India, Mongolia Cosy Up

Joint military counterinsurgency exercises this month are a sign of warming ties between India and Mongolia.

J. Berkshire Miller

New Delhi isn’t resting on its laurels. The Indian Defence Ministry said its military is joining Mongolia in two weeks of joint defence exercises from this week. This year’s exercises are taking place in Mongolia, following a series of bilateral military activities last year in India.

The joint exercises were preceded by a visit from one of the Indian Army’s top brass, Gen. Vijay Kumar Singh, who toured Ulan Bator from September 6 to 8. This marks the second time a high-level Indian official has visited the Mongolian capital within the past two months. In late July, Indian President Pratibha Patil was in Ulan Bator to meet with Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj, where she gushed about the Central Asian state’s emergence as the fastest growing economy in Asia

An estimated 40 Indian troops will take part in the military exercises, which will focus on counterinsurgency training. Last month, Indian troops took part in the sixth annual Khaan Quest, a week-long Mongolian-hosted joint-training exercise aimed at enhancing cooperation between regional militaries. Khaan Quest is regularly attended by democratic nations all over the world, including India, South Korea, Thailand, Japan and the United States.        

The rapid amelioration of Indo-Mongolian security ties was formalized when both countries signed a bilateral defence cooperation agreement during Patil’s visit in July. The pact isn’t overly comprehensive though, as Mongolia remains cautious about getting too cosy with India on defence issues. India, however, seems keen to enhance defence ties rapidly. The rationale behind this is simple—New Delhi believes that it will be more competitive in Mongolia’s lucrative mining and trade sectors if it diversifies its engagement, morphing from investor to strategic partner. 

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Mongolia also has a significant interest in wooing India’s defence expertise. First, enhanced engagement complements Mongolia’s strategy to recruit large markets to ramp up their investments in the country. Of primary interest to India is Mongolia's mineral sector, including significant reserves of coal, copper, gold, and uranium.

Secondly, regional instability in Central Asia remains a concern for Ulan Bator and it’s keen to profit off its reputation as the lead democracy in a land of kleptocrats. Finally—and most important—China’s continued military ascendency and all the implications that go along with this necessitate Mongolia’s outreach to other power brokers in Asia, such as India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States.

J. Berkshire Miller
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J. Berkshire Miller

J. Berkshire Miller is an international affairs professional with significant expertise on security, defense and intelligence issues in the Asia-Pacific region.

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