre-emptive strike would only worsen Iran's geo-political climate. Azerbaijan has played its hand well, and it seems to be working.
Anyone familiar with Mongolia, has likely noted important parallels between the three points of contention in Iran-Azerbaijan relations, laid out by Alex Vatanta, and the historically complex relationship between Mongolia and China. More ethnic Mongolians live in Inner Mongolia than the Mongolian state; there are occasional statements of Mongolia's natural place within the Chinese nation (like Tibet and Xinjiang/East Turkestan), and China has expressed concerns about pan-Mongolianism affecting the security and stability of the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region. Mongolia's response has been remarkably similar to Azerbaijan's, in that the country has sought to deepen relations with countries besides its two neighbors - the "third neighbor policy". The differences are numerous (ex. Mongolian-Chinese official relations are quite good at this time and the U.S.-Chinese relationship is hugely better than U.S.-Iranian relations), but the similarities are also important and point to my larger argument that internationally engaged small states will take similar foreign policy directions with regard to their strategic environment. Azerbaijan, like Mongolia, can leverage certain things (location, ties with the West, love-less relationship with Iran) to increase its "small power" and ultimately further its foreign policy and security objectives.
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.