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Posted on on February 24th, 2010
by Pincas Jawetz (

Mongolia is an unassuming country, sandwiched in between Russia and China and has sworn to stay nuclear free and made known it is no danger to anyone. This is Mongolia’s highest contribution to its region and it could be an example to North Korea when that State decides to attempt change. Mongolia can smooth the way to the six parties talks.

Mongolia is the 19th largest and the most sparsely populated independent country in the world, with a population of about three million people. It is also the world’s second-largest landlocked country after Kazakhstan. The country contains very little arable land, as much of its area is covered by steppes, with mountains to the north and west, and the Gobi Desert to the south. Approximately 30% of the population are nomadic or semi-nomadic. The predominant religion in Mongolia is Tibetan Buddhism, and the majority of the state’s citizens are of the Mongol ethnicity, though Kazakhs, Tuvans, and other minorities also live in the country, especially in the west. About 20% of the population live on less than US$1.25 per day. Global warming has had a serious impact on Mongolia and its land became even drier with very active further desertification; but Mongolia is rich in minerals and exporting minerals such as Coal, Uranium, Lithium, Copper, Molybdenum, Tin, Tungsten, Gold and oil provide it with cash flow. Companies and Financing from China, Japan, South Korea, Germany, Russia, Canada are active in Mongolia.

In Mongolia during the 1920s, approximately one third of the male population were monks. By the beginning of the 20th century about 750 monasteries were functioning in Mongolia. The Stalinist purges in Mongolia beginning in 1937, affected the Republic as it left more than 30,000 people dead. Japanese imperialism became even more alarming after the invasion of neighboring Manchuria in 1931. The Soviet threat of seizing parts of Inner Mongolia induced China to recognize Outer Mongolia’s independence. So – the mutual distrust between China and the Soviets allowed for an independent Mongolia.

The introduction of perestroika and glasnost in the USSR by Mikhail Gorbachev strongly influenced Mongolian politics leading to the peaceful Democratic Revolution, and the introduction of a multi-party system and market economy. A new constitution was introduced in 1992, and the “People’s Republic” was dropped from the country’s name. The transition to market economy was often rocky, the early 1990s saw high inflation and food shortages. The first election wins for non-communist parties came in 1993 (presidential elections) and 1996 (parliamentary elections). So, Mongolia, an ex-communist country moved to a market economy.

The evolution of Mongolia is now of special interest to those that would like to see movement in efforts to solve the Korean peninsula schism. Mongolia could be an example for North Korea if it becomes interested in dropping its attachment to the former Soviet way of managing a country – and that is what brought a high level Mongolian group to The Korea Society in New York City, for breakfast, today, February 23, 2010.

The speaker was H.E. Damdin Tsogtbaatar, State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Next to him sat the Mongolian Permanent Representative to the UN H.E. Enkhtsetseg Ochir. Also present was the Deputy Permanent Representative Sodnom Gankhuyag.

The presentation started with the geopolitics and the paradox that both neighbors – China and Russia – are conservative cultures but when changing they are revolutionary. Being enclosed in that sandwich, the Mongolian Foreign Policy has to be an open policy and with both neighbors nuclear  – it had to mean for Mongolia that it can only be free of nuclear weapons. From here he looked at the other two countries that started out in similar conditions like Mongolia – Cuba and North Korea. While Mongolia developed a democracy romanticism – this was not the case with the other two. In effect North Korea looked down at Mongolia and closed its embassy in 1999 and used the excuse that they do so because of economy conditions. Mongolia watched the South Korean Sunshine Policy towards North Korea and as regional Mongolian expats live in South Korea, and Mongolia’s interest to help stabilize the region in its own interest, they started to get more and more interested in what goes on on the Korean Peninsula and in Japan. For one thing – North Korea was interested in Petroleum. North Korea is isolated by its own choice – but someone must get interested in North Korea. In fact in the 1970’s North Korea was ahead of South Korea – more developed – but se now. During the Korean War – only the Russian and Mongolian Ambassadors were left in North Korea. Mongolia also helped by taking in the N. Korean orphans and returned them when hostilities stopped.

Mongolia does not think that the North Koreans are totally irrational, even though he told of some instances that you real wonder – one such was the idea of developing an ostrich farm in N. Korea. Mongolia initiated cultural exchanges that include also Japanese groups. The idea is that Mongolia can try to prepare the ground on which the meetings of the six parties could be restarted.

Mongolia does not believe that sanctions will work – they only punish the people who then clam up and there is no progress. That is when I noted that the two Mongolian men in the room both had purple ties, and I wandered if this is an effort not to look blue or red? Further – Acquiring nuclear technology is not the end – he said – see Kazakhstan and the Ukraine – they had nuclear and gave them up – eventually comes a government and changes of a sudden are possible.

North Korea – the transition of power is supposed to happen in 2012, but considering the health of the leader it could happen earlier. About money reform -That had an impact only on those that had money. It affected people in the cities – not the countryside.

John Delury, an Associate Director at the Asia Society Center on US-China Relations, said that when he spoke to North Koreans when asked why they do not evolve according to the China model, they answered that they are on the China track. See, China first got nuclear, then only formalized relations with the US after they became nuclear. Only then kicked in stage three that was economical.

The answer was – That it is so – Mao Tse-Tung got nuclear first, on account of Stalin. Mongolia does not want to be any-body’s model – “we avoid the word.”

Mongolia was able to put at one table North Korea and Japan but to bring together both Koreas is more difficult. First, with President Lee the Sunshine policy was ended, and a strong anti-North Korean approach was established. The feeling is that the South Koreans, like any democracy, became tired to wait. The situation is now such that both Koreas say – we know what to do – thanks – no – thanks.

Mongolia does no believe in treaties and going to court like lawyers when you deal with nuclear weapons. One can push the button and it is over – but then he said earlier that the belief is there that eventually people are rational – so what is it? Do we must be careful to avoid such situation by stopping a country like Iran from getting nuclear, in order to avoid later dilemmas? Anyway – Iran was not the Issue here but North Korea – so let us say that Mongolia can nevertheless provide an example to North Korea, even if not a model – that changing from threat to agreement could help economically. In effect the day before, the Mongolian envoy had an hour-long meeting with UNSG Ban Ki-moon.

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