Friends in Defence of Democracy?

By Julian Dierkes

Throughout the past 30 years of democratic foreign policy, Mongolia has been a multi-lateral joiner, i.e. eager to participate in international initiatives that raise its profile, in particular aimed at deepening relationships with “Third Neighbours”. Now, there is another club that Mongolia is not only joining, but appears to have co-founded, “Friends in Defence of Democracy”.

Friends in Defence of Democracy?

Apart from a Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release, I have not found other information about the intentions of this partnership.

We share a common concern for the challenges facing democracy, human rights and the rule of law around the world. These worrisome trends have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

We, the Friends in Defence of Democracy, will collaborate with a view to manifesting our commitment to democracy and to stepping up our efforts to protect democracy, its principles, processes, institutions and defenders.

I am a committed democrat myself and firmly believe that democracy is the best form of government available not only to Canada and Germany, but to Mongolia as well. I am thus delighted to read of these plans.

Multilateral Activities

Part of Mongolia’s intention to balance productive relations with its two immediate neighbours by an intensification of relations with “Third Neighbours” has been a strong commitment to multilateralism. Perhaps this is not surprising for a (population) small country wedged between two giants. As clear a target as this seems, it has taken on a variety of forms for Mongolia.

One area of focus has been the UN. It is thus perhaps not surprising that the announcement of this most recent initiative has come on the “margins of the UN General Assembly” (press release). Other activities have centred on Mongolia’s growing contribution to UN Peacekeeping (a topic that Mendee wrote as far back as six years ago). Former President Elbegdorj announced Mongolia’s candidacy as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in the 2022 election in 2014, where Mongolia’s candidacy remains uncontested for the Asia-Pacific Group.

Finally, Mongolia has been active in and – perhaps more notable – hosted several international meetings.

The FOC meeting in 2015 was notable for Mongolia being the first host in Asia for this meeting.

Mongolia also has taken the initiative on specific issues, for example through the Ulaanbaatar Dialogue on Northeast Asian Security.

Current Domestic Context

What is notable about these various meetings is that they all came during the presidency of Ts Elbegdorj. While there are many criticisms of his political role as a parliamentarian, prime minister and president, it is clear that he is not only a committed democrat, but continues to strive to put that commitment into action. The citizen halls could serve as an example of such action domestically whereas the above conferences elevated Mongolia’s international visibility.

Pres. Battulga has taken no such actions to bolster democracy, he barely pays lip service to its ideals. This even though he was nominated for the presidency by the Democratic Party. His own foreign policy interests clearly lie in Russia, he does not appear to enjoy travel and has generally focused his attention on relations with Russia and China. Yet, the announcement of a partnership of “Friends in Defence of Democracy” suggests that there continues to be some strong support for Mongolia’s participation in multilateral efforts at shoring up democracy at a time when it seems globally under threat, not least from the destabilizing and worrisome actions taken by U.S. Pres. Trump.

International Relations Context

The last several years have seen an increasingly assertive or aggressive (depending on your point of view) China. The Chinese regime is obviously threatened by democracy and continues to try to push a narrative of the effectiveness of its ugly authoritarian form of government. Is the public declaration of allegiance to democracy a defiant gesture toward Beijing? At least in part, yes. But then, all there is so far is a declaration of the founding of  partnership. There are no activities hinted at and little speculation about what this partnership might do.

Mongolia is the only Asian founding member of this partnership which includes three European nations (Georgia, Portugal, Sweden), one South American (Uruguay) and two African members (Liberia, Tunisia). The glaring omission of North America might be rooted in the U.S.’ lack of eligibility to join such a partnership under Pres. Trump. I would hope that Canada might also consider joining, though perhaps that is under consideration pending more details on what this partnership might actually do. The lack of U.S. participation is even more glaring as the Community of Democracies “was born as a collective initiative of former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Polish Foreign Minister Bronisław Geremek“. The U.S. and Poland as champions of democracy? Those were the days!

Curious Outlook

Maybe we will learn more of the plans for this partnership and Mongolia’s role in it, or maybe not. I do hope that we learn more and that it turns into a real partnership as democracy and also democracy in Mongolia needs to be constantly reinforced in today’s context.

And what will we call this partnership? FiDoD?

About Julian Dierkes

Julian Dierkes is a sociologist by training (PhD Princeton Univ) and a Mongolist by choice and passion since around 2005. He teaches in the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He tweets @jdierkes
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