The Advent of Artificial Intelligence: Ask Stephen Hawking about it.

A receptionist robot performs during a demonstration for the media at the new hotel, aptly called Henn na Hotel or Weird Hotel, in Sasebo, southwestern Japan, Wednesday, July 15, 2015. From the receptionist that does the check-in and check-out to the porter that’s a stand-on-wheels taking luggage up to the room, the hotel, that is run as part of Huis Ten Bosch amusement park, is “manned” almost totally by robots to save labor costs. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

A receptionist robot performs during a demonstration for the media at the new hotel, aptly called Henn na Hotel or Weird Hotel, in Sasebo, southwestern Japan, Wednesday, July 15, 2015. From the receptionist that does the check-in and check-out to the porter that’s a stand-on-wheels taking luggage up to the room, the hotel, that is run as part of Huis Ten Bosch amusement park, is “manned” almost totally by robots to save labor costs. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

Renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking is set to do his first AMA (Ask Me Anything) forum on Reddit today, from Monday July 27 at 8AM Eastern Time through Tuesday, August 4. He plans to discuss his concerns that artificial intelligence could one day outsmart mankind if we are not careful.

You can find the details about it in the article linked below.

http://www.cnet.com/news/stephen-hawking-to-answer-your-questions-via-his-first-reddit-ama/

With driverless car possibly becoming a reality within our lifetime, the exponential rate of innovation have made us rethink what we can and can’t achieve. The topic of sentient AI is ever pervasive in the media with numerous illustrations across all mediums. The question that is on everyone’s mind is, can we seriously hope to create a “friendly AI”?

Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX has likened the development of AI to “summoning of the devil.” I suppose it is the sign of the times indicative of how far we have come and how close we actually are to Artificial Intelligence having an impact on our daily lives.

The notion of artificial intelligence in relation to human civilization is not a new phenomenon. It has existed as early as 1920s when Czech science fiction writer Karel Čapek coined the term “robot” in his play R.U.R. Few decades later, the three laws of robotics was developed by famous science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in his 1942 short story “Runaround”.

The 3 laws being:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Although these laws have its roots in science fiction, they have gained some traction in genuine AI research. The popular culture is abundant with depictions of artificial intelligence both benevolent and malevolent coexisting with humans. And as we near this monumental paradigm shift, the hard question we must ask ourselves is, can we trust artificial being that may well evolve and deem us obsolete?

In any case, the best thing we can do is educate ourselves so we can ask better questions. Below is an infographic that will hopefully will shed some light on what is at stake.

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Science of Climate Change Denial: Wilful Ignorance vs Economic Self Interest

globalwarmingdenier-flickr-credit bvcphoto-thumb-480xauto-1902

As the popular saying goes, “a lie that is repeated enough eventually becomes the truth“. This quote is most often attributed to Joseph Goebbels, the Propaganda Minister of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party or the Nazi Party. Whether the validity of the attribution is true, this observation demonstrates the tendency of the masses to believe whole heartedly in postulations that involve them emotionally, regardless of scientific evidence.

The Scientific Consensus

At this point in time, the consensus among scientists points to the fact that we are indeed affecting the planet’s temperature through man made carbon emission. The exponential industrialization the civilizations of the world have experienced over the last century have also exponentially increased the amount of carbon dioxide that we release onto the atmosphere.

NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

According to the latest United Nations backed Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic (resulting from human activity) greenhouse gas concentrations”. The delicate nature of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can influence Earth’s climate due to the “greenhouse effect”.

The greenhouse effect is a process by which thermal radiation from a planetary surface is absorbed by atmospheric greenhouse gases, and is re-radiated in all directions. Since part of this re-radiation is back towards the surface and the lower atmosphere, it results in an elevation of the average surface temperature above what it would be in the absence of the gases. This in turn leads to positive feedback loops of the melting polar ice caps and thawing-out of the permafrost to perpetuate the already increasing carbon dioxide levels.

