The article is originally published in Royal Society for Asian Affairs blog at 


On 6 February 2023, a devastating earthquake struck southern and central Türkiye. In response to the disaster, many nations sent teams of rescue professionals to save lives in a race against time. The Mongolian military forward medical team was one of the international first responders deployed to the incident in order to deliver critical medical support to the local population. Military doctors and nurses used their experience from peacekeeping missions to help victims of the disaster and to express solidarity with Türkiye. Today Mongolia deploys around 900 troops across nine United Nations peacekeeping missions around the globe, among the top twenty contributors to international peacekeeping Mongolia in central to international efforts.

The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in a complete withdrawal of Soviet troops from its satellite Mongolia. Without the military alliance and mutual defense obligations of the 1966 treaty with the Soviet Union, Mongolia faced a critical decision in order to secure its future, it chose neutrality. In 1992, the newly formed Mongolian parliament approved a new constitution alongside new national security and foreign policy documents. These new policy documents highlighted Mongolia’s decision to pursue a neutral, open and peaceful foreign policy focused on political and diplomatic efforts and restricting access to the country to foreign military forces and prohibiting the country from joining military alliances. Throughout the 20th century, Mongolia learned to balance between its two neighbouring giants in order to sustain its independence and neutrality. In the years following independence the country also declared its territory a single-state nuclear weapons free zone and joined the Non-Aligned Movement.

Because of its unique geopolitical position, both China and Russia aimed to avoid third party military activity in Mongolia and steer the government in Ulaanbaatar away from any commitment to military activities other than United Nations peacekeeping. Under the peacekeeping umbrella, Mongolia has seized the opportunity to develop military ties with neighbouring countries and others and the Mongolian Armed Forces have taken advantage of opportunities for bilateral military and defence cooperation. By actively supporting UN peacekeeping efforts and pursuing its policy of neutrality through the international bodies and mechanisms of the UN, Mongolia has been able to defend its sovereignty and enhance its international profile.

Effectively contributing to peacekeeping missions has been a challenge for Mongolia’s small armed forces equipped with old Soviet made weapons systems. In 2003 however, the government decided to deploy a infantry company alongside military engineers and doctors to support the US-led military operation in Iraq. Tasked with supporting humanitarian efforts following the US invasion and not engaging in combat duties the force was able to contribute meaningful and effective support to the operation.  The following year, Mongolian field artillery officers were deployed to Afghanistan to train and assist the Afghan national army. Between 2003 to 2008, roughly 2000 Mongolian troops were deployed to Iraq, this served as training for those troops and enhanced Mongolia’s relations with the United States. In 2005, US President George W. Bush embarked on a state visit to thank Mongolia for its contribution to the coalition operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Following deployment in Iraq, Mongolia’s involvement in coalition missions gradually increased. In 2006, infantry troops were deployed to Kosovo alongside Belgian troops under the KFOR mandate and in 2010 two infantry companies were stationed in Kabul, an infantry platoon provided security for the military side of Kabul airport and a team of instructors trained Afghan Air Force personnel on the Russian made Mil Mi-17 helicopter. This culminated later in the year in NATO recognising Mongolia as a partner country.

In Sierra-Leone, the United Nations established an international court tasked with prosecuting individuals responsible for war crimes during the civil war there. In 2005, Mongolia deployed a military contingent tasked with protecting the court. Sierra-Leone was a turning point in Mongolia-UN relations, consolidating the constructive and successful relationship that had developed between the Mongolian Armed Forces and UN Department of Peace Operations. Collaboration and cooperation continued between 2009-2010 when Mongolia deployed an infantry battalion into war-torn Chad whilst at the same time establishing and running a field hospital stationed in Darfur as a part of the UN–African Union operation. In 2011, Mongolia began its largest deployment of 850 personnel (a battalion) to newly independent South Sudan. Since, 2002 more than 400 army and police officers have been deployed to almost all UN missions as staff officers, liaison officers, mission experts and military observers.

In May 2022, Mongolia observed its 20th anniversary of participation in peacekeeping. Within those twenty years the country has gone from being a passive military observer to deploying infantry battalions into active conflict situations. Mongolia continues to enhance its presence in UN peacekeeping, recently pledging an infantry battalion, quick reaction force company, engineering company and a field hospital team to the UN Peacekeeping Capability Readiness System. During the pandemic, Mongolia also successfully conducted remote UN inspections for the first time and the Five Hills Peace training centre in Mongolia received official recognition as a centre conducting UN standard training. In January 2024, the UN Secretary-General appointed Major-General Batsuuri Erdenebat as a commander of the United Nations Peacekeeping force in Cyprus.

In support of the United Nations policy to implement the Woman, Peace and Security agenda, the General Staff of the Mongolian Armed Forces hosted an in-person international conference on female peacekeepers with over sixty female peacekeepers from around the globe present and with UN Under-Secretary General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix also in attendance. 2022 also saw Mongolia host exercise Khaan Quest a multinational peacekeeping exercise which consolidated Mongolia’s position as one of the largest and most effective contributors of troops after two decades of commitment to peacekeeping.

Since the COVID pandemic, Mongolia has hosted or taken part in several multinational and bilateral military exercises. Along with the US Indo-Pacific Command, exercise Khaan Quest provided an opportunity to bring most of the Asia-Pacific militaries together under the UN’s blue flag to enhance multinational interoperability, build military to military relationships and develop peace operation capabilities. Unusually, troops from China, Japan, South Korea and the United States trained together in this UN exercise while Russian army representatives joined drills as observers.

From the flank of the Soviet Far East theatre, the Mongolian military has transformed itself and played an important role in international security with the aim of finding a long lasting solution for its own security. While major power geopolitical competition between Russia, China and the West still poses a challenge for Mongolia, it is not in the same position as it was in the 1960s. Its demonstrated neutral position and proven ability to balance cooperation between multiple powers shows how Mongolia can avoid confrontation and continue to promote security, cooperation and peace.

The opinions expressed are those of the contributor, not of the RSAA.

Similar Posts