Late last week, India and Mongolia agreed to increase their cooperation on defense matters with India promising to help Mongolia increase its capabilities in the areas of special operations, cyber security, bomb disposal, and tactics. A Mongolian delegation traveled to New Delhi to meet Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh. The Mongolian delegation was lead by the Head of General Authority on Border Protection (GABP) of Mongolia, Brigadier General Lkhachinjav. The two countries further stated that they would increase cooperation to prevent transnational crime, according to reports in the Indian press. The Indian delegation included senior officials from the Indian Border Security Force (BSF).
Singh told the Mongolian delegation that the two countries ought to cooperate in the interest of increasing the “effective prevention and detection” of terrorism and crimes including drug trafficking, smuggling, and illegal arms trading, according to the Business Standard. Singh emphasized the commonalities in the terrain where the Mongolian GABP and Indian BSF operate. Singh also noted that the two forces could conduct joint exercises in the future to increase operational, training, and technological exchange. No specific date was set for these exercises.
Though India and Mongolia have had diplomatic relations for some 60 years, the scope of their bilateral cooperation, particularly on security and defense issues, remains limited. Reports in the Indian press are eager to note that both India and Mongolia share borders with China (something the Indian minister mentioned during his remarks to the Mongolian delegation). The inference to be drawn is that India’s offers of assistance to Mongolia could be directed at countering China’s influence over the landlocked Northeast Asian state. This, however, does not square with the current state of affairs between Mongolia and China. The two states continue to increase their bilateral engagement, and their trilateral cooperation with Russia most recently. Mongolia’s increasing cooperation with India, rather, is likely the product of a broader international push by the current government under President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, a leader known for his foreign policy activism.
For India, approaching Mongolia on defense cooperation is a natural part of its “Look East” policy which aims to develop closer relations with East and Southeast Asian states. The Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi set out to recast this policy as the “Act East” policy, indicating a greater desire for actionable deliverables in India’s diplomacy with these countries. The recent agreements with Mongolia should be seen in this context.