Published on Thursday, August 31, 2000 in the Philadelphia Inquirer
Pressing A Case For Antinuclear Status
Mongolia's U.N. envoy is spearheading the effort. World giants worry about the precedent
by Steve Goldstein
NEW YORK - How can remote, underdeveloped, peaceful Mongolia (population, 2.6 million) pose a threat to the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France (population, 1.5 billion)?
The answer is a lesson in why diplomats are never out of work.
Mongolia's ambassador to the United Nations has launched a campaign that is both quixotic and compelling - especially for other small nations interested in taking on the global giants.
He is trying to win a guarantee from the five permanent members of the Security Council that Mongolia can be the world's first individual nation designated as a nuclear-weapons-free zone.
The issue may be discussed during next week's U.N. Millennium Summit, an unprecedented gathering expected to draw more than 150 heads of state and government to a three-day convocation on the challenges of the 21st century.
Formal recognition of Mongolia as a nuclear-weapons-free zone would mean not only a prohibition on basing nukes on its territory, but also that no weapons could be shipped through the country, and they might even be barred from its airspace.
The leader of the push, Mongolia's ambassador, Enkhsaikhan Jargalsaikhany, has already made a name for himself here - and he's forced his colleagues to learn how to pronounce it.
In his nearly four-year tenure, Enkhsaikhan has served as vice president of the General Assembly, chairman of its legal committee, and chairman of the 30-nation group of Landlocked Developing Countries.
He has been the lead representative in developing "principles of negotiation" that protect the rights of smaller nations from being bulldozed by larger, more powerful countries.
In 1998, Enkhsaikhan - Mongolians traditionally use only a single name - scored his most impressive success when the General Assembly adopted a resolution giving Mongolia nuclear-weapon-free status.
Now, he wants the five permanent Security Council members to endorse the same status.
Fresh from a trip to Geneva to meet with the five, Enkhsaikhan remained hopeful. He said, however, that he had encountered deep-seated concern that a Mongolian zone would encourage other countries to apply, and thus limit freedom of movement for the nuclear powers.
"They [the P-5] are worried about setting what they called a dangerous precedent," Enkhsaikhan said during an interview at the Mongolian mission on the Upper East Side.
What could be dangerous about banning nuclear weapons?
Bracketed by Russia and China, Mongolia is only a decade removed from its 70-year domination by the Soviet Communist empire.
Until 1992, when the last Russian troops left Mongolia's territory, Soviet nuclear weapons were based at a site about 20 miles from the capital, Ulan Bator, and in the southern part of the country, near the border. The devices were trained on Beijing. China, in turn, targeted these bases with its weapons.
Although Mongolia's first freely elected president declared Mongolia a nuclear-weapons-free zone, the country set about trying to gain international recognition for this status. The first step was the General Assembly resolution.
Mongolia would be the first single state to win such a designation. There are multination nuclear-weapons-free zones currently in Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America.
If Mongolia sets a precedent for a single state, then other nations such as New Zealand, Canada and Nepal might seek the same designation.
"We support the U.N. resolution and, in light of Mongolia's unique geographical situation, we've taken the further step of negotiating a formal statement from the P-5 that follows up on the resolution," a U.S. official said yesterday.
The statement should be forthcoming in the next few weeks, the official said. He conceded that it would not go quite as far in providing security assurances as the Mongolians would have liked.
Amin Tarzi, a nuclear specialist with the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif., said the nuclear powers were worried this designation would hurt their defense capabilities. New Zealand, for instance, already bars nuclear-powered ships from its harbors.
"I don't think the Mongolians will get their wish of official implementation of this resolution," said Tarzi. "The P-5 countries are saying it's a wonderful idea. But privately they are worried about the precedent."
Enkhsaikhan said Mongolia needed the security provisions that a nuclear-weapons-free zone would offer. It is a landlocked country, with access to the sea only through Russia and China.
"We have good relations with Russia and China," he said, "but that doesn't mean we're problem-free."
Enkhsaikhan has lived with these problems his entire life. His father, Bayar, was ambassador to China and established Mongolia's mission to the United Nations in 1962, where his 12-year-old son first learned English.
After returning to Mongolia, Enkhsaikhan was dispatched to Moscow's elite diplomacy school, the Institute for International Relations, and later earned his doctorate in international law.
Despite his youth, Enkhsaikhan became the second-ranking official at the Mongolian Embassy in Moscow in 1988. Three years later, he played a bit part in a historic drama, the attempted coup against the Gorbachev government.
On the second day of the coup, Enkhsaikhan was contacted by some of his old schoolmates, aides to then-Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin, who was leading the anti-coup forces. The aides asked for his help and fax machines in sending out translations of Yeltsin's decrees to Asian nations to demonstrate that the government forces were still in charge.
The coup failed two days later.
Shortly after he arrived in New York in 1997 as ambassador, Enkhsaikhan began drawing the attention of his colleagues. Speaking seven languages doesn't hurt.
He soon won appointment as chairman of the legal committee, which considers reports from U.N. bodies dealing with such issues as terrorism or international legal affairs, then adopts resolutions that are recommended to the General Assembly for approval.
"He was an excellent chairman. He has a very nice personality and he was very good at getting people to reach consensus," said Manuel Rama Montaldo, the deputy secretary of the committee.
Enkhsaikhan eventually spearheaded the drafting of principles of negotiation, which declare that all states are equal, and that no undue pressure should be used by large nations against the less powerful.
"He was very active and effective in negotiating that document," said Rama Montaldo, noting the difficulty of getting the General Assembly to support any resolution.
Enkhsaikhan performed an even more impressive diplomatic feat when he persuaded New York City officials to stage a Festival in Mongolia in Central Park this summer. The event drew more than 25,000 visitors.
And he has even learned a bit about the Manhattan real-estate market.
"Recently, I was offered $8 million for this building, which my father purchased in the 1960s for $220,000," said Enkhsaikhan.
He declined the offer. "I'm sure the value is only going to go up," he said with a smile.
Copyright 2000 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc