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Nomadic Exercise-23

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

As the geographical location of a region, area, territory or nation in global politics is vital, its strategic location can’t be sidelined from a strategic perspective. Over the ages, such an aspect has been followed by mankind, which continues to dominate in today’s conflict and geopolitics. Whether such a nation is landlocked or located at a remote distance, it can’t escape the ongoing battle for global supremacy and great power politics.


A graphical illustration of India-Mongolia bilateral military exercise.

Illustration by Geostrata


Today, one such region is Central Asia; with Russia’s position in the region remaining strong, growing involvement from China and the West has further dwindled Russian influence. Despite such developments, India maintained a healthy relationship with nations in the region, and its bilateral relationship with Mongolia is historically evident and well-established.


As India became the first nation outside the Soviet bloc to establish diplomatic ties with Mongolia in 1955 and to enhance cooperation, both nations later signed the Treaty of Friendly Relations and Cooperation in 1994.

During India’s PM Modi’s visit to Mongolia in 2015, he stated defence is an important element of bilateral engagement with Mongolia, which resulted in the upgradation of India and Mongolia's ties to a strategic partnership.


India and Mongolia are working to tap the benefits and opportunities the relationship provides. The Nomadic Elephant-23, a joint military exercise, is an important example and notable milestone in the Indo-Mongolian bilateral relationship to deepen defence cooperation in the coming years.


THE NOMADIC EXERCISE-23


Military exercises, cooperation, and alignment of strategic interests are part of a country’s policy to further strengthen its bilateral ties with other nations. On July 17, Mongolia and India began the 15th edition of the Nomadic Elephant exercise - started in 2004 - at Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, which will continue till July 31, 2023.


The annual training event, with the last edition held in India in October 2019, focuses on building positive military relationships, exchanging best military practices, developing interoperability, and establishing bonhomie and friendship between both armies. The Nomadic exercise has become a part of both governments to improve their relationship and cooperation between both governments.


The Nomadic exercise-23 focuses on counter-terrorism operations in the mountainous region under the United Nations (UN) mandate, enhancing both armies’ skills and capabilities. The choice of using the Jammu Kashmir Light Infantry Regiment for the exercise shows India’s intent to enhance and strengthen its armed forces’ anti-terrorism operation capabilities and capacities in the Jammu and Kashmir region.


On the other hand, as terrorism and separatist movements have become an issue in Mongolia, such an exercise will allow Mongolia to gain from India’s knowledge and experience in countering such issues.

During the exercise, both armed forces will engage in endurance training, reflex firing, room intervention, small team tactics, and rock craft training allowing soldiers to learn from each other’s operational experience.


In this regard, the below statement by high-ranking armed personnel is worth noting to understand the exercise’s relevance.


The military exercise “Nomadic Elephant” between India and Mongolia from July 17-31, 2023 in Ulaanbataar, is important for the peace and security of Asia as the two strong militaries of Asia seek to strengthen the military relations and share best military practises to ensure peace and stability in the region. The exercise’s primary focus is counter-terrorism as terrorism is one global issue which is affecting every nation of the world directly or indirectly since it is resulting in deaths of numerous persons apart from destroying billions of dollars’ worth of property. By conducting such a military exercise in China’s backyard, India is sending a strong and stern message to China, apart from a powerful and proper message to the world of India’s growing prowess in the economic and military fields as more and more foreign nations want to conduct military exercises with India to learn from the immense experience of the Indian Armed Forces, which Statista has ranked as the 4th most powerful military in the world in its report published on January 14, 2023.

~ Lt. Col. JS Sodhi (Retd), Indian Army


AIM AND TIMING OF THE EXERCISE

Mongolia is encircled by two authoritative countries, China and Russia, and sits in a strategic position. The democratic structure of India and Mongolia has allowed them to cooperate on issues of mutual interest like cross-border terrorism, climate change energy security etc.


