REVIEW: Article

Mongolia-United States Relations: Seeking a Strategic Partnership Based on Democracy

The years ahead will bring significant opportunities in the relationship between Mongolia and the United States (US). Indeed, there have been remarkable developments in the relationship between Mongolia and the US throughout 2003 and 2004. Mongolian President N. Bagabandi met with President Bush at the White House. It was a successful meeting of the two heads of state. Surprisingly, just on the eve of the Mongolian National New Year, President Bush issued the official invitation to President N. Bagabandi to visit the US to meet him again. 

High-level political consultative meetings between the US State Department and Mongolia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs took place at the end of 2003 in Washington DC and covered a wide range of bilateral issues. 

Despite freezing cold temperatures in Mongolia, General Richard B. Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Richard Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State, made substantive visits there at the beginning of this year to highlight the bilateral relationship and to explore additional opportunities to expand it into a strong partnership.  

Many things have changed since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, and one of them is Mongolia-US relations. From the beginning, Mongolia has supported the US-led struggle against international terrorism. Why? Mongolia so far has been relatively safe from a direct terrorist threat. However, given its proximity to two big areas with ongoing terrorist activities, Mongolia should be on alert. Our nation has firmly committed to combat international terrorism and participated in the stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan and Iraq. I am pleased to note that Mongolia and the US enjoy many common views on the important issues of northeast Asia from supporting a nuclear-weapon free Korean peninsula to the consolidation of democracy, freedom and human rights.  

Mongolia is a country sandwiched between two of Asia’s previously confronting, now strategically collaborating nuclear powers, China and Russia. Sino-Soviet relations, marked by sharp ups and downs in the 20th century, provided profound lessons learned, and the implications for Mongolia are of particular importance. Indeed, the normalization of Sino-Russian relations offers us a new opportunity to extend the hand of friendship to others, including the US.

Mongolia wants its relationship with the US to be long-term and one that is constantly and consistently expanding. US efforts in the Inner-Asia region provide my country with a certain degree of confidence in its landlocked position. In a recent speech, Secretary Powell called Mongolia a “valuable partner,” and this affirmation gives Mongolia a greater sense of security and more confidence in the success of its development.

Some countries are ready for change and others are not. Mongolia is changing. Mongolia was part of the third wave of democratization that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. The changes that occurred were more than just political. Mongolia was changing and many of the social and economic factors that contributed to the change provided the foundations for the challenges that Mongolia still faces today. 

Almost fourteen years have passed since the first free and fair election took place in Mongolia. Mongolia, the land of grasslands, mountains and desert that lies between two big markets, is beginning to reap the benefits of the radical change that has occurred during that period. Simultaneous transition to democracy and a market-oriented economy was not an easy and smooth process. Mongolia was able to emerge from authoritarian rule to become a prime example of Asian democracy.

As we look back at what we achieved in terms of building the institutions of democracy, promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms and unleashing private initiative, we can modestly say that these efforts constitute a major advance towards a self-governing democratic society, a private sector-led economy, and a closer association with the international community. Currently, more than 75 percent of Mongolia’s gross domestic product is produced by the private sector. Through periodic, free and fair elections, a free mass media and through various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the people of Mongolia are exercising their sovereign right to participate in national and local decision-making.

It is for these reasons that President Bush, in his speech at the National Endowment for Democracy, said of Mongolia’s successful transition to democracy, “As men and women are showing from…Mongolia, it is the practice of democracy that makes a nation ready for democracy and every nation can start on this path.”

Furthermore, Mongolia is now sharing lessons in building democracy with other countries. The Mongolian government very much appreciated the contribution of the US to the Fifth International Conference of New or Restored Democracies successfully hosted by Mongolia in 2003. During the conference, representatives of approximately 140 countries focused on the key themes of democracy, good governance and civil society.            

Fostering strong democracy is one of the most effective means of combating and deterring the spread of terrorism internationally, particularly in Asia. Mongolian NGOs are looking forward to making their own contribution to build democracy in post-war Iraq too.

Each country, each people has a different historic and cultural background; while they may not be able to emulate other democracies exactly, all share certain principles based on democracy, which is compatible with human nature. And human nature is universal, whether it’s in the US or in Mongolia or elsewhere. Democracy works in Mongolia in every respect because of the relatively high-level of education of the people as well as the example and influence of democratic nations such as the US. But we are building democracy for our own reasons, with our own hands. Modernization and continuity are the basic driving forces that tie Mongolia to the international community based on universal values of democracy.

Small nations have always viewed with apprehension the policies of major powers. However, the situation is different in the case of Mongolia-US relations. Mongolia and the US do not have a negative past. This legacy provides a key advantage for bilateral relations in strategic terms and builds trust between our peoples. The prospects for enhanced Mongolia-US relations are promising, because the relations between us have been strong and, from the beginning, based on mutual trust. Deep trust and understanding combined with the same values shared by both sides produce a great deal of common interests in many respects.

One of these shared interests, to promote democracy in Inner-Asia, is a real challenge. However, by working together, Mongolia and the US can help to achieve a political system rooted in freedom. Promotion of democracy elsewhere is critical to the safety of the world, as well as to the safety of Mongolia. It is also essential for promoting free market economic practices and principles and creating the ability to expand markets and increase countries’ standards of living. Strengthening democracy and civil society in Central Asia are important areas of cooperation between Mongolia and the US.

Mongolia-US relations have an opportunity for further growth. Mongolia’s economy is on the right track and in 2003, growth reached 5.3 percent, the highest increase since our country chose to join the growing number of free nations. With a population of just 2.4 million living in a country three times the size of France, it clearly would be a daunting task to establish the framework of a new economic structure without international input. Opening up Mongolia’s natural resources sector to outside investment brings great opportunities for the Mongolia-US relationship, particularly in terms of expanding trade and economic cooperation. American investment in Mongolia is growing slowly but steadily. Today, the US is Mongolia’s third highest foreign investor—quite a change from the period following the Second World War when Mongolians’ knowledge of the US was mostly limited to Roy Andrews and his team who took away the bones of the giant dinosaur from the Gobi Desert.  

Today the Mongolia-US relationship faces an historic opportunity for development and growth. We always recall former Secretary of State James Baker’s outstanding remarks that “the US is willing to be Mongolia’s third neighbor.” Mongolia and the US already are committed to a strong partnership as stressed in a recent joint statement on bilateral and regional cooperation issued in Ulaanbaatar (January 2004). Together we are working hard to expand and develop the bilateral relationship further into a strategic partnership based on shared democratic values.

In conclusion, I would say that Mongolia’s peacefully earned democracy remains vital for the survival of my country.

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Ambassador of Mongolia to the United States