Director of Mongolian Institute for Geopolitical Studies
Senior Advisor to the Institute for Strategic Studies at the National Security Council of Mongolia
Understanding geopolitical security
In recent years, among possible challenges facing humankind as a whole, as well as certain countries, threats and dangers of geopolitical nature are considered as imperative. Even a new term “geopolitical security” has been invented and used widely.
A commonly used definition of geopolitical security is “Geopolitical security is a capability of a country to ensure and protect its core national interests within the framework of international security jurisdiction as well as internationally recognized high geopolitical status and authority that provide friendly relations and cooperation with other countries and political, economic and military alliances of countries, and its own weight and certain influence in international affairs too”.
In other words, geopolitical security can be described as existence of favorable external and internal situation that provide possibility for ensuring protection of core national interests of the country from any kind of geopolitically motivated threats. In fact high geopolitical status always provides a country with more favorable conditions for its development and securing its national interests adequately.
Therefore, every country makes all efforts to create such own status in international relations, and by expanding it to ensure its geopolitical security. For this reason, countries, specially super powers, in order to extend their influence on territories of other nations or expanding their geopolitical space, constantly increasing their political, intellectual, military and economic capabilities, setting up political-military alliances, and some cases even waging wars and armed conflicts. Whereas, small nations strive to preserve their sovereignty, territorial integrity and national identity within the framework of influence of big powers geopolitical interests, and they, also, attempt to execute their own state policies in geopolitical sphere utilizing their advantages such as geographical location, space and natural resources.
Geopolitical aspirations of civilizations
Current era is marked with intensive development of oriental, first of all Chinese and Indian civilizations which taking leading positions on international arena. Islamic world apparently realizes importance of consolidating within Islamic civilization values. Ancient civilizations of Mayan, Incas and Aztec notably are reemerging in the form of unique development of South American states. Further, in general process of unification and sovereign development of Europe meets many challenges. Desire of European countries steadily rid of American dominance and sovereign participation in the world political and economic relations is clear. While at present the USA still hold Europe under their influence mainly within the security framework, this grip has been becoming looser. Russia gives importance to join European civilization, but so far with little success. Meanwhile, one can see growing aspiration in this country to revive so called Eurasian civilization comprising Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Siberia and Far East.
Some processes developing within civilizations also worth to pay attention. China managed to overcome internal conflicts, but meanwhile it actively seeks ways of integration with Japan, Korea and South Eastern Asia on the basis of geopolitical interests, though it is unclear yet what kind of form it would have. These nations have many commonalities in state, economy, history and cultural traditions. Very first in history of Japan-Chinese relations visit of Japanese Emperor to China, present regularity in state leaders’ mutual visits of these two countries, the fact that content of documents signed between the two countries has become more and more of strategic character could be considered as a prove of the above mentioned tendency. Very patient attitude of China towards Korean Peninsula problem, keeping Korean Reunification process under its control, and steady growth of its economic influence in South East Asia are also connected to this.
Sino-Indian relations are getting closer. In January 2008, Prime Minister of India M. Singh visited People’s Republic China. Leaders of the two countries signed an important strategic document Shared Vision for 21st Century as well as long term treaties for cooperation in various fields. These document allowed to outline general picture of future geopolitical alliance between the two great Asian powers and foresee its potentials. During the visit Prime Minister M. Singh confirmed India’s “one-China policy”, made presentation before Chines scholars on economic development and social justice integrity, gave clear message for China that India is not a blind follower of the US policy, and recognized that China is the main focal point of India’s attention towards the East.
Based on this, it could be assumed that a new geopolitical system comprising powerful civilizations with total 2.5 billion people, and huge natural, intellectual, scientific, technological and financial resources has been forming in the East. Understandably, such powerful consolidation of space shall cause worries in bordering states, both small and big. Thus, number of efforts to created balanced stability in this huge region has been evident. Clear example of such efforts was initiation of Shanghai Cooperation Organization by the Russian Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the end of 1990s. According to researchers in international studies, the main initiator of this idea was E.M. Primakov, former Foreign Minister of the RF. As he thought, this organization should include Russian Federation, all CIS countries, PRC, India, Iran, Pakistan and Mongolia. But a new organization was set up in much smaller frame. Though, activity of the organization proceeds in some way, but it is hard to say that the organization became a balancer of power in world geopolitical competition as it was originally planned. It is necessary to mention here observations by western researchers stating that sovereign policy of Mongolia, its friendly relations with the US and other Asia-Pacific countries played significant role in such outcome.