In 2011, to give a boost, during Pratibha Patel’s visit to Mongolia, both nations signed a defence cooperation agreement which gave a fillip to the Indo-Mongolian defence relationship showcasing India’s interest in extending collaboration with Mongolia in the defence sector. As a result, it began the Khaan conquest, a week-long exercise organised by Mongolia, and since then, India has been an active participant in the exercise.


Being democratic countries and having a long historical connection, exercise reflects strong Indo-Mongolian bilateral ties who share a strategic partnership and view defence as a key pillar in their strategic partnership. As India and Mongolia’s Joint Working Group (JWG) reviewed the progress made in the Indo-Mongolian defence cooperation initiative and identified measures to enhance the scope of existing areas of cooperation, which is reflected in statements from respective governments.


In Indo-Mongolian defence cooperation, India's assistance to Mongolia spread from providing special defence training and defence equipment to the Mongolian Armed Forces to having border patrolling cooperation to organise annual the JWG, Khaan Quest and Nomadic Exercise to establish training centres and CSTC. Ongoing Nomadic exercise is a culmination of understanding and strengthening of Indo-Mongolian bilateral ties and defence cooperation.


IS CHINA ON THE RADAR?


The timing of such an exercise isn’t a coincidence as it coincides with the Russia-China joint air and sea drills in the Sea of Japan. Growing defence cooperation and partnership between Russia and China has become visible after the Russia-Ukraine conflict, becoming a concern for the West.


The relationship between India and China has been on a swing in the last few years; the strive China made in South Asia using its diplomatic, military and economic power has alarmed India.

With India getting closer to the US, it cautioned China and pushed it to expand its presence across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with frequent visits by its naval and spying vessels in the IOR in recent years.


The Nomadic Exercise-23 shouldn’t be viewed just as a coincidence as it coincides with the Russia-China military exercise. Such developments highlight nations are aligning their shared interests at a time when the global order is under pressure due to growing great power rivalry.


Considering China’s actions and developments in the Aksai Chin region, Tibet and the Galwan Valley have alarmed the Indian government. To address it India is working strategically with Mongolia to ensure its strategic interest in the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and Central Asian region are secure while ensuring their shared interest to have peace and stability in the region is protected.


Meanwhile, as 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.


China is a major player in the Mongolian economy and has invested heavily in critical sectors like mines and refineries under its Belt and Road Initiative. India is aware that expecting much from Mongolia to checkmate and counter China together is a distant dream due to Chinese interference in Mongolia.

Thus, India is walking cautiously to improve its defence relationship with Mongolia. Despite such, it didn’t stop India and Mongolia from expanding cooperation and strengthening their bilateral ties. Dialogue, cooperation and interaction with Mongolia are vital to India’s outreach to Central and Southeast Asia under its Act East Policy, Mongolia’s semi-counter response to keep an eye on China’s growing ambition will provide India’s leverage against China in the coming times.


CONCLUSION


China’s strong presence in Mongolia continues to expand, and its push to expand its dominance in the Central Asian region is a reality seen from the inaugural China-Central Asia 2023 summit held in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, China, recently.


Such development happened despite Russia’s strong presence highlights in the coming times; India has to walk a fine line to ensure its interest in Central Asia is secured and protected. Mongolia is considered a gateway to Central Asia and provides a window of opportunities to keep a watchful eye on Chinese actions.


India is working to expand its cooperation with Mongolia in trade, education, information technology, culture, energy, diplomacy, education and defence cooperation. Although Mongolia is economically interlinked with China, the Mongolians are concerned about the alleged attempt by China to introduce Hans and do similar things as they did in Tibet and the Xinjiang region.

With Mongolia looking to diversify its external engagement and move away from its traditional partners like China, in such a situation, its relationship with India seems a viable option for Mongolia.

As stated by India’s Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh given the significance of Mongolia in the current security environment in the Central Asian region, there is a need to further upgrade the Indo-Mongolian relationship and move beyond the current strategic partnership. With strategic engagement on the security, defence and foreign policy front growing between India and Mongolia, there is a necessity to formulate an effective strategy.

 

KASHIF ANWAR

Research Contributor

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