Sunday, April 13, 2014

Pentagon Chief, On Mongolia Visit, Vows More Cooperation

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited Mongolia, promising to increase military cooperation with the country and saying that it was a key part of the U.S. "rebalance" to Asia.

Hagel's visit came at the end of a ten-day trip around Asia, which also included stops in China and Japan. He promised to increase cooperation, like joint training. The promise of increased help seemed modest: "As Mongolia invests in defense modernization, the United States will continue to work with our Mongolian partners to improve joint training and exercises," Hagel said in a press conference with his Mongolian counterpart, "And this will include increasing opportunities for Mongolia to observe and participate in multilateral exercises. We will also work together to increase the ability of our forces to work even closer together." The two sides also signed a "joint vision" document formalizing the promise of increased cooperation.

And he framed his visit in geopolitical terms:" A strong U.S.-Mongolia defense relationship is important to America's rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region. I have noted that point in the last 10 days I've been in the region and the minister and I discussed it this afternoon," Hagel said.

"The [joint vision] document is mostly symbolic but is likely to irritate Beijing, which has accused Washington of trying to hold back its rise by cultivating military ties with smaller Asian neighbors," the AFP wrote, which seems accurate.

It's worth noting that Hagel has yet to visit any Central Asian countries (other than a brief stopover at the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan en route to Afghanistan). Mongolia has been a fairly exemplary and unproblematic defense partner, providing lots of international peacekeeping forces while its Central Asian brethren have for the most part failed to get their peacekeeping contributions off the ground. And Mongolia, despite being relatively small and poor, nevertheless has bought American military transport aircraft.

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