Thoughts on Mongolia’s independence history in XX century
After the collapse of the Great Mongolian Empire, the country felt under the foreign rule for several centuries. At the beginning of XX century, Mongolia, though internationally unrecognized, gained limited chance to develop as a sovereign state. But the following events of that time showed how fragile was that chance.
It was faith of the nation that the country was sandwiched between the two great civilizations. During its renaissance and might, Mongols conquered and ruled both of them. But later, divided and weak, it felt dependent on them.
Independence and security of Mongolia has been conditioned not only by the state of our relations with its neighbors. A state of mutual relations between China and Russia as well as their policies towards Mongolia always played a crucial role.
Geographical and climate conditions of Mongolia did not attract interest of urbanized civilizations of neighboring countries to settle in Mongolia. Thus, this natural factor should be counted in preserving Mongolia’s independence. Of course, Beijing and Moscow both had strategic interest in keeping the country, small underdeveloped but having very important geostrategic location, rich in natural resources, under its influence. None of them wanted the other side’s dominance in Mongolia. But they also did not want to spoil their mutual relations due to Mongolia. This external political factor had the main effect on saving sovereignty of Mongolia. That is historical truth.
Moreover, relative balance of power between Russia and China did not always allowed either sides to attempt to gain dominant position over Mongolia. I intentionally used words “not always”, because there several cases when the balance of power between Russia and China was lost, and in each case independence of Mongolia was on the edge or even lost. For instance, after the October revolution, Russia’s might weakened by devastating civil war. At this very moment, Chinese troops invaded Mongolia and ceased Mongolia’s autonomy declaring China’s reign over Mongolia.
Although some members of the Bogdo Khaan government did submit a “request” to invite Chinese troops to Mongolia in order to protect from the “red threat” from the North, but it was first time when Beijing was able to realize its long time desire to rule Mongolia using actual Russian weakness.
At that time, Mongolia had her own troops. Earlier, before the Chinese invasion, these troops successfully fought a battle against the “black army” (Mongol’s definition of Chinese troops) to liberate Inner Mongolia. Then, why these troops were not sent in 1919 to protect the country against Chinese invading troops? Why Chinese troops allowed to station in Khiagt, a border point with Russia in Northern Mongolia? In my view, the answer could be found in the previous paragraph.
All Sino-Russian agreements in relation to Mongolia affairs always included provisions prohibiting deployment of either’s troops on the territory of Mongolia. On the other hand, none of our two neighbors ever missed any chance of such deployment, because the side, which realized first a chance of locating its troops in Mongolia, had always gained geostrategic profit of military-political supremacy.
In the last century, Soviet troops stationed in Mongolia four times. In 1921, the Red Army units entered into Mongolia under the cover to liquidate remaining Tsarist Russia troops, but in reality to establish a Bolshevic Soviet type governance in Mongolia. Later, in 1939, during the Khalkhyn Gol Battle against Japan, and in 1945 during Liberation War at the end WWII.
Early 1960s, when ideological discord between Moscow and Beijing aggregated into the political-military confrontation between them, a large contingent of Soviet troops were deployed on the territory of Mongolia in order to strain the Chinese leadership for their disobey. It gave Soviets strategic advantages of proximity to Beijing and natural easiness to carry out military advance onto the territory of China. That was last time when Moscow used Mongolia’s card for military-political reasons.
After restoring its independence in early XX century, Mongolia in consideration that the main threat would come from the South entered into the official military-political treaty with the Soviet Union to protect itself against such a threat. Actually, there was no other alternative. But from today’s stand, there are some issues that make a question – “was Mongolia’s national security guaranteed in deed by the deployment of Soviet troops on its territory”- quite problematic.
It is now proved that the Soviet troops located on the territory of Mongolia had tactical nuclear weapons on their arsenal. It is a definite war tactic that all large military contingents, especially armed with nukes, are the main targets for retaliation or even pre-emptive nuclear strike.
During winter of 1979, a peak of Soviet-Chinese rivalry, the Chinese PLA tank units invaded into the territory of Vietnam when Vietnamese troops were sent to Cambodia. In this situation Soviet troops deployed in Mongolia enforced by other units from the Siberian MD held a large scale military field exercise along the Mongolia-Chinese border. Soviet and Mongolian military units taking part in this exercise were fully armed with life ammunition. It is difficult to say what kind of scenario could develop if Chinese troops did not retreat from Vietnam.
At that time we did not fully understand all possible consequences of that situation and might be scenarios. It is now clear that Mongolia was very close to become a battle field of Soviet-China military confrontation or even nuclear retaliation strikes. In addition, according to some sources, during the Cold War era of Soviet and USA military confrontation the Soviet contingent stationed in Mongolia were among the targets of their strategic nuclear missiles aimed at each other.
Thus, it is certain that with the end of Cold War, subsequent withdrawal of Soviet troops from Mongolia and more appropriate atmosphere in international relations our external security became more safer.
