February 12, 2006


Feeling the Squeeze Of China and Russia, Mongolia Courts U.S. (Edward Cody, 2/12/06, Washington Post)

[F]oremost among the third neighbors is the United States, the superpower that Mongolians have courted as an aid source and a counterweight to Russia's residual status and China's economic tentacles stretching across the Gobi Desert. For many of Mongolia's 2.7 million inhabitants, therefore, President Bush's stopover here on Nov. 21, though it lasted only several hours, was a welcome symbol that Washington has bought into the relationship.

"It was a truly historical event," Foreign Minister Nyamaa Enkhbold said in an interview.

For the Bush administration, this country's importance as a friend lies in Iraq, where a contingent of 120 to 150 Mongolian soldiers is deployed. The soldiers' main value has been symbolic -- Mongolia has stuck with the U.S.-led coalition since right after President Saddam Hussein was overthrown, even as other contributing nations pulled out of Iraq. Similarly, a squad of Mongolian artillery trainers has gone to Afghanistan as part of the U.S.-led force there.

The decision to dispatch troops to Iraq also was symbolic of Mongolia's third neighbor policy. Russia and China voiced strong objections and exerted pressure on the government to change its mind, diplomatic sources said. But leaders went ahead anyway, despite the acknowledged necessity of getting along with their two big neighbors and trading partners.

A Mongolian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the possibility of increased U.S. financial aid was in the back of leaders' minds. Mongolia receives $7.5 million a year in U.S. development projects, about $3 million in wheat donations and some military training. But the main goal, the official said, was to demonstrate Mongolia's desire to be an ally, in keeping with its third neighbor policy.

Some analysts have suggested that Mongolia's broad, flat expanses, along with an abandoned Russian air base, could also be valuable as the Pentagon seeks to position itself for the eventuality of conflict with China. But U.S. bases here would be impractical, because Russia or China would have to grant overflight permission for any U.S. planes coming or going. Bases or not, Mongolians understand that Washington sees a strategic advantage in having this country as a sure ally in a neighborhood with an uncertain future.

"The United States may want to have some reliable partners in the region," said Sanjaasuren Oyun, a member of parliament and head of the Civil Will Party, explaining what the United States gets out of the relationship.

As Bush noted during his stop here, Mongolia also has been cited as a model for former Soviet satellites. While some remain stuck in autocracy or instability, Mongolia has been transformed over the past 15 years into a working parliamentary democracy. In fact, the country is so eager to dissociate itself from the 1921-90 Communist past that a mausoleum housing icons of the Soviet era in Ulan Bator's Sukhbaatar Square was recently demolished to make way for a new statue of Genghis Khan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 12, 2006 8:55 AM

Think back to the Jimmy Carter days of retreat, surrender and malaise. Who would have predicted that we would be in alliance with Poland and Mongolia over the bones of the Evil Empire?

Ronald Reagan predicted it.

Posted by: Lou Gots at February 12, 2006 11:06 AM

A great piece by Robert Kaplan on Col. Tom Wilhelm, our army of one in Mongolia:

The Man Who Would Be Kahn

With all due respect to Robert Schwartz, of course.

Posted by: joe shropshire at February 12, 2006 12:02 PM

Why don't we send all the aid money that currently goes to Egypt to Mongolia? Sounds like we'd get a lot more for our money there.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at February 12, 2006 12:36 PM

Do 120-150 Mongols constitute a "horde?"

Posted by: Mike Morley at February 12, 2006 1:53 PM

One assumes State Farm was not there.

Posted by: ghostcat at February 12, 2006 2:42 PM

Mongolia sent a cadet to West Point a few years ago. Very impressive young man, intellectually as well as physically and as a leader.

Posted by: anon at February 12, 2006 7:34 PM

Best for Mongolia to train for insurgency. If ever invaded, no help will be coming for a long time, and they are unlikely to be able to stop the numbers of any conventional invasion China or Russia could do.

Make common cause secretly with Taiwan, Tibetan exiles, and Muslim separatists.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at February 13, 2006 6:02 PM