CO2 is produced by fossil fuel (oil,coal and gas) burning and other activities such as cement production and tropical deforestation. Measurements of CO2 from the Mauna Loa observatory show that concentrations have increased from about 313ppm (parts per million) in 1960 to about 389 ppm in 2010. It reached the 400ppm milestone on May 9, 2013.

Willful Ignorance vs Economic Self Interest

To some segment of the population, the idea of man made climate change is utterly preposterous.  This small but loud minority are the first to condemn any environmental regulation proposal citing various pseudo-scientific research and of course going with that “good ole’ gut feeling”.

If we take a step back and examine the majority of the scientific research that the climate change denier’s cite, we find that most of them are authored and produced by special interest groups that benefit directly from more lax environmental regulation.

Irrefutably, one of the champions of climate change denial are the Koch brothers. Charles and David Koch are the majority shareholders of the Koch Industries, a massive conglomerate ranked as the second largest, privately owned company in America. The brothers whose individual net worth is $40 billion each, built their fortune in fossil fuels and industrial chemicals.

It might come as no surprise then that the Koch brothers allocate a considerable portion of their enormous income to funding a political campaign against every kind of environmental or other regulation that might get in the way of their often lucrative profits. In fact the Koch brothers have used their money and influence to create an extensive network of think tanks, foundations, lobbyists and tame politicians to push their agenda.

10300798_764582836920438_5986114371444755666_nAs it stands currently, the Koch brothers are firmly at the center of the Republican power base with their far reaching money and influence being responsible for the lobbying of the far right political rhetoric.

The list of right wing and free market groups they have used their vast fortune to support is many but it includes the Cato Institute which Charles cofounded in 1977, the American Enterprise Institute, the George C Marshall Institute, the Reason Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute and Americans for Prosperity, founded by David Koch himself and which spent $40million for the 2010 Congressional elections alone. Also, one of their front groups, Americans for Progress have played a critical role in instigating the funding for the Tea Party movement.

It is almost morbidly fascinating how the Koch brothers have managed to persuade the people that are most harmed by their agenda that, in fact, it is actually beneficial to them. Now that is a propaganda that even Joseph Goebbels would be proud of.

Conclusion

When asked about global warming and ardent climate change denial stance taken by the many in the position of power, the renowned astro-physicist Neil DeGrase Tyson said “Everyone is entitled to a personal opinion, but those in a position of power have a responsibility to rely on something more than faith.

The fact of the matter is that climate change is real and it is happening. Unless we curb our reliance on fossil fuels significantly over the next few decades, the likelihood of catastrophic event is all but guaranteed.

So what can we do?

We must explore and proliferate all form of sustainable method of harvesting energy, whether that be nuclear, solar, wind or geothermal. I believe that each source has its place in the energy matrix of tomorrow.

So are we completely screwed? 

At the moment, the prospects seem bleak but I believe in the ingenuity and science of human ebings. As H.G Wells said in his iconic novel published in 1914, World Set Free; “The history of mankind is the history of the attainment of external power. Man is the tool-using, fire-making animal. . . . Always down a lengthening record, save for a set-back ever and again, he is doing more.

Sources:

http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/co2_data_mlo.html

http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg1/ar4-wg1-chapter7.pdf

Protectionism in a Globalized World: Is Free Trade Really Free?

"John Bull Kicking Away the Ladder" Canadian caricature poking fun at the hypocritical relationship United Kingdom had with her colonies in regards to economic self development. 18 June 1870,

“John Bull Kicking Away the Ladder” Canadian caricature poking fun at the hypocritical relationship United Kingdom had with her colonies in regards to economic self development. 18 June 1870,

Background

If you look throughout human history, we have been motivated to innovate by variety of different factors. Over our 10,000 year journey we have established ourselves at the top of the food chain and we never looked back since. Upon closer inspection, three main motivators particularly stand out.

Firstly, motivation for appeasement of a deity or royalty have induced us to build countless wonders such as the pyramids and the churches and castles of Europe. Not so much relevant in the modern world. Secondly, humans have been motivated to modernize at the prospect of war. Through recognition of war, we have built the Great Wall or commence the Manhattan Project. Thirdly, we have been spurred to advance at an expectation of economic returns. For the promise of profit humans have been driven to innovate. The silk road or the “New World” were founded upon such provocations.