Seems that Islamic world is right now at the stage of considering more deeply current international situation. Recently, there are many signs that Islamic countries have started to realize that fate of future development of humankind would depend substantially on their policies, and they have now possibility to be an independent player on the world geopolitical competition arena. They also take into account the fact that they are located in areas of main hydrocarbon reserves, on the crossroad of strategically vital infrastructures, conjunction of economic regions and civilizations. Islamic world keeps a very hard stand on preserving their civilizational values, while continuously flooding into US, Europe or Post-Soviet space Islamic migrants reject assimilation in local societies. In general, current processes in Islamic world has been developing into the following trends:
- Creation of regulatory and ruling structures within the framework of Islamic Conference Organizations;
- Introduction of a single Islamic currency, exclude USD from hydrocarbon deal payments reserving it in a different foreign exchange basket;
- Creation of security cooperation structure of Islamic nations, demand for its permanent representation in the UN Security Council.
In addition, it is certain that Islamic world needs a civilizational ally like the former USSR. From this point, for many years leaders of Islamic countries have had a hope that Russia might be such an ally, though with little success. But in recent years, there are some positive tendencies observed in due course. In their regard, Russia should give up her consensus with western countries, including Israel on many issues that are different from Islamic world position. In this case, relations with the Russian Federation turn to be vital factor for Islamic world. In future, this would stop possible attempts by western countries to use Islamic world against Russia. Stabilization of situation in some countries in Caucasus and Central Asia, and most importantly events in Syria are clear examples of this. In addition, we should pay attention to series of recent publications in western mass media about activation of Chinese efforts to fulfill vacuum spaces existing still in Central Asia.
About the essence of civilizational security of a nation
Geopolitical security of a small country always tied to the nature of its national civilization. In principle, essence of national geopolitical security of a country depends greatly on presence of the following capabilities:
- Capability to protect and preserve historical substance such as homeland, nationality, population, language, culture and traditions, intellectual and moral values, and inherited gene fond;
- Capability to preserve, protect and restore its national identity in any historical situation;
- Capability to enrich and develop national advantages and traditions, expand its intellectual and civilizational space beyond its national territory and gain recognition by others.
For us this concept equal to meaning “remain as Mongolia, revive as Mongolia and develop as Mongolia”. This relates not only to the name Mongolia, but mainly it relates to understanding of our inherited internal nature and way of living. Definitely, internal nature of a nation expressed by civilizational immunity containing national identity as a core of moral and habitual model of nation. We call policy and actions to protect national immunity as a “black box policy”. Ensuring this policy is vital duty of national elite, and, if contrary, the nation would perish.
It is nature of humankind development that any civilization and every nation belong to it strive to spread their values to other nations, and, in some cases, based on their national interests spread some elements their national values by force. Therefore, due to forming new geopolitical situation, we face inevitable need to rethink over what to include in civilizational immunity or black box policy of Mongolian nation, protecting them against pressure from values of big surrounding civilizations, as well as giving importance to staying in civilizational connection with Mongolian diaspora living in neighboring states or in other countries around the world.
Though, Mongolian civilization used to fall under the foreign colonial rule, suffered from wars and various threats, and conquered by others, our nation always managed to preserve basically its traditional core values, living energy and civilizational immunity. Probably, that is why our small nation state has survived, continues to exist and develops now. The fact that Mongolian civilization, one of the oldest civilizations in the world, for many thousand years has been maintaining its energy for further development is prove of that.
In this connection, I quote one remark about Mongolia made by General Colonel L.G. Ivashov, PhD, professor, President of Academy of Geopolitical Issues. “It is true that since early 1990s there was much talk among foreign, especially Russian and Chinese researchers about Mongolian-speaking nations started consolidation under the idea of founding Pan-Mongolian State. Hardly, such a state could be found, moreover, by cutting land form Russian and Chinese territories. But descendant of Chinggis Khaan rightly sensed changes started happening in world geopolitical structures, including danger of being swallowed by giant powerful Chinese civilization, and made their efforts to obtain support from Mongolian diaspora living in Russia, China, Europe, Australia and other countries around the world. Why? Because they know better than someone else how difficult is to secure own right to existence and protect independence being outside of a big civilization or, moreover, neighboring it.
Reason for geopolitical importance of Mongolia
In recent years Mongolia became a new center for competition of geopolitical interests of big powers. Geostrategic space around it has started to form after collapse of the former USSR in early 1990s. The main point is that Mongolia is located on the conjunction line where Asian and European civilizations, the three main world religions and different socio-political systems met as well as on the crossroad of main lines linking Russia and Europe with Asia, and from China to Russia and Europe. Its important geostrategic location right in the center of vast Eurasian region always attracted interest of the world biggest powers.
Nowadays, geopolitical space of Mongolia attracts interest of big powers even more, and it is a reality that our country became a new arena of their geostrategic competition. Everyone now agree that Mongolia, even it is a small nation, became an active player on arena of international geopolitical struggle. As many researchers noted, it is directly related to the fact that, on the one hand, Mongolia is rich in gold, uranium, coal, copper, rare earth elements and other mineral reserves, and Mongolian side effectively uses cooperation with foreign companies in mining as its geopolitical policy card; on the other hand, the country gained international recognition as the only oriental post-socialist nation successfully implementing democratic system in their country. It is clear that growing demand for minerals and subsequent sharp rise of prices on the world market, active efforts of Mongolian state and people to utilize effectively national natural resources, their struggle for building civil democratic society where human rights and freedoms treasured greatly increasing international geopolitical value of our country.
Mongolia in Russian geopolitics
According to researchers, due to economic plunge occurred during the transition period started in 1990s Russia and Mongolia both felt into deep system crisis simultaneously, and subsequently their traditional relations in economic, industrial, trade, cultural, scientific and other spheres stagnated, while some ties were lost at all.
In recent years, Russia gives special importance to prerogative development of Siberia and Far Eastern regions, and active participation in economic integration processes evolving in Asia-Pacific Region. Consequently, in Russian Asia-Pacific foreign policy Mongolia would play important role. Naming Mongolia as a comprehensive strategic partner might be a prof of such tendency.
According to our studies, the following concepts are considered by Russia as geopolitical factors that ties up Russia with Mongolia:
- 3.5 thousand km long common border;
- Traditional friendly relations between Russian and Mongolian people in political, economic, trade, cultural, humanitarian and other spheres;
- History of shared difficulties and happiness, defeats and victories for more than 70 years in XX century;
- Two countries overcame the most difficult challenges of the transitional period, and now are moving in basically same direction i.e. progressing towards market economy and democracy and having similar desire to develop their friendship and cooperation in accordance with new situation;
- Strong belief that in exploring, mining, processing and transporting its huge natural resources Mongolia has to rely on Russian scientific and technological basis and Russia-Mongolia joint railway.
Russia is our great neighbor. Now we have friendly relations and cooperation in all spheres of political, economic and social relations. Hearts of Mongolian people are full of respect to Russian people for their great help and kindness, and their mentality to turn to Russians for assistance in all cases is still strong.
Nonetheless, we should carefully watch what is going on in this globalized world and where natural development of humankind is heading to. Consequently, we should pay great attention to what is position of Russia in this world, especially, where and what objectives this country is trying to reach, and what is attitude of leading nations and developing countries, including post-Soviet states trying to lessen their dependency, towards Russia.
From this point have to consider that, although Russia preserved in some way economic and intellectual capacity of former great power, and has vast human and natural resources, its political organization and economic state management is quite outdated, and Russian policy towards other nations, especially neighboring or those used to be under the Soviet jurisdiction or former satellite countries is mainly based on pressure or resentment, and as many countries believe, that is pushing her towards loneliness.
Finally it is getting clear that Russia is aiming at expansion of her geopolitical interest space as much as possible, beforehand, by ensuring her internal integrity, secondly by creating military alliance within the CIS, particularly its Security Cooperation Organization framework, further by deterring influence of NATO and East Asian developed countries within SCO scope.
In recent years, Russia works actively against NATO expansion and US influence. In due course, Russia seeks for possible allies around the world, sometimes implementing “carrot and stick” policy to force countries, especially former Soviet countries to join alliance. There is no guarantee that such a policy may apply to former socialist camp nations, including Mongolia. This idea were present in speeches of some high ranking Russian officials.
At present, when Russia strives to make China her main ally against US and NATO, it is getting clear, in general, that Mongolia would have some certain place in Russia’s military policy. Very sensitive reaction from Russian officials to any step by Mongolia in military cooperation with other countries, including the USA, worth to be noted here.
PRC geostrategic policy and Mongolia
Mongolian vector is one of the important directions of Chinese geopolitics concerning historical, political, economic, psychological and ethnical problems in external and internal policy. There are number of quite sensitive problems having impact not only on Sino-Mongolian relations but on PRC’s geopolitics in general. Efficiency of foreign policy of China in developing mutually beneficial cooperation with some regions and countries, particularly those of Central Asia, in certain ways depends on character of Beijing’s policy towards Mongolia.
Among specific characters of Sino-Mongolian relations special interest should be paid to strategies used by each of the two countries with totally different military-political, economic and demographic potentials for maintaining balanced and good-neighborly relations. Core of Chinese policy towards Mongolia is a popular strategy of “soft force”, while Ulaanbaatar uses strategy of “hard weakness”. Core idea of this strategy is in masterful use of existing vulnerabilities to make implementation of hard force policy by more powerful neighbors ineffective. Relations between China and Mongolia are an example of efficient implementation of these two cardinally opposite strategies. Study of Sino-Mongolian relations is quite useful in sense of understanding bilateral relations and peaceful coexistence between a great power and its substantially weaker neighbor.
