With Sunni Insurgents capturing Mosul and other parts of Western Iraq, and Kurdish forces taking control of Kirkuk, it may soon become more practical to recognize an independent Kurdistan in Northern Iraq and work to ensure its stability and self-defense capabilities.
“Madness! Insanity! Dystopian/Utopian!” you may say, and the reasons why this will not happen in the foreseeable future are- I admit-rather daunting. Turkish and Iranian opposition, possible Iranian control over Shia-dominated eastern Iraq if the state were to fail, not to mention the almost psychotic obsession with “state stability” that prevents international recognition of even de facto states like Somaliland. Yes, these issues likely mean that unless Iraq emerges as a unified polity that can hold itself together without U.S./ “Western” intervention, the de fact failure of the Iraqi state will be ignored and Iraqi Kurdistan will likely remain unrecognized (although existent, nonetheless). Still, if we move into a logical discussion of the real pro’s and con’s- something I know is not the rule for politics and international affairs- I think the question of Should we recognize an independent Kurdistan practically screams to the less-than-practical observer YES.
Regional Dynamics: A Weak Argument
Regional opposition to an independent Kurdistan becoming a recognized political reality is largely laid at the feet of Turkey and to a lesser extent Iran and to an even less extent Syria. Turkey’s population is around 20% Kurdish, and the country has often sought to integrate the Kurdish population by denying them language and cultural rights as well as refusing to recognize that the Republic of Turkey does indeed have ethnic minorities, rather than peoples of “Kurdish extraction”. Turkey has expressed fears, even before the U.S. invasion of Iraq that an independent Iraqi Kurdistan could be used as a base of operations for the Kurdish insurgency in eastern Turkey, and have indicated that they would take military action if such an entity were to appear.
Fast-forward to the present situation, however, and it appears that perhaps Turkey might be more flexible than they let on. Turkey has been happy to purchase Kurdish oil through a pipeline established by the Kurdish Regional Government independent of Baghdad. In the last year, Turkey has also made some indication that it is ready to offer certain basic rights to its own Kurdish population. What’s more, the KRG has not openly supported the Kurdish insurgent groups in Turkey, likely in recognition that Turkish support will be key to getting regional, international, and especially U.S. recognition of their sovereignty.
Iran is a somewhat different story. Kurds and Persians speak related languages; however Kurdish-Persian relations do not reflect these links. Several Kurdish groups within Iran are fighting for increased autonomy, and the “Kurdish question” is obviously connected to the larger “ethnic question” within Iran. In fact, the newly elected President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani made specific reference to the need to address ethnic rights within Iran.
A couple of issues need to be pointed out. Most importantly, I have not seen any evidence that more rights for minorities actually serves as a stepping-stone to increased calls for independence. In fact, the opposite might be true: Guaranteeing cultural, linguistic, and social rights to indigenous ethnic minorities is essential for national stability. That means that Iran could respond to calls for an independent Kurdistan (in Iraq) in a couple of ways. It could perceive a threat to the stability of its own Kurdish region, or recognize that support for Iraqi Kurds and improving its own ethnic policy might actually protect its stability.
Any Kurdistan formed out of the current Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) would almost certainly have U.S. backing; however, if the Kurds could be persuaded to adopt a more pragmatic foreign policy suitable to the region, they need not be a formal U.S. ally. In fact, an independent Kurdistan could even act as a regional peacemaker, perhaps improving US-Iranian relations. Budding Israeli support to Kurdish independence echoes this possibility. Like Turkey, Iran might be more pragmatic on the Kurdistan issue than it is given credit for. Indeed, if Iranian support to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan is any indication, Tehran would be amiable to more stability on its borders, rather than a struggling failed Iraqi state, no matter how unified.
Syria, it seems to me, is the lynchpin of this whole situation. First, the civil war and dissolution of the Syrian state is directly tied to the instability of Iraq. The Islamic group that has seized control of Mosul, called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), is also in control of large tracts of eastern Syria. As far the Syrian sections of ‘Greater Kurdistan’, the lack of a functioning government in Syria means that there is really no point in discussing Syrian opposition to the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan. In fact, it is entirely possible that Syrian Kurdistan could join with Iraqi Kurdistan, but that is a topic for another blog post. Importantly, while ISIS has avoided attacking Kurdish positions in Iraq, the group has waged a bloody fight against Syria’s Kurdish population.