Based on above, we can see how all the great feats we have accomplished have been motivated by one or all three factors. By the dawn of 18th century, extensive world trade and colonization, the histories of most civilizations had become substantially converged giving rise to what we know as globalization. In the last quarter-millennium, the rate of growth in population, knowledge, technology, commerce, weapons destructiveness and environmental degradation has exponentially accelerated, creating opportunities and perils that now confront the planet’s human societies.

Introduction

These instrumental last two century has been shaped by the Anglo-American sphere of influence due to the innovation and expansion they have achieved in pursuit of the latter two of the three motivators. Through its influence, the Anglo-American sphere has spread its culture and its ideologies and have fashioned the world’s move to globalization according to their interests.

The geo-political landscape has essentially remained static until the recent phenomenon, ‘the rise of the rest’. Out of this rise, China has been the only one to elbow themselves into the world power structure due to their industrial capacity and its economic volume.

According to the popular narrative, besides the key exports of ‘democracy and capitalism’, the Anglo-American sphere’s greatest gift to world is the economic policy of ‘free trade’. In the name of ‘free trade’, its opposite ‘protectionism’ has been demonized by most developed nations.

In this paper, I will closely examine the cultural history of the dichotomy between protectionism and free trade and how its utilization have shaped the developed world. More specifically, I will focus my report on is the current rise of renewables, specifically photovoltaic or solar energy as a fledgling industry and the clash of cultures that have been occurring as a result. And finally, I will analyze the current backdrop of the geo-political and socio-economic scene where the future history will be written.

With that being said, I want to analyze the trends of protectionism that can be seen in European and American markets in response to the influx of cheaply manufactured Chinese solar panels. Moreover, I want to critically look at the roots of this political and economic reality through the lens of culture and identify the middle ground where nations and economies can coexist and compete without driving each other into the ground.

Race for Renewables

Over the last few years, economies across the world, especially developed nations, have looked to expand the use of renewable energy sources. As it becomes more apparent that our exponential growth is having a negative effects on our environment, the need and call for sustainable sources of energy has been becoming more vocal. Across the globe, players have been jockeying for the position of prominence in this developing sector. According to data compiled by the Renewable Energy Policy Network, the “total investment in renewable energy reached $257 billion in 2011, up from $211 billion in 2010.”

The top countries for investment in 2011 were China, Germany, Spain, the United States, Italy, and Brazil. Continued growth for the renewable energy sector and promotional policies helped the industry weather the 2009 economic crisis better than many other sectors. Out of the lot, two economies that have persevered to become a major players in the renewable energy sector are United States and China. Besides the fact that both governments highly subsidize and protect their domestic renewable sectors, each country traveled a different road to this summit. United States have achieved this position due to their bleeding edge R & D sector and its investment environment. On the other hand, China using its industrial capacity and the intellectual properties of others to establish a vast solar panel manufacturing industry.

History of Protectionism

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, protectionism by definition is a “policy of protecting domestic industries against foreign competition by means of tariffs, subsidies, import quotas, or other restrictions or handicaps placed on the imports of foreign competitors.” In contrast, “free trade, also called laissez-faire, a policy by which a government does not discriminate against imports or interfere with exports by applying tariffs (to imports) or subsidies (to exports).

In the industrial era, (usually dated starting in the 1800s) protectionism as an economic instrument have been utilized by various nations across the globe. With the onset of “Industrial Revolution”, Great Britain catapulted itself as the first true global power. With assets in all five continents and the navy to enforce their rule on the high sea, Great Britain’s ascent to prominence is well documented. With that being said, it is easy to assume that Great Britain reached this zenith by employing free trade policies. However, upon closer inspection of the country’s history and economic policies, it is clear that Great Britain participated variety of initiatives to protect their infant-industries whether that be through import tariffs or export subsidies.