I could not avoid mention that the China’s interest in Mongolia preserved the country from becoming a 16th republic of the USSR or Soviet Socialist Republic of Mongolia. .
Safeguarding national security in new situation
Before the country selected democracy as a path of its future development and having possibility to implement very first time an independent multi-pillar foreign policy, Mongolia perceived threats to the national security and independence only within the political and military framework, and exercised the concept of providing security by military power of its allies. Democratic changes brought not only opportunity being independent in its foreign policy, but the country also faced a challenging problem of providing its national security by its own.
There were broad-based discussions and debates on how to safeguard the national security. Several options were discussed. One was a Swiss model of firm neutrality. This option was put away due to lack of international political weight and economic capability. Second one, to continue alliance relationships and depend on a neighboring big power security umbrella, was denied to avoid repeat of the above mentioned risk consequences. The third one, to guarantee the national security by embracing independent and open foreign policy, and developing multi-pillar relations with the world community on equality basis. This option has been selected as the only wise decision matching the current international situation.
For the country put forward the goal to develop democratic social system and enhance sovereign foreign and internal policy, defining a rational way of safeguarding the national security by its own means was one of the vital tasks. In absence of sufficient economic and mobilization reserves to defend the country’s independence and sovereignty, it was necessary to adopt and execute basic state policy documents declaring the country’s aim to maintain its external security by political and diplomatic means.
Internally, providing political and social stability, economic independent development and ecological balance, restoring traditional cultural values and patriotism, and strengthening market economy relations were the basis for preserving the national security of the country.
The National Security Concept and Foreign Policy Concept of Mongolia adopted in 1994 were the basic documents that brought these aims to the national policy level and defined ways and means of their implementation.
Positive steps in strengthening the national security by political and diplomatic means
Policy of providing the country’s independence and security by political and diplomatic means gaining success. Balanced and good-neighborly relations with Russia and China have been developing and the “third neighbors’” interests in Mongolia increasing steadily.
In early years of its democratic development Mongolia came up with an initiative to declare its territory a Nuclear Free Zone. The initiative was successfully realized and Mongolia, a small country between the two nuclear powers, gained a unique Nuclear Free status. That was an important contribution of our country in international efforts to free the world from nuclear weapons as well as in strengthening trust in NEA. It was also an illustration of success in providing a national security by political and diplomatic means. Although the Mongolia’s NFZ initiative has gained support by all nuclear powers, the UN and whole international community, it differs from the other NFZs by its only “supported status” – it has not been guaranteed by relevant internationally binding treaties.
The Sapporo’s Meeting proposal to conclude a trilateral agreement between Mongolia, Russia and China on guaranteeing Mongolia’s NFZ status and consequent entry of other nuclear powers by additional Protocol is still hanging unimplemented.
The Mongolian Armed Forces command has been successfully implementing its initiative to send the national military personnel to international peacekeeping and anti-terrorist missions. This participation was not only in line with provisions of the State Military Policy for using Armed Forces in peace time, but it was also important for recognition of Mongolia on the international arena. Participation in international peacekeeping missions is important for enhancing our troops’ combat readiness and skills. As well as it provides input in developing cooperation with the military of influential countries taking part in those peacekeeping operations.
Conclusion: History repeats
The Tsarist Russia and Soviet Union or Chinese Ming and Zing dynasties, and Communist China as well all wanted Mongolia being underdeveloped and supplying raw material to them. This policy remains intact even today. Mongolia is considered a lost territory and Mongols – a national minority of China.
Although in current international relations deciding the other nations fate by force is theoretically low, but some events show that some powers and groupings has not rebuffed using force. No one could deny that a neighbor, who may someday gain a superpower status based on its economic capacity intensive growth, might take steps to resolve “some issues” just for its own benefit. It is understandable that disputed or lost territory issues would be first in the list of such ‘issues”.
Despite steady development of good-neighborly relation and comprehensive cooperation, a competition for strengthening own interests and expanding own influences using economic and financial leverages continues in Mongolia. Strive for gaining monopoly position in our natural resources exploitation has been overwhelming. Attempts to monopolize Mongolia’s domestic livestock commodity market and to kneel down the national industry by financial pressure (combined with illegal monetary sources) are successfully realized. Too high trade and customs tariffs/barriers for Mongolian traditional export items exercised by our northern neighbor don’t favor developing mutually beneficial cooperation.
A powerful media machine continues washing mass brains. It is shame that some representatives of domestic political and business circles led by own personal benefits are encouraging such external efforts to damage the national interests of the country.
The past history of Sino-Russian relations had periods of ups-and-downs. When one of the sides gained dominant power position, conflict of interest showed up in their relations. In each case, Mongolia’s geostrategic position again got a value or using of the other side’s interest became a necessity for Mongolia.
The state foreign policy and actions aimed at active participation in international relations and regional integration processes, balancing interests of surrounding and world powers as well as developing cooperation with them are among the main factors safeguarding the national sovereignty and security of the country in the future. I firmly believe that our democratic state and people of Mongolia have wisdom of navigating the frequency of history in right direction.