Syria might actually be the only country that could loose territory as a result of the creation of the Kurdistan state, but I still think this is entirely unlikely to happen without international backing (i.e. U.S. approval).
In case it has not already become clear, I do not think that the regional dynamics are really the strongest reasons for not recognizing an independent Kurdistan, should the KRG declare itself as such. (And we can be sure that that declaration would not be made without at least some assurance of U.S. backing). What is really at play here is the international community’s obsession with the stability of the international state system, which means that maintaining the borders of the 1990s is seen as more beneficial than efforts to reshape the globe. The price of printing new maps aside, this directly plays into the role of the state internationally and domestically.
De Facto States: The Trouble with Recognition Scares
A casual look around the globe reveals two broad types of unrecognized, but de facto states. On one end, are the breakaway regions from functioning states that have broken off with some sort of great power backing. Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia with Russian backing seems the ideal example. These largely unrecognized states represent a threat to global security as indications of great power meddling in weaker state’s internal affairs. Alternatively, there are those de facto states that emerge out of the ruin of a larger failed state. Somaliland in Somalia falls firmly into this second category, and if Kurdistan were to declare its independence and Iraq does- as signs indicate- fall into disarray, it would also fit into this mold.
Actually, the comparison between Somaliland and Kurdistan is deeper than just my rough attempt at categorization. Somaliland, like Iraqi Kurdistan, is a functioning northern region of a state destroyed by an Islamic insurgency. While Somaliland has been a de facto state since 1991, it is still not recognized as independent of Somalia by the international community, although it does cooperate with several international actors as a “recognized autonomous region of Somalia.” Somaliland may be an example of what Kurdistan de facto statehood would look like on an international level. (I do not know about regional opposition/support to Somaliland’s independence, and so cannot comment on it here).
The reason that the international state system is not eager to accept new states into the fold rests on several reasons. I would argue that in the case of Iraqi Kurdistan, any declaration of independence might go unrecognized for three reasons. First, it would signal the failure of the U.S./U.K. intervention in the country. Second, it would be initially opposed by Turkey and Iran, even if in the long term it may serve their goals. Thirdly, many worry that secessionist movements are like a wildfire, once allowed to burn in one area, more will pop up. The first reason is true: U.S. and U.K. operations in Iraq have failed in some respects. (That is not to say, however, that getting rid of Saddam was a “bad” thing). The second reason is likely also true, but could be handled with some forward thinking policy makers from all involved parties. The last reason is unsubstantiated and, I would venture, false. Nationalist movements often draw upon and inspire each other, but there is no evidence to suggest that the success of one means others will push that much harder. Furthermore, Kurdish independence would be won from internal stability in a crumbling state and cooperation with the international community, not armed insurrection; isn’t that a kind of nationalism that we might want to encourage?
Yes, an independent Iraqi Kurdistan might raise some crucial questions regionally as well as internationally, but these issues are not set in stone. With some creative foreign policy thinking and a long-term outlook, Iran and Turkey could come to see the wisdom of an independent Kurdistan. It is in the interests of the United States to foster a best-case-scenario in the event of a failed Iraq, and recognizing Kurdish rights to independence is a key step in that process.
This piece is based on a series of what-ifs, most importantly, if Iraq were to become a failed state, broadly defined. I am not in the business of telling the future, and while there are some signs that such a situation is eminent, it may never come to pass. It is also based on an assumption that the KRG would declare independence. Once again, while all indications point to the possibility, it may very well not come to pass.
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.
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.
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.
Mongolia’s Democratic Gains
The fourth and final post in the series summarizing key sections of my M.A. thesis, looks at what Mongolia has to gain from its democratic credentials. I have argued this point in previous posts, but present it here in relations to part 3 of the series.
The expression “not all that glitters is gold” is perhaps best rephrased for our purposes as “not all that democratizes will become a democracy”. When Mongolia became an official democracy, no one was sure how a small state with less than 3 million people would manage to produce a real democracy in-between the authoritarian PRC and the uncertain democratization of the newly established Russian Federation. However, all available indicators support that it accomplished just that.