According to Ha-Joon Chang, an economics professor at Cambridge University “Britain entered its post-feudal age (thirteenth to fourteenth centuries) as a relatively backward economy. It relied on exports of raw wool and, to a lesser extent, of low-value-added wool cloth to the then more advanced Low Countries. Edward III (1312–1377) is believed to have been the first king who deliberately tried to develop local wool cloth manufacturing. He only wore English cloth to set an example, brought in the Flemish weavers, centralized trade in raw wool, and banned the import of woollen cloth.”

These policies had continuation under the Tudor monarchs. Daniel Defoe, the world famous merchant, politician and the author of the novel, Robinson Crusoe was contemporary of these events. He recounted in his book A Plan of the English Commerce about the numerous measures the Tudors took to elevate England from a raw-wool exporter into the most prominent wool manufacturing nation in the world.

According to Defoe “from 1489, Henry VII implemented schemes to promote wool manufacturing, which included sending royal missions to identify locations suited to wool manufacturing; poaching skilled workers from the Low Countries ; increasing duties on the export of raw wool; and even temporarily banning the export of raw wool.”

Despite its widening technological lead over other countries, Britain continued its policies of industrial promotion until the mid-nineteenth century. It was only after 1860 that most tariffs were abolished. However, the era of free trade did not last very long. It ended when Britain finally acknowledged that it had lost its manufacturing eminence and re-introduced tariffs on a large scale in 1932.

Friedrich List, the nineteenth-century German economist succinctly put his observation in his famous quote:

“It is a very common clever device that when anyone has attained the summit of greatness, he kicks away the ladder by which he has climbed up, in order to deprive others of the means of climbing up after him. In this lies the secret of the cosmopolitical doctrine of Adam Smith, and of the cosmopolitical tendencies of his great contemporary William Pitt, and of all his successors in the British Government administrations. Any nation which by means of protective duties and restrictions on navigation has raised her manufacturing power and her navigation to such a degree of development that no other nation can sustain free competition with her, can do nothing wiser than to throw away these ladders of her greatness, to preach to other nations the benefits of free trade, and to declare in penitent tones that she has hitherto wandered in the paths of error, and has now for the first time succeeded in discovering the truth”

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BC Elections 2013: Vote for our Future

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BC Election 2013 is tomorrow. Regardless of who you are supporting, I urge you guys to exercise your democratic right and go out there and VOTE.

I know right now it is real popular to hate Christy Clarke but populism is not always the right answer. Case in point, the last Presidential Elections in France. The people wanted change despite that change being not necessarily right for society. The people wanted to punish UMP’s Nikolas Sarkozy for not doing enough (even though the strategies and policies he implemented would take time to kick in) by propping up The Socialist Party’s Francois Hollande.

One year after the elections and look where France is. Hollande promised to restore French competitiveness by reversing job losses and ending austerity. Instead, they have even higher unemployment rate, stagnating economic growth, disappearing investments and fringe radicals getting more attention.

I am a pragmatist and I want to live in a province that encourages innovation and nurtures entrepreneurial spirit not curb it by pandering to special interests groups. Will the NDP policies of higher income/business/investment taxes, bigger government, and fatter public sector help the private sector create jobs and attract investment?

I know most people are disenchanted and jaded by the provincial politics but change for the sake of change is not the answer.

This is why I am voting for BC Liberals.

Studying Abroad: Is it Really Worth it?

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Is studying abroad really worth it? Are all the costs associated with living in an another country for a certain period of time worth its value in education and experience?

Well that was the question our professor, Claire Booth asked our Market Research class for our end semester project. As a student who have participated in a student mobility program, the answer was simple, YES. The four months that I spent in Vienna, Austria for schooling at FH-Wien was perhaps the best decision I have made in my life. I managed to visit 10 different countries, 13 different cities in the span of 4 months all the while completing 12 credits or 4 classes worth of credits. Along the way, I got to experience the rich history that dates back thousands of years and see the actual authentic culture that has characterized western development for years, with my own eyes. En voyage, I got to try the local cuisines of many different places and closely inspected all the local favourite drinks as I explored the European nightlife. But most importantly, I was fortunate enough to meet and share stories with people from all walks of life from all across the globe. Now I can proudly say that I have friends from Auckland, New Zealand out to Oakland, U.S.A, from Paris, France to Accra, Ghana. And if need be, I have couch to crash on should I decide to travel. So was it worth it to me? Absolutely. But do other students feel the same way?

