In an age of increasingly competitive multilateralism, success will go to those countries best able to diversify their interests and manage a wide range of bilateral relationships. This will be no small challenge for Australia. We have a small and dramatically over-stretched diplomatic service and a tendency to think we carry more impact in foreign capitals than is really the case. Imagine, though, if an opportunity arose to build closer ties with an Asian country that is substantially democratic, with a largely free press, has a close defence association with the United States and significant economic potential of interest to Australian resource companies. There is such a country: Mongolia. Tomorrow, September 15, will mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canberra and Ulaanbaatar. In an ASPI Policy Analysis published today, Mendee Jargalsaikhan—a PhD student in politics at the University of British Columbia and a fellow of the Mongolian Institute for Strategic Studies—makes the case for Australia and Mongolia to strengthen their ties.
On defence and security, Mendee argues that the two countries would benefit from a closer exchange on North Asian security, noting that Mongolia has particularly close relations with both North and South Korea. He argues that peacekeeping training should become a focus for defence cooperation, and points out that Mongolia has deployed more than 6000 personnel to international peacekeeping operations, with 400 currently deployed with the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
When Mongolian Prime Minister Batbold visited Australia in February last year, a joint statement was issued saying that ‘Australia and Mongolia share common strategic interests and objectives in the Asia–Pacific region’. It makes sense to start exploring what can be made of these common interests and objectives. As Defence designs its own pivot to the region, it should establish a stronger connection with Mongolia. As a small first step towards closer strategic engagement, Defence should consider cross-accrediting its attaché in Seoul to Ulaanbaatar, as is already the case with Australia’s ambassador in South Korea.
Peter Jennings is executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.