In order create favorable external conditions for successful implementation of its economic development and security strategy, PRC makes great efforts to maintain good relations with other big powers. And under the slogan of establishing a new silk road it strives to create enormous economic and infrastructure network covering the whole world. In due course, China attempts to maintain as much possible stable cooperation with neighboring states, including Mongolia.
Meanwhile, according to some foreign researchers, in the course of implementing China’s policy of expanding its influence abroad, reviving Han-centered great multinational China, (after Taiwan) Mongolia possibly would be a country to be affected by this policy. As others noted, in addition to its strategically important location, sparsely populated vast territory of Mongolia might be very attractive to China as a space to move in the future part of their people. In our view, we should realize first that for China, Mongolia is a vast buffer territory shielding it from Russia and, in general, from the European civilization.
Present day reality is that Chinese policy towards Mongolia aims, based on established friendly relation with our country, to assist us to overcome current challenges facing Mongolia and support its stable and intensive development, while utilizing imported natural resources and raw materials from Mongolia, and in general, actively increasing its involvement in all branches of Mongolian economy.
On the other hand, it is clear that China pays much attention to providing security of its Northern borders, protecting national minorities living in that region from direct and indirect influence of processes happening in Mongolia, as well as to Mongolian policy on Taiwan and Dalai Lama. Moreover, Mongolia’s collaboration with the USA in defense sector as well as continuation of military-technical cooperation between Mongolia and Russia are among geostrategic concerns of PRC.
In addition, some misunderstandings in relations between China and other countries, including territorial disputes, as well as internal social, political and demographic contradictions in China, and possibility of their expansion which may lead to events similar to those in the former USSR understandably concerns Mongolia, its neighbor.
US geostrategic policy towards Mongolia – Chinese and Russian stand
The USA understand that strengthening their position in Mongolia would strongly support accomplishing their geostrategic policy in Northeast and Central Asia. The USA are developing active cooperation with Mongolia in supporting democratic processes developing in our country, and in defense sector within the framework of fight against terrorism as well as assisting our participation in international peacekeeping operations.
The USA attempt to limit dominant or anti-American influence of other big powers in our country. It is clear that these big powers are Russia and China. And Americans know that if Russia and China unify their efforts, they would able to limit American influence in Mongolia and destroy long-time US efforts to strengthen their position in this country.
Therefore, within the American geostrategic policy in East Asia the essence of the USA stand towards Mongolia is to prevent revival of Russian strategic control in Mongolia as well as creation of a new political, military or strategic alliance between Moscow, Beijing and Ulaanbaatar as equal partners.
It clear that limitation of Chinese influence, a main competitor, is definitely a vital issue in the USA geostrategic policy in North East Asia. Many researchers note that US cooperation with Mongolia in defense sphere under the background of joint participation in global fight against terrorism as well as international peacekeeping is a part of this policy.
It is certain that from the beginning of 1990s the USA very precisely defined their position on Mongolia within their geostrategic policy executed in North East Asia. Consequently, the USA gave and still are giving full support to all Mongolia’s efforts to actively participate in security and cooperation talks in North East Asia and Euro Atlantic regions, contributing troops to international operations against terrorism and international peacekeeping operations, make its contribution to international nuclear non-proliferation efforts and nature preservation, steady development of democracy in the country, attracting foreign capital and technological investment, and creating financial and trade interests of highly developed western countries such as Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia and others.
Meanwhile, it is hard to find any substantial economic, particularly investment interests of the USA in Mongolia.
Mongolia-USA relations and cooperation, especially coolaboration in defense sphere directed at participation in international peacekeeping and fighting terrorism are important for for further development of democracy and market economy, ensuring national security, and thus became one of the priority directions of our foreign policy.
Nonetheless, it should be noted that relations with such big power practically at the military-political ally level, and thus, becoming a protector and expresser of its interests in North East Asia. And from the view of other big nations, first of all the two our neighbors, who are against expanding American influence in this region, Mongolia is certainly considered as a political risk point.
To conclude, although comprehensive and close relations with the USA cause considerable political risk for Mongolia’s national security, but currently these relations are one of the important factors providing security and stability of our country. In our view, this situation shall remain constant for the near foreseeable future.
 “Geopolitical security: Relevance to Mongolia”. University of Law Enforcement. Conference working papers. UB. 2016.
 “New geopolitical situation: in the midst of super powers’ geopolitical interests”. Journal of Geopolitical Studies №1. UB. 2013.
5. L.G. Ivashov. Thoughts of Russian general. LitRes. Moscow. 2019. p.469.