Thats what we set to find out.

For the purposes of this project, we conducted both qualitative and quantitative research. For the qualitative portion, we administered a ‘focus group’ with four students who have paritcipated in student mobility programs. And for the quantitative portion of our research, we programmed a survey through surveygizmo.com and fielded it for a week. When we closed the survey, we had 49 respondents from a list of 100 students that have participated in student mobility program beforehand. Our class was provided all the resources we required to conduct this research by the University.

You can take a look at our findings right here:

 

 

And upon analysis of our findings, it is apparent that the Study Abroad Program is a hit. There was a significant increase in the awareness of students, regarding the host country’s politics and economy and a better understanding of the cultural context.

The most common outcome (although there were others) was that each participant gained significant self-confidence. Many expressed that they now felt able to seek out challenges, because if they could study abroad and cope in a foreign language environment away from their support network, they felt they could do almost anything. Many of the other themes had more of a chicken/egg effect. Did the students with a wider perspective choose to go on exchange or did they gain that from their experience abroad?

Few undergraduate experiences inspire more fervent advocacy than study abroad. These arguments seem increasingly compelling today as a growing list of economic, environmental, and technological challenges underscore our need for a more globally savvy and culturally interconnected populace.

But beneath the appealing allure lies a perplexing reality: Despite annual press releases touting another “record” number of students abroad, the actual proportion of college students overseas has remained virtually unchanged. And as higher-education enrollments have grown more diverse, the demographic profile of those studying abroad continues to be mostly “white and female”.

If study abroad is critical to the future success of our students and our society, why hasn’t it become more common among undergraduates? Maybe, despite increased investment in study abroad, other obstacles continue to severely limit participation. Or maybe current marketing messages about the value of study abroad work more like a dog whistle audible to those tuned to an internationalist frequency than like a megaphone that can be heard by everyone. Even worse, what if we’ve oversold the benefits of study abroad, and everyone sees it but us?

North American study abroad programs usually portray language and culture skills as the end goal. I think our students don’t neccesarily share that goal, so they either can’t be bothered or they go along for the entertainment value or the status upgrade that study abroad brings. Upon return, their war stories and personal enrichment persuade few of their peers to follow.

If we want to turn the personal enrichments that study abroad brings into a more general social good, we should do 2 things:

1) Start programs in relevant foreign languages early while the process is still natural and fun, before languages become one more source of confusion in construction of a social identity.  Evidence seems to show such early experience often sticks, even if students later switch languages.

2) Promote bilingualism as a skill available to all and a tool for EVERY career, not as a goal on its own.  As Europe’s Erasmus study abroad program shows, students in business, STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), social science, and humanities all benefit from studying and working in the language with it’s native speakers, not just on “language and culture.”

Green Future in Mongolia, Real and Substantial Prospect.

Salkhit will use GE 1.6MW wind turbines

I am sure, if you have been reading my blog, you realize that I talk about Mongolia quite often. Well, half of this can attributed to the fact that I was born and raised in Mongolia and I most certainly take pride in my heritage. The other half, is the fact that I see tremendous potential in the country’s future. Besides the more obvious opportunities in the natural resource sector, there are vast potential in other sectors of the economy. It is imperative for the economy of Mongolia to not fall under the “Dutch Curse”, an economic condition whereby the growth is mainly influenced by the natural resource sector. The economy’s over reliance on natural resources can lead to other sectors of the economy to be uncompetitive and stagnant.

Therefore, it is very important for public and the private sector to diversify their portfolio. After all, Mongolia has become ‘the fastest growing economy’ and the potential for other business development ventures, much needed urban planning and clean technology is as the Mongolians say, ‘blue as the sky’.

