Academic journal article Asia Policy

The Role of Peacekeeping in Mongolia's Military Strategy: A New Paradigm for Security

Academic journal article Asia Policy

The Role of Peacekeeping in Mongolia's Military Strategy: A New Paradigm for Security

Article excerpt

On a chilly early morning in June 2012, a group of Mongolian soldiers rolled onto Ulaanbaatar international airport's parking apron. Waiting there was a United Nations-contracted IL-76 cargo aircraft, preparing to transport the soldiers to the Unity region of South Sudan in Africa. The region is considered one of the most violent and dangerous areas along South Sudan's northern border with the Republic of Sudan. The soldiers were members of one of Mongolia's elite units trained specifically for peace-support operations, and deployment of the unit marked the largest peacekeeping mission in the country's history. This event established a high-water mark for the Mongolian Armed Forces (MAF) as they celebrated their tenth anniversary of supporting UN peacekeeping operations. Further, the unit's deployment constituted a truly remarkable achievement for a nation that just 25 years earlier had discarded 67 years of Communist rule and international isolation in favor of democracy and global integration.

Mongolia sits landlocked between two world powers, the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China (PRC). Over the last quarter century, the country has abandoned its former alliance with Russia and managed to create a thriving democratic society and growing economy, despite its relatively small population of approximately 2.7 million people. In contrast with other satellite states of the former Soviet Union, Mongolia concurrently instituted a democratic political system, a market-driven economy, and a foreign policy based on balancing relations with Russia and China while expanding relations with the West. Mongolia is now pursuing a foreign policy that will facilitate global engagement, allow the nation to maintain its sovereignty, and provide diplomatic freedom of maneuver through a "third neighbor" policy.1

The MAF is reshaping itself to complement this balanced approach to foreign policy and has become a vital instrument in Mongolia's global engagement. A relic of the Cold War with strong institutional attachments to Russia, the MAF discarded all but a few vestiges of its former makeup and has embraced a new structure, doctrine, mission, and perhaps most important, an identity centered on peacekeeping. Since 2002, Mongolia has significantly increased its participation in globally diverse UN-sponsored peacekeeping operations. Although only comprising approximately 8,000 soldiers, the MAF now contributes the second-largest number of troops from Northeast and Central Asia.2 Mongolian forces have also participated in multiple rotations supporting U.S.-led coalition operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. Despite pressure from both China and Russia, Mongolia has expanded its participation in global multilateral security organizations and partnerships, such as by joining the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), partnering with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and chairing the Community of Democracies.

This article will focus on the military component of Mongolia's global-engagement strategy and argue that the MAF has redefined its security objectives and identity. By creating a modern military force centered on peacekeeping and global peace-support operations, Mongolia has reinforced its sovereignty and independence despite the country's geopolitical constraints. The article is divided into the following sections:

* pp. 131-34 consider Mongolia's historical dependence on Russia for security and examine its sudden political transformation after the former Soviet Union's disintegration and withdrawal from Mongolia.

* pp. 135-36 describe Mongolia's third-neighbor policy and significant military reforms and modernization programs as the country attempts to become globally engaged with UN-sponsored peacekeeping operations. The section argues that the MAF, with support from the United States, has chosen a path of reform centered on improving its capabilities for peace-support operations. …

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