What Happened: As part of a weeklong trip to Asia, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper stopped Aug. 8 in Mongolia in a bid to strengthen military ties with the country, Reuters reported. Esper said he had no specific goals regarding expanded military engagement, but underscored that the United States wants stronger relations at senior defense levels.
Why It Matters: This is the third engagement between the United States and Mongolia in the past month, including a visit by Mongolian President Khaltmaa Battulga to the United States the week of Aug. 4 and a visit by White House national security adviser John Bolton to Mongolia in June. The country's location between Russia and China makes it an ideal partner for the United States, while Mongolia is interested in diversifying its relations away from its two enormous neighbors. The United States and Mongolia can be expected to expand their military training, joint exercises and defense intelligence sharing. Mongolia's importance to the United States is also growing due to its supplies of rare earth minerals and other metals, though getting these to market would require transiting Russia or China.
Background: Esper is on his first international trip since being confirmed as defense secretary. During this trip, he said in Australia that the United States intends to deploy intermediate-range missiles there, met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe regarding maritime convoys in the Persian Gulf and is expected to raise the issue of sharing the U.S. defense burden in South Korea more equitably with Seoul. Mongolia has been a consistent U.S. military partner, participating in U.S.-led missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and sharing intelligence on North Korea, with which Mongolia also has close relations.
- Mongolia, China: A State Visit and Encouraging Signs for Investors (Oct. 29, 2013)
- Mongolia's Geographic Challenge (June 4, 2012)