Mongolia’s democratic transition was largely based on domestic political will. Real democratization ultimately is an “exercise in national political self-determination. True democratization has to be domestically driven otherwise it will lack legitimacy. Mongolia was ranked at 6.23 by Democracy Index 2011, 6.36 in 2010 , 6.6 in 2008 , and 6.6 and 2006 , on a 10 point scale, meaning that it has been consistently ranked as a “flawed democracy”, which while admitting its problems, firmly ranks Mongolia as a democracy above hybrid and authoritarian regimes. Freedom House has ranked Mongolia as “free” for all available years (2002-2012). Although Mongolia is still a developing democracy, it is hard to argue that it is not a functioning one. Signs of increased civil society engagement and contested election results are actually a sign of a thriving democratic system, where the ability to change the status quo is recognized and a number of political parties are competing against each other.
U.S. and E.U. support to Mongolian Democracy
High profile visits are an important indication of bilateral ties and entail some level of prestige and significance to relationships between nations. Between the U.S. and Mongolia, several high-profile visits have highlighted the slowly deepening relationship between these two distant countries, often making explicit mention to Mongolia’s democratic status (see Table 2 for a list of the most prominent visits).
2005: Rep. Dennis Hastert2005: President George Bush
2011: Vice-President Joe Biden
2012: Secretary of State Hilary Clinton
To the United States of America
1991: President Ochirbat
2001: Prime Minister Enkhbayar
2004: President Bagabandi
2011: President Elbegdorj
Outside of high-profile diplomacy, the U.S. has also signaled its support for Mongolia and the value it places on Mongolian democracy in a number of other statements and institutional mechanisms. The U.S.-Mongolia Friendship Caucus seeks to educate and inform U.S. politicians on Mongolia, focusing on Mongolia’s political system and the reform process. The International Republican Institute (IRI) began working in Mongolia in 1992, working explicitly to support democratic governance and institutional development. In 2010, the U.S. Embassy hosted events celebrating the 20th anniversary of Mongolia’s “decision for democracy”, during which then-Ambassador Addleton identified democracy as one of five pillars of U.S.-Mongolian relations. In July 2011, Mongolia was granted Presidency of the Community of Democracies, and will host a meeting of the organization in 2013. The organization makes clear reference to Mongolia as an example of successful democratization and simultaneous political and economic transitions.
The United States recognizes that Mongolia is an important partner as it continues to shift its diplomatic focus to the Asia-Pacific. Mongolia is a U.S./international successful story for democratization and has been held up as a model of Asian democratization, in particular. The U.S. has stated that its goals in Mongolia are not geostrategic in nature, and that the U.S. is, instead, focused on helping develop “a base of democracy” in Mongolia. Mongolian democracy contributes to the country’s stability in an area defined by such authoritarian powers as Russia and China. The United States sees its own security as dependent on the domestic political stability of other states, and sees Mongolia’s democratic system as a potential balancing force against authoritarianism in the region.
Mongolia’s proven commitment to democracy is also in line with E.U. global goals, particularly as they concern Central Asia. Mongolia’s accession to the Organization for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) in Europe on November 22, 2012 is a clear indication that Europe and Mongolia are coming closer together on a number of issues. As the official announcement was being made, the OSCE Secretary General noted that Mongolia’s participation would allow the organization to better tackle transnational issues, while Mongolia stood to benefit from the OSCE’s expertise in democratic transitions. These shared values are defined as respect for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. The Partnership and Cooperation Agreements also explicitly support democratic development. The U.S. responded to this announcement in a similar fashion, citing the accession as an indicator of Mongolia’s importance to the democratic community as an example of a successful transition from communism to democracy. A number of European development projects in Mongolia are handled directly by the European Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, which aims to encourage democratic institutional reform and support for human rights, specifically regarding the rights of inmates and sexual minorities. Furthermore, Germany’s Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) political foundation has taken an active role in supporting Mongolia’s democratization through seminar trainings and programs to strengthen decentralization efforts. Europe began developing relations with democratic Mongolia at a slower pace than the United States, but the proximity of Eastern Europe to Eurasia and a shared history between Mongolia and many Eastern European nations under the Soviet Union sets the groundwork for more multifaceted relations in the future.
Mongolian democracy stands out in stark contrast to it neighbors, Russia and China, as well as across the larger post-communist world, such as the Central Asian authoritarian states Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. Despite all its “robustness/rowdiness”, the Mongolian political system is clearly democratic. A perfect democracy where all citizens have an equal say and where the government is equally responsive to all its citizens’ demands does not exist. From Hilary Clinton’s statement in Ulaanbaatar in support of democratization, it can be observed that Mongolia is becoming one of the poster countries for democracy and the rewards, stability, and development benefits that are associated with this political system. Mongolia can be held against claims that democracy is not for Asia. This is by no means meant to suggest that Mongolia’s own motivation in democratizing was to attract “Western” favor; rather, the point is that once democratized, the benefits to the Mongolian state and population were international as well domestic.
