This summer, Mongolia will host a number of countries for its annual gathering devoted to strengthening international cooperation and interoperability on peacekeeping initiatives abroad. The exercises, labelled “Khaan Quest,” have been held every year since 2003, and were initially started to bolster a regional approach to counterterrorism.
Last summer, the Mongolian Armed Forces (MAF) and the U.S. Pacific Command conducted a significant joint-training exercise during the gathering. However, the guest list has grown dramatically over the years, and no longer is a cluster of the G-8 and its regional allies. Khaan Quest has organically evolved into a defense gathering between Asia and the West rather than merely “Mongolia and friends.” This year, the exercise will see representatives from China and India as well as a host of developing nations such as Vietnam and Cambodia.
Sino-Mongolian relations have improved under the tenure of Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj’s both economically and politically. Despite this, defense and security cooperation with China is still a sensitive issue for Mongolia, which appeals to nationalist political bluster. China’s participation in Khaan Quest and its annual defense consultations with Ulan Bator are upending these sentiments. China recognizes Mongolia’s increased engagement with the U.S. and NATO, and is anxious to act as hedge and second avenue for the Mongolian government.
India has also taken a great interest in improving its strategic hand with Mongolia. The fundamentals of this relationship are rooted in India’s desire to access Mongolia’s rich mineral wealth. Mongolia, in turn, is interested in tapping into India’s large market share. Bolstering these shared interests is the strategic imperative for both to manage China’s regional pre-eminence. India and Mongolia have committed to sending to military representatives to each other’s country to learn best practices on counterterrorism and peacekeeping.
However, while Khaan Quest is becoming more infused with Asian powers, it remains a stage for Mongolia to display its strategic relationship with the United States and NATO. Earlier this year, NATO approved an Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme with Mongolia marking the formalization of a relationship that has blossomed within the past decade. Cooperation between the two is expected to focus on building up the capacity of the MAF as well as improving interoperability with NATO troops. Mongolia has been steadily improving its ties with NATO through its commitment of troops during the Kosovo conflict and its current efforts in Afghanistan. There more than 100 MAF currently serving in Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force. Mongolia also committed troops to the NATO mission in Kosovo from 2005 to 2007.