The making of Mongolia’s foreign policy and national security concept


The making of Mongolia’s foreign policy and national security concept


Land-locked between two politically, economically, and militarily powerful nations — Russia and China — Mongolia’s foreign policy frequently involves balancing and contemplating diplomatic relations beyond the two neighbors. The third neighbor phenomenon has become an important part of Mongolia’s diplomatic expansion through political, economic, and military means. In modernization of Mongolia’s foreign policy and national security objectives, the 2010 National Security Concept[i] and 2011 Foreign Policy Concept [ii] plays a crucial role in structuring Mongolia’s relations with other nations. This article will take a look at Mongolia’s foreign policy and national security policy frameworks, to shed a light on its presence and relevance in the Asia-Pacific.

The political history of Mongolia during and after 1911, 1921, 1945, and post-Soviet Union can be described as a strategic battle field against foreign dominance. By the time of the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. in 1991, Mongolia had experienced 200 years of Manchu Qing dominance and 70 years of satellite state status under the Soviet Union. While maintaining a policy of good relations with the two neighbors, the implementation of the third neighbor concept was not a de novo approach either. The 1990 democratic revolution has modified Mongolia’s foreign policy and national security concepts to a neoteric yet vigilant state.

Mongolia’s Foreign Policy Framework in a Historical Context

The history of Mongolia’s foreign policy is very much interconnected with the international relations of the Far East, not because Mongolia does not present foreign policy objectives per se but greater powers impose greater influence. For example, during WWII, the Japanese invasion of Inner Mongolia and Manchuria allowed Stalinist Russia and Mongolia to strengthen its military ties and combat the Japanese expansion in the Far East (in 1939, again in 1945.)[iii] It was the Mongolian army who supplied the Russians with horses, wool, and furs during its winter wars. To celebrate the strong Mongolia-Russia ties, on May 7, 2017, on the 72th anniversary of the “Victory Day,” the Russian government built a large bronze war horse monument in commemorating the Mongolian war horses.[iv] Moreover, Russia’s foreign policy did not impose a direct threat to Mongolia as an independent nationhood. On the contrary, the 1945 Yalta Conference led to China’s full recognition of Mongolia’s independence.[v] Following the Yalta Conference, on October 20, 1945, the Mongolian electorate opted for independence with 100% in favor.[vi] These historical aspects illustrate the highpoint of Mongolia-Russia relations and highlights the importance of maintaining good relations with both Russia and China. Sino-Mongolia relations can be quite complicated in both historical and contemporary geopolitical context. Despite the 1945 Yalta Conference pledge, Mao Zedong’s geopolitical ambition to take Outer Mongolia was still alive during Chairman’s Deng’s governance in 1989. Morris Rossabi, who is an adjunct Professor of East and Asian History at Columbia University, mentioned in his book, “Modern Mongolia” that “A legacy of at least two thousand years of mistrust and intermittent confrontations and hostilities between the two societies has influenced contemporary Mongolia’s relations with China.”[vii] Current Mongolia-China relations are improving based on mutual economic benefits, import-export transit apparatus, and regional stability.

An interesting yet triggering document was declassified and released to the public by the Woodrow Wilson Center in the Summer of 2016. It was a Memorandum of Conversation between George H.W. Bush and Chairman Deng Xiaoping in Beijing in February 26, 1989, two years after the establishment of Mongolia-US diplomatic relations. This memorandum of conversation proves that Mongolia’s foreign policy and national security was at stake during the late 1980s. Chairman Deng speaking to President Bush on Sino-Soviet relations:

“The situation is different with respect to Czarist Russia and the Soviet Union. What the Soviets gained after World War II was Chinese territory – more than three million square milometers. In the Czarist Russia period, the Russians gained 1.5 million square kilometers or more of Chinese territory. During the Stalinist period, the Soviet Union gained in territory was Outer Mongolia, which had been Chinese territory for hundreds of years. I would like to add that one of the results of the Yalta Conference held by the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and the United States at the end of World War II was to divide up China.”[viii]

A closer observation of Sino-Mongolian ties reveals historical skepticism that has influenced Mongolia’s foreign policy towards China. However, the modernization of Mongolia’s foreign policy and national security objectives reverse these doubts and refines Mongolia’s good-neighbor policies with both Russia and China.

Modernization of Mongolia’s Foreign Policy Framework

The modernization and development of Mongolia’s foreign policy were significant in three areas:

  1. To be part of a larger international organizations such as the United Nations (UN), International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Bank (WB) to be internationally recognized;
  2. To establish diplomatic relations with other nations through political, economic, and security means;
  3. To expand its influence both regionally and globally via soft power and later, the third neighbor policy.