At the same time, Mongolia has been able to actively leverage its democratic credentials as part of its efforts to adapt to the post-communist international system and fulfill its “third neighbor policy.” Mongolia’s Concept of Foreign Policy states that the country’s foreign policy is guided by international norms such as respect for human rights and freedoms. The Concept of National Security of Mongolia identifies the country’s democratic government as key to the state’s continued security in the sectors of civil rights and information security. Furthermore, Mongolia’s democratic government distinguishes it a region defined by Russia, China, and the Central Asian states.
Does democracy matter? It seems that democracy is a potential tool that Mongolia can and has used to increase its attractiveness as a partner for U.S., E.U., and potentially other leading democracies. Attracting this interest is a key factor in Mongolia’s foreign policy, since it allows Mongolia to command a larger number of “third neighbors” as a counterbalance to Russian and especially Chinese influence. It is crucial that Mongolia implements a strong policy of diversification. Indeed, as a small state between giants, it knows only too well that over dependence on any one power will not afford it the sovereignty and autonomous decision-making power that it needs to survive as an independent state. If Mongolia’s democratization was not a factor and the country’s natural resources, growing economy, and/or strategic location were the only factors influencing relations with the U.S. and E.U., we might still expect some diplomatic gestures (Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are also OSCE participating states). However, we would not see the level of high profile visits, the institutional support, or rhetorical references to Mongolia as a responsible stakeholder. We would also see more emphasis on economic ties and perhaps stronger military relations.
 Fish, M.Steven. “The Inner Asian Anomaly: Mongolia’s Democratization in Comparative Perspective.” Communist and Post-Communist Studies 34, no. 3 (September 2001). P. 323
 Burnell, From Assistance to Appraising, p. 414
 Ibid., p. 421
 Democracy Index 2011
 Democracy Index 2010
 Democracy Index 2008
 Democracy Index 2006
 Freedom House, 2002-2012
 As reported by the Embassy of Mongolia in the United States of American: http://www.mongolianembassy.us/mongolia_and_usa/us_mongolia_friendship_caucus.php. (Accessed on December 4, 2012).
 As reported on IRI’s official website: http://www.iri.org/countries-and-programs/asia/mongolia (Accessed on December 4, 2012).
 “Ambassador Addelton’s Remarks at the Asia Society Breakfast: Warm Relations in a Cold Place: The United States and Mongolia,” Embassy of the United States in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, June 14, 2011. http://mongolia.usembassy.gov/speeches_061411.html (Accessed on December 4, 2012).
 The White House, U.S.-Mongolia Joint Statement
 See the Community of Democracies official website: http://community-democracies.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2&Itemid=3
 Noerper, Ten Things We Get from Mongolia. p. 1
 Narangoa, Preventative Diplomacy, p. 373
 Wachman, NBR, p. 5
 “Secretary General welomes Mongolia to OSCE, stresses added value to security community,” OSCE News (November 22, 2012). (Accessed on December 4, 2012).
 Statement by High Representative Catherine Ashton Following the Legislative Elections in Mongolia on 28 June 2012, 2012.
 European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights
 “U.S. Envoy on Mongolia as OSCE Participating State,” IIP Digital (November 22, 2012). http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/texttrans/2012/11/20121123139050.html#axzz2E82SDh1V (Accessed on December 4, 2012).
 “EU supports Mongolia’s Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector with 7 mln euro project,” Delegation of European Union to Mongolia, May 31, 2012. http://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/mongolia/press_corner/all_news/news/2012/20120531_01_en.htm (Accessed on December 4, 2012).
 For more information on KAS, please see: http://www.kas.de/mongolei/en/ (Accessed on December 4, 2012).
 As rated by Democracy Index
 Epstein, Democracy Promotion, p. 11
 Concept of Foreign Policy, Section II, Article 8
 The Concept of National Security of Mongolia, Section IV
The following is part 2 in the series of posts pulling off of my M.A. thesis, posted here. In this post, I present the second two theoretical contributions: small power. I argued in the previous post that small states do not have hard power options and argue in this post that soft power is an inappropriate tool for understanding small state foreign policy behavior. Rather, small power presents new possibilities.
