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Nomadic Elephant-23: The Significance of Indo-Mongolian Defence Cooperation

Kashif Anwar

The geographical location of a region, area, territory or nation in global politics is critical. Its location must be considered from a strategic perspective. Whether such a nation is landlocked or remote, it can't escape the ongoing battle for global supremacy and great power politics. India became the first nation outside the Soviet bloc to establish diplomatic ties with Mongolia in 1955 and enhance cooperation. This resulted in the upgradation of Indian and Mongolian relations to a strategic partnership.

With Indo-Mongolian bilateral cooperation in trade, defence and cultural interaction yet to blossom, India and Mongolia are working to tap into the benefits and opportunities the relationship provides. The Nomadic Elephant-23, a joint military exercise, illustrates their expanded relationship and a notable milestone in the Indo-Mongolian bilateral defence cooperation in the coming years.

The Joint Military Exercise: The Nomadic Elephant-23

Military exercise, cooperation and alignment of strategic interests are part of a country's policy to strengthen its bilateral relationship with other countries. In its 15th edition, only enhancing both armies' skills and capabilities, the Nomadic Elephant has become a part of solidifying the two nations' relationship and cooperation, as each partner focuses on counter-terrorism operations in the mountainous region under the United Nations mandate.

Using the Jammu Kashmir Light Infantry Regiment shows India's intent to enhance and strengthen its anti-terrorism operation tactics, capabilities and capacities in the Jammu and Kashmir region. On the other hand, as terrorism and separatist movements have become an issue in Mongolia, the exercise will allow them to acquire knowledge and experience from India to counter such problems.

The need for such an exercise

Military exercises over the years have allowed them to expand their collaboration and align their shared commitment to the Central Asian region's security. A recent visit by India's Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, signalling the expanding defence cooperation between India and Mongolia, will deepen their multifaceted strategic partnership. 

The exercises occur when the West and China try to increase their influence in Central Asia. The activity is seen as a way for India to expand its reach and impact in China's backyard in a public fashion. China has been increasing its economic and political power in Mongolia recently. Therefore, a military exercise with India is seen as a way for Mongolia to counterbalance China's influence and to demonstrate that it is not a Chinese puppet state.

Analysing the Exercise: Is China on the radar?

The timing of the Nomadic exercise isn't a coincidence; it coincides with the Russia-China joint air and sea drills in the Sea of Japan. With Russia and China aligning their interest in East Asia vis-à-vis Russia accustoming itself to China's growing influence, it highlights the understanding between, and accommodations made by, both nations. The simultaneous activity intends to highlight that India and Mongolia are aligning their shared interests when the global order is under pressure due to the growing US-China great power rivalry.

As the relationship between India and China has been on a swing in the last few years, especially after the Galwan Valley incident, such a joint exercise will strategically secure India's interest in the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and India's position in Central Asia. From there, the nation can have an eye on China.

Meanwhile, whilst Mongolia is considered a bulwark against Chinese presence in the Inner Asian region, expansion and strengthening of defence and military cooperation between India and Mongolia will remain limited as Mongolia is tied to China.

India knows that expecting Mongolia to checkmate and counter China together is a distant dream due to Chinese interference in Mongolia. Thus, India is moving slowly as it improves its defence relationship with Mongolia, expanding cooperation and strengthening their bilateral ties. 

Mongolia's dependence on trade with China didn't stop the nation from diversifying its trade and investment with other countries. As India continues to provide a line of credit to Mongolia to upgrade its infrastructure, in 2022, India invested US$ 1 billion near Sainshand in Southern Dornogovi in Mongolia to build an oil refinery which will cater for 75% of the energy requirements of Mongolia.

As dialogue, cooperation, and interaction with Mongolia are vital for India's outreach to Central and Southeast Asia, under its Act East Policy, Mongolia's semi-counter response - designed to keep an eye on China's growing ambition - will provide India with leverage against China in the coming years.


China's strong presence in Mongolia continues to expand and the country is asserting its dominance in Central Asia. Mongolia, seen as India's gateway to Central Asia, military cooperation allows India to be visible in the region, to watch Chinese actions and respond to them accordingly. However, as Mongolia is economically interlinked with China, India is also working to expand its cooperation with Mongolia in trade, education, information technology, culture, energy and diplomacy, as well as defence cooperation.

With Mongolia looking to diversify its international engagement and move away from its traditional partnership with China, its growing ties with India seem viable, if not essential. Mongolia and India are pushing to upgrade Indo-Mongolian strategic and defence cooperation in the face of Chinese regional power.

Image: ANI News

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