Democratization and Foreign Policy

This is a small summary of the findings from my M.A. Thesis, completed in December 2012. I argued that Mongolia’s successful democratization allows the country leverage in deepening its relationship with the United States and Europe. This furthers the US and EU’s democratization agenda, while simultaneously adding weight to Mongolia’s “Third Neighbor Policy”.


Mongolia’s Credentials

The expression “not all that glitters is gold” is perhaps best rephrased for our purposes as “not all that democratizes will become a democracy”. When Mongolia became an official democracy, no one was sure how a small state with less than 3 million people would manage to produce a real democracy in-between the authoritarian PRC and the uncertain democratization of the newly established Russian Federation.[1] However, all available indicators support that it accomplished just that.

Mongolia’s democratic transition was largely based on domestic political will. Real democratization ultimately is an “exercise in national political self-determination.[2] True democratization has to be domestically driven otherwise it will lack legitimacy.[3] Mongolia was ranked at 6.23 by Democracy Index 2011[4], 6.36 in 2010 [5], 6.6 in 2008 ,[6] and 6.6 and 2006 ,[7] on a 10 point scale, meaning that it has been consistently ranked as a “flawed democracy”, which while admitting its problems, firmly ranks Mongolia as a democracy above hybrid and authoritarian regimes. Freedom House has ranked Mongolia as “free” for all available years (2002-2012).[8]  Although Mongolia is still a developing democracy, it is hard to argue that it is not a functioning one. Signs of increased civil society engagement and contested election results are actually a sign of a thriving democratic system, where the ability to change the status quo is recognized and a number of political parties are competing against each other.

U.S. and E.U. support to Mongolian Democracy

High profile visits are an important indication of bilateral ties and entail some level of prestige and significance to relationships between nations. Between the U.S. and Mongolia, several high-profile visits have highlighted the slowly deepening relationship between these two distant countries, often making explicit mention to Mongolia’s democratic status (see Table 1 for a list of the most prominent visits).

Table 1: High-Profile Visits

To Mongolia To the United States of America
2005: Rep. Dennis Hastert 1991: President Ochirbat
2005: President George Bush 2001: Prime Minister Enkhbayar
2011: Vice-President Joe Biden 2004: President Bagabandi
2012: Secretary of State Hilary Clinton 2011: President Elbegdorj

Outside of high-profile diplomacy, the U.S. has also signaled its support for Mongolia and the value it places on Mongolian democracy in a number of other statements and institutional mechanisms. The U.S.-Mongolia Friendship Caucus seeks to educate and inform U.S. politicians on Mongolia, focusing on Mongolia’s political system and the reform process.[9] The International Republican Institute (IRI) began working in Mongolia in 1992, working explicitly to support democratic governance and institutional development.[10] In 2010, the U.S. Embassy hosted events celebrating the 20th anniversary of Mongolia’s “decision for democracy”, during which then-Ambassador Addleton identified democracy as one of five pillars of U.S.-Mongolian relations.[11] In July 2011, Mongolia was granted Presidency of the Community of Democracies, and will host a meeting of the organization in 2013.[12] The organization makes clear reference to Mongolia as an example of successful democratization and simultaneous political and economic transitions.[13]

The United States recognizes that Mongolia is an important partner as it continues to shift its diplomatic focus to the Asia-Pacific. Mongolia is a U.S./international successful story for democratization and has been held up as a model of Asian democratization, in particular.[14] The U.S. has stated that its goals in Mongolia are not geostrategic in nature, and that the U.S. is, instead, focused on helping develop “a base of democracy” in Mongolia.[15] Mongolian democracy contributes to the country’s stability in an area defined by such authoritarian powers as Russia and China.[16] The United States sees its own security as dependent on the domestic political stability of other states, and sees Mongolia’s democratic system as a potential balancing force against authoritarianism in the region.

Mongolia’s proven commitment to democracy is also in line with E.U. global goals, particularly as they concern Central Asia.[17] Mongolia’s accession to the Organization for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) in Europe on November 22, 2012 is a clear indication that Europe and Mongolia are coming closer together on a number of issues. As the official announcement was being made, the OSCE Secretary General noted that Mongolia’s participation would allow the organization to better tackle transnational issues, while Mongolia stood to benefit from the OSCE’s expertise in democratic transitions.[18] These shared values are defined as respect for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.[19] The Partnership and Cooperation Agreements also explicitly support democratic development.[20] The U.S. responded to this announcement in a similar fashion, citing the accession as an indicator of Mongolia’s importance to the democratic community as an example of a successful transition from communism to democracy.[21] A number of European development projects in Mongolia are handled directly by the European Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, which aims to encourage democratic institutional reform and support for human rights, specifically regarding the rights of inmates and sexual minorities.[22] Furthermore, Germany’s Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) political foundation has taken an active role in supporting Mongolia’s democratization through seminar trainings and programs to strengthen decentralization efforts.[23] Europe began developing relations with democratic Mongolia at a slower pace than the United States, but the proximity of Eastern Europe to Eurasia and a shared history between Mongolia and many Eastern European nations under the Soviet Union sets the groundwork for more multifaceted relations in the future.