As Mongolia’s foreign policy leans outward, national security objectives needed to be strengthened and reassured constantly. In this history making role, Mongolia’s prominent leader Y. Tsedenbal took much of the responsibilities of establishing the outward-led foreign policy approach while maintaining his objective, to secure Mongolia’s sovereignty. After three failed attempts, on October 27, 1961, Mongolia became a fully-fledged member to the UN.[ix] The adaptation of the UN procedures fortified Mongolia to establish diplomatic relations with other nations, Mongolia-Japan bilateral relations in 1972 were followed by Mongolia-US relations in 1987, which bridged the East to the West vis-à-vis spreading democratic principles, enabling market-based economy, advancing government-to government and people-to-people cooperation. In the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attack on the US soil, Mongolia-US relations have strengthened militarily. Increasing bilateral relations indicate Mongolia’s foreign policy objectives were stepping away from the socialist mentality and leaning more towards development and a capitalistic mindset.

Modernization of Mongolia’s National Security Framework 

In order to keep up with the global and regional political trend and to modernize Mongolia’s foreign affair’s objectives, the Mongolian government passed two important legislations in 2010 and 2011, Resolution 48, the National Security Concept (NSC) and Foreign Policy Concept. The significance of this security legislation was to prepare and deter foreign and domestic detrimental agendas. In the comprehensive renewal of the NSC, important concepts such as, reassurance, adaptability, increasing capability, and strategic security measurements were implemented. These measurements would not only protect national interest, national territories, national heritage and identity, but also extends to foreign policy principles. According to the National Security Council’s official English translation of the NSC:

1.1.1. Mongolia’s national security shall mean ensuring favorable external and internal conditions for securing and protecting the genuine national interests of Mongolia.

1.2.3. Integrated Security Strategy National security shall be assured through the interrelationship among the “security of the existence of Mongolia”, “economic security”, “internal security”, “human security”, “environment security” and “information security”. Good neighbor friendly relations and wide-ranging cooperation with the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China shall be developed. More specifically, national interests and the history of bilateral relationships shall be taken into account while regional peace and stability as well as a general balance of relations with neighbors shall be sought.

From a regional perspective, the Asia-Pacific is facing a number of imminent security threats, North Korea’s nuclear fiasco, China’s assertive moves in the East and South China Sea, increase in global jihad in South East Asia (SEA), an increase in non-traditional security issues, such as cyber terrorism. Mongolia’s participation is as crucial as a mediator state in DPKR’s case. In 2014, Ulaanbaatar hosted the security conference on North Korea and pushed for “Six-Party Talk.”[x]

In 2011, one year after the NSC legislation, Resolution 10, Foreign Policy Concept (FPC) was passed by the Mongolian parliament.[xi] Both 2010 and 2011 documents complemented each other and modernized Mongolia’s foreign affair’s objectives. The FPC made emphasizes on the importance of bilateralism, multilateralism, maintaining the policy of good neighbors with Russia and China, using third neighbor policy for political, economic, and security purposes, strengthening Mongolia’s involvement in international missions and humanitarian assistance, and creating an incentive to promote development in technology and innovation. Throughout history, Mongolia’s foreign policy has always been reaching outward to the third neighbor countries via maintaining balanced relations with Russia and China. Without having balanced, good relations with Russia and China, Mongolia’s third neighbor policy will no longer be effective. Other innovative sectors benefit from the 2011 FPC. Specifically, the Article 14.2. of the FPC was implemented in a number of high-level strategic partnership agreements such as the “Mongolia-India Strategic Partnership” on cyber security.[xii] The year 2015 marked increasing diplomatic engagement for Mongolia in East Asia, the Persian Gulf, and even the Americas.


As our world politics evolve around other countries policy frameworks, Mongolia’s foreign policy and national security objectives cannot be emphasized by itself. The two hundred years of struggle against the Manchu Qing dominance created valuable lessons for Mongolia. As Mongolia’s foreign policy and national security objectives are enhanced and modernized, challenges also became more apparent. Both traditional and non-traditional security threats challenge Mongolia’s modernization and competency in solving both foreign and domestic issues. The 2010 National Security Concept and the 2011 Foreign Policy Concept became the two most important documents in shaping Mongolia’s modern history. Mongolia’s vast natural resources are available for extractive institutions at the cost of the Mongolian people. To avoid Africa’s resource curse, and Latin America’s mining watershed, the Mongolian government ought to implement diversified economic policies with clear intention that the outcome will serve the country’s infrastructure, human capital, and becomes the gateway to other greater opportunities for both private and public enterprises. The role of institutions, good governance will play a fundamental role in carefully assessing bilateral agreements and deals under the framework of NSC and FPC.

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