In the absence of hard power capabilities, we may assume that soft power is the default option. Joseph Nye’s definition is simple enough: “It is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals, and policies.” He goes on to say that the basic logic is to get others to want what you want. A country with a relatively large population, territory, resources, economy, military force, and social stability might be able to coerce other nations into working with it to achieve its own security objectives. However, a state that has managed to cooperate with other states because of shared interests has proven itself adept at exercising soft power. Generally, international soft power is produced through three different spheres: 1) culture; 2) political values; 3) foreign policy. All three are combined to further a given state’s interests and its attractiveness to other states.
The literature on soft power is primarily concerned with the United States of America, and serves as an oppositional voice to the connection between American military power and the country’s foreign policy. The concern of many articles on soft power is to point out alternatives to hard power as a way to achieve U.S. security goals and foreign policy objectives.
Although soft power is a useful analytical concept, it has some notable limitations in its application to small state foreign policy. First, large and small states will approach power projection in very different ways. For example, Nye observed the connection between soft power and democracy, when he pointed out that “soft power is a staple of daily democratic politics.” It may be that democracies are more adept at utilizing their soft power resources, as a result of their familiarity with political concession making at home. It seems likely that larger powers, such as the U.S. or regional actors such as the E.U. may be more familiar with soft power as a PR-campaign. For smaller states, however, it may actually be the reverse: democracy is a source of soft power, not a teacher of it. In other words, small states might be able to use democracy to attract international partners, not as a way to train themselves for other modes of power projection. Second, while larger states might be able to depend on the attractiveness of their culture, smaller less-well-known countries will have to restrict themselves to the later two options (i.e. political values and foreign policy). Third, the concept of soft power assumes that hard power is an available option, as indicated by Nye’s concept of “smart power” as the ideal combination of the two, which any global power must harness to remain on top. When hard power is not available, the projection of softer resources is not necessarily soft power; rather it is the only power available.
By combining what we know about soft power, with the previously presented two-sided definition of small states, we can begin to refer to some small state-specific power, which I will call small power. Small power is an analytical concept for understanding how small states will make themselves appear more attractive for partnerships with larger, often extra-regional powers as part of an effort to discourage threats from other states, often their neighbors. Working within the modes of asymmetry and behaviors that I have previously laid out to identify small states in today’s international system, the concept that small states will almost invariably engage in some sort of specialized balancing behavior has already been established. Small power is thereby defined as the power to affect the international system by attracting the attention of larger, less-threatening powers in an effort to balance against the role of a threatening state. Small power is tailored for states that have limited economic and/or mineral wealth and without clear geo-strategic advantages. Small oil-producing states, for example, can leverage their natural resources in their foreign relations, and strategically located states can leverage their territory for foreign military installations. What can a state leverage to make itself an attractive partner, when it has neither economic nor strategic incentives?
Small states have utilized a number of strategies to increase their small power resources. A number of states have volunteered a symbolic number of military personnel to peacekeeping operations (ex. Georgia, Mongolia, and Poland are three prominent examples of small states currently contributing troops to U.S. operations in Afghanistan), others have worked to build records of consistent adherence to international norms, and still others have sought to act in line with regional interests to help foster stability (ex. South Korea and Thailand).
This is the first of a number of posts pulling off my M.A. thesis. In a previous post, I provided a link to the full document. In these posts, I want to give a basic introduction to the main sections of the thesis, essentially attempting to condense a 70-page document into 3-4, 2-page posts, for my more casual readers.
One key contribution of my thesis is a new way to distinguish small states in today’s international system. I argue that “smallness” must be approached from a relative perspective, and divide my criteria into two sections: asymmetry and small behaviors.
All four of the following factors are required for a relationship to be defined as asymmetrical and to begin classify a state as comparatively small. (Some of you might recognize that the factors are vaguely similar to the first draft of figures I posted here- note,however, that I updated the images since making that posting!). This section is based largely on the following: Womack, Brantly, China Among Unequals: Asymmetric Foreign Relationships in Asia (World Scientific Publishing: New Jersey, 2010).
1. Difference in Perspectives: Two states in an asymmetrical relationship will have differing perspectives on both their own goals and the goals of the other side. The smaller state will perceive a direct threat from the larger power, and the larger state will see the smaller as irrelevant. Conversely, the small state will see itself as a victim, while the larger power will view its own policies as fair and justified.
2. Difference of Attention: The smaller country will give priority to its relationship with the larger power. For the small country in an asymmetrical, bilateral relationship, the larger country is the largest potential threat, and the relationship must be carefully managed. The larger country often has more important relationships with other large powers, and the relationship with the smaller state will not appear as pressing a concern.
3. Difference of Options: The smaller state in an asymmetrical relationship will be limited in what, how, where, and when it can resist actions taken against it by a larger state. That is not to say that it will have no options, but the options available will be limited by the overwhelming disparity between itself and the larger power.
4. Excludes Differing Symmetries: The relationship is not asymmetrical if State A>B for one variable and State B>A for another indicator.
With the addition of specific small state behaviors we can achieve a working definition of “smallness” in the contemporary international system that will better lend itself to analyzing small state foreign policy decision-making. I identify the following four behavioral characteristics as indicative of what I call an “engaged” small state, meaning a state that seeks to adapt to the international system without simply bandwagoning with a protector power (ex. Laos) or seeking isolation (ex. North Korea).
1. Perception of Vulnerability- The perception that the state is vulnerable to loosing its sovereignty and autonomy. Example: The state perceives that a neighbor could eventually control their economy, government, etc. (As explained in the following: Katzenstein, Peter J. “Small States and Small States Revisited.” New Political Economy 8, no. 1 (March 2003). p. 11)
2. Lack of Military Options: Asymmetrical military strength means the state cannot rely on military solutions for defense. Example: The state’s military capacity is so small, that the other side could win easily.
3. Adaptability- Changing course and policies in reaction to changing balances of power. Example: The rise of a neighboring state necessitates resetting relations with that country.
4. Specialized Balancing: Neither balancing nor bandwagoning with any state, but keep as many partners as possible. Example: The state seeks to improve relations with two other states that are widely acknowledged as rivals.
For the purposes of this blog post, I do not feel it is necessary to explain each behavioral factor, but I do want to point to the fourth factor in a little more detail. “Specialized balancing” refers to the fact that small states will seek to develop mutually beneficial relations with various partners in such a way as to most effectively safeguard their own sovereignty. While not necessarily a soft balancing measure since it is unlikely to escalate and the “balancing” partners will often include both the rising power as well as the established powers, small state balancing behavior does include many key elements of soft balancing. Through specialized balancing behavior, small states can more effectively balance the influence of large neighbors with the influence of extra-regional powers. In my thesis, I compare this balancing as akin to Evelyn Goh’s concept of hedging and omni-entrenchment in Southeast Asia, especially as in this publication: Goh, Evelyn. "Great Powers and Hierarchical Order in Southeast Asia: Analyzing Regional Security Strategies." International Security 32.3 (2008). p. 119.
By defining “smallness” as both a relational concept based on asymmetry and a series of behaviors, I have sought to establish a model for identifying small states beyond cut-offs in population, geographical size, economic or military power, and strategic importance. I have also differentiated between “engaged” and “non-engaged” small states, allowing future analysis to focus on those small states that seek to actively engage with, adapt to, and change their external security environment.
As of December 19th, my M.A. thesis was officially accepted, and I closed my M.A. Asia Pacific Policy Studies program. I was the first student in my program to write a thesis and finish in a year and half! Indeed, I am surprised it all worked out so smoothly with writing a thesis, taking 2 classes, applying to 8 PhD programs, and studying for the GRE!
The thesis, Small Power: Mongolia's Democratization and Foreign Policy Objectives, explores the following:
Small states are in a unique position, where they cannot hope to meet their foreign policyand security objectives through hard power. Rather, small states must balance against large neighbors via more subtle and nuanced ways. Through a critique of soft power, the author presents a new analytical framework for understanding small power and new criteria for defining “smallness” in today’s international system. Small power attempts to explain small state foreign policy decision-making and the role that “attractiveness” plays in their relations with larger states. One potential source of small power- democratic governance- is explored through a detailed look at the Mongolian model of democratization as a foreign policy tool in its “third neighbor policy”. Successful democratic transitions in small states can attract more security related,economic, and institutional support from leading democratic countries than their small size might initially suggest.
For anyone interested, my full thesis is available at http://hdl.handle.net/2429/43714
I am now on my way to California, where I will be awaiting decision letters from PhD programs and the Fulbright Commission. In the coming weeks/months, I will have more time for frequent posting, including a number of posts based on my research for the thesis, some impressions of my M.A. program, and a number of other topics fitting into SMALL MATTERS. I also intend to publish a number of short book reviews, which I hope will prove useful...to my 3 readers...;)
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.