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.
I thought it might be interesting to compose a list of the main books I have read during my free Spring semester and this past summer. I am sure I have forgotten a couple of books, but this is the main list and definitely includes all my favorites. Of course, it doesn't include articles, etc. As I begin my PhD, I am sure I will have less time (or no time) for free reading, and will look at this with longing before long!
Central Asia and the Rise of Normative Powers, Emilian Kavalski
The Caucasus: An Introduction, Thomas de Waal
Allah’s Mountains, Sebastian Smith
Genocide of the Mind: New Native American Writing, Marijo Moore
Let Our Fame Be Great: Journey’s Amoung the Defiant Peoples of the Caucasus, Oliver Bullough
Not Quite Shamans: Spirit Worlds and Political Lives in Northern Mongolia, Morten Axel Pedersen
Setting the East Ablaze, Peter Hopkirk
Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History, Thomas Barfield
Where India Meets China: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia, Thant Myint-U
Tribal Nation: The Making of Soviet Turkmenistan, Adrienne Lynne Edgar
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.)
My most recent online "publication" (not sure what to call it really) on World Policy Journal's blog: http://www.worldpolicy.org/blog/2013/05/13/resource-wealth-curse-or-gift
The piece argues that when central governments are weak, resource wealth has the potential to give indigenous regions independent resources to achieve their goals; but strong central governments will exert more pressure on these regions when they feel they might loose access to these natural resources and perhaps the territory itself. I compare the experience of Iraqi Kurdistan, China's Xinjiang, and Russia's Tatarstan to offer concrete examples.
The article seeks to re-create the "resource curse" argument, by showing when resources are indeed a curse, and when they can be a gift.
Iran seems to be one of the top crazies in the world today, probably on equal footing with North Korea. Still, there are some important themes in Iranian political development that point to larger problems not specific to the Near East.
When I look at countries where I have limited experience or exposure, I try to think in terms of historical developments leading to current conditions and then compare those developments against other countries. Let’s call it “Comparative Historical Swathing” or CHS, just to be fun. (God, please do not let my ridiculous terminology creations halt my career before it has begun). Iran is a useful example:
1) Iran is the heir to one of history’s great empires/civilizations. Probably no one ever really forgot that the Persian Empire was kind of a big deal, but it is often forgotten that Iran is the modern incarnation of a fascinating political-cultural civilization. It’s hard to give an exact number of how long the territory of Iran has been governed as a single political unit, but suffice to say that it is in the 1000s of years. The fall of imperial and royal rule in Persia was encouraged by European meddling in the country’s internal and external affairs. To see the extent of this manipulation, I suggest reading Peter Hopkirk’s The Great Game. Sure, it falls short of academically rigorous, but the history is solid, and it is a wonderfully engaging read.
2) From great power to European pawn is a not a safe combination. Looking just a little east of Iran, China has had a similar historical trajectory. From 1949-1990, China had a special place in the crazy list with all its leaping forward and cultural renovations. The PRC under Mao was a basket case in the same boat as North Korea and Iran today. After at least a 100 years of “humiliation” at the hands of colonial European powers, the Qing Dynasty collapsed in on itself, paving the way for an oppressive Nationalist regime, followed by communist control by 1949. In response to U.S. support for the Nationalist government’s oppressive policies, the CCP displayed anti-Western behavior, attempting to destabilize the current order by encouraging revolution abroad. Iran experienced the turmoil of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 as a national response to the abuse of the Western-supported Pahlavi regime. Their response mirrored that of Maoist China.
3) National Pride doesn’t go away; the need to reclaim greatness appears. A long instilled sense of national pride is confused by humiliation by the hands of an outside force, leading to the need to regain that cultural heritage of greatness. The U.S. has only been the world’s sole superpower for 23 years, and yet any talk of relative or absolute decline sends a chill down the average American’s political spine. Iran, as China before it, is seeking to reestablish its national greatness at any cost.
With those basics points in mind, Iran doesn’t really look any crazier than any other state (which is not to say sane…).That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t think Iran is dangerous, if anything history would suggest that such a country is prone to violence and hyper-nationalism. What it does mean, is that in order to integrate Iran into the modern international system, the U.S. will have to treat Iran like the great power, that it inherently sees itself as. Iran will not react positively to bullying on the part of the U.S. or anyone else, and telling it that it cannot have nuclear capabilities almost forces it to adopt those technologies, least its position in the world be thought of anything less than equal with other great powers.
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...;)
This is the kind of illustrations that I pump out when working on my thesis. Guess what I am trying to say? (Note that I still use paintbrush for illustrations!)
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.