Mongolian democracy stands out in stark contrast to it neighbors, Russia and China, as well as across the larger post-communist world, such as the Central Asian authoritarian states Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.[24] Despite all its “robustness/rowdiness”, the Mongolian political system is clearly democratic. A perfect democracy where all citizens have an equal say and where the government is equally responsive to all its citizens’ demands does not exist.[25] From Hilary Clinton’s statement in Ulaanbaatar in support of democratization, it can be observed that Mongolia is becoming one of the poster countries for democracy and the rewards, stability, and development benefits that are associated with this political system. Mongolia can be held against claims that democracy is not for Asia. This is by no means meant to suggest that Mongolia’s own motivation in democratizing was to attract “Western” favor; rather, the point is that once democratized, the benefits to the Mongolian state and population were international as well domestic.

At the same time, Mongolia has been able to actively leverage its democratic credentials as part of its efforts to adapt to the post-communist international system and fulfill its “third neighbor policy.” Mongolia’s Concept of Foreign Policy states that the country’s foreign policy is guided by international norms such as respect for human rights and freedoms.[26] The Concept of National Security of Mongolia identifies the country’s democratic government as key to the state’s continued security in the sectors of civil rights and information security.[27] Furthermore, Mongolia’s democratic government distinguishes it a region defined by Russia, China, and the Central Asian states.

Does democracy matter? It seems that democracy is a potential tool that Mongolia can and has used to increase its attractiveness as a partner for U.S., E.U., and potentially other leading democracies. Attracting this interest is a key factor in Mongolia’s foreign policy, since it allows Mongolia to command a larger number of “third neighbors” as a counterbalance to Russian and especially Chinese influence. It is crucial that Mongolia implements a strong policy of diversification. Indeed, as a small state between giants, it knows only too well that over dependence on any one power will not afford it the sovereignty and autonomous decision-making power that it needs to survive as an independent state. If Mongolia’s democratization was not a factor and the country’s natural resources, growing economy, and/or strategic location were the only factors influencing relations with the U.S. and E.U., we might still expect some diplomatic gestures (Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are also OSCE participating states). However, we would not see the level of high profile visits, the institutional support, or rhetorical references to Mongolia as a responsible stakeholder. We would also see more emphasis on economic ties and perhaps stronger military relations.


[Summaries of other key sections of the thesis are available at and the whole thesis is available at ]

[1] Fish, M.Steven. “The Inner Asian Anomaly: Mongolia’s Democratization in Comparative Perspective.” Communist and Post-Communist Studies 34, no. 3 (September 2001). P. 323

[2] Burnell, From Assistance to Appraising, p. 414

[3] Ibid., p. 421

[4] Democracy Index 2011

[5] Democracy Index 2010

[6] Democracy Index 2008

[7] Democracy Index 2006

[8] Freedom House, 2002-2012

[9]  As reported by the Embassy of Mongolia in the United States of American: (Accessed on December 4, 2012). The other four focuses were development assistance, commercial, security, and people-to-people relations.

[10] As reported on IRI’s official website: (Accessed on December 4, 2012).

[11] “Ambassador Addelton’s Remarks at the Asia Society Breakfast: Warm Relations in a Cold Place: The United States and Mongolia,” Embassy of the United States in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, June 14, 2011. (Accessed on December 4, 2012).

[12] The White House, U.S.-Mongolia Joint Statement

[13] See the Community of Democracies official website:

[14] Noerper, Ten Things We Get from Mongolia. p. 1

[15] Narangoa, Preventative Diplomacy, p. 373

[16] Wachman, NBR, p. 5

[17] Ibid.

[18] “Secretary General welomes Mongolia to OSCE, stresses added value to security community,” OSCE News (November 22, 2012). (Accessed on December 4, 2012).

[19] Statement by High Representative Catherine Ashton Following the Legislative Elections in Mongolia on 28 June 2012, 2012.

[20] European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights

[21] “U.S. Envoy on Mongolia as OSCE Participating State,” IIP Digital (November 22, 2012). (Accessed on December 4, 2012).

[22]  “EU supports Mongolia’s Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector with 7 mln euro project,” Delegation of European Union to Mongolia, May 31, 2012. (Accessed on December 4, 2012).

[23] For more information on KAS, please see: (Accessed on December 4, 2012).

[24] As rated by Democracy Index

[25] Epstein, Democracy Promotion, p. 11

[26] Concept of Foreign Policy, Section II, Article 8

[27] The Concept of National Security of Mongolia, Section IV

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