Here is a very intriguing interview with President of Mongolia, Elbegdorj with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

amanpour-mongolia-tsakhiagiin-elbegdorj.cnn

According to Chisake Watanabe of Bloomberg,

$20 BILLION FDI INTO MONGOLIA

  • SoftBank Corp, Japanese mobile phone company planning to invest $20 billion in Sprint Nextel Corp, plans to develop wind power projects in Mongolia.
  • Newcom is Mongolian telecommunications company with investments in clean tech.
  • This follows recent deal involving EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development)FMO (Netherlands Development Finance Company) and Mongolia.

FUTURE OF CLEAN TECH IN MONGOLIA

  • Sites in the Gobi desert which may have a capacity of as much as 300 megawatts of wind power.
  • Should Softbank and Newcom decide to build there, operations may start in 2014.

PLANS FOR “ASIA SUPER GRID”

  • SoftBank President Masayoshi Son has been investing in renewable energy after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
  • “Asia Super Grid” plan to connect power grids from India to Tokyo to allow for stable power supply and boost the use of renewable energy in the region.

“This venture is the first step for the Asia Super Grid plan as Mongolia has the potential to become an energy supply station,”

Masayoshi Son

Although ambitious, the plan for the “Asia Super Grid” could lay down the blueprint for nations to move away from polluting finite energy source to renewable energy sources.

PRECEDENCE FOR PROLIFERATION OF CLEAN TECH IN MONGOLIA

The mechanisms of the deal between ERBD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development)FMO (Netherlands Development Finance Company), Government of Mongolia and the private sector has already been set in motion. The first wind turbine generator(WTG) on Salkhit wind farm was completed on October 2nd, 2012. They expect to have 20 WTG by the end of the year. The Salkhit Windfarm shall provide for energy needs of 100,000 households and save 190,000 tons of coal and 1.6 million tons of water. It shall prevent emission of 200,000 tons of CO2. Potentially, this development effort can supply 20% of energy needs of Mongolia. 

Moreover, the energy harvesting potential in the Gobi desert is vast as well.

Gobi Desert

The Gobi Desert is estimated to be the third largest potential source of solar energy in the world and also experiences steady, strong wind speeds making it ideal for both technologies. It is however, hugely isolated. Desert solar energy could be powering homes in Russia, Japan, and China under plans by Desertec and backed by the Japanese Renewable Energy Foundation

None of this will be done over night, however the potential for Mongolia to be “trailblazer” in the renewable and sustainable clean technology sector is very real.

Work Cited:

Watanabe, C (2012, 10 23) Softbank Plans to Develop Wind Power in Mongolia with Newcom, Bloomberg. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-10-24/softbank-plans-to-develop-wind-power-in-mongolia-with-newcom.html

Mongolia’s Quest for Third Neighbours: Why the European Union?

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Mongolia is beginning to attract more interest from European organisations and institutions. A Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) between Mongolia and the European Union is expected to be concluded soon, and in March 2012, NATO agreed an Individual Partnership and Cooperation Program (IPCP) with Mongolia. In October 2011, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel took time out from dealing with the financial crisis to visit the country, and the OSCE Secretary General visited in June 2012 to discuss Mongolia’s request to become a fully participating member of the organization.

Over the past two decades, European countries and institutions have had limited interest in responding to Ulaanbaatar’s calls for cooperation and partnership because of Mongolia’s remoteness and geostrategic insignificance. But European attitudes are changing, because Mongolia’s sustained commitment to democracy and to creating economic opportunities is aligned with European global objectives, and particularly the EU’s goals in Central Asia. When the EU left Mongolia out of its Strategy for Central Asia in 2007, the European Parliament urged the Council and Commission to reconsider in view of Mongolia’s substantial progress ‘in establishing a state based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the legion’. The Council and the Commission define Central Asia as the five post-Soviet ‘-stans’, but the European Parliament includes Mongolia as part of the Central Asian region.

Mongolia’s inclusion in the EU’s Central Asia Strategy could help the EU in its work of promoting democracy. Mongolia would value the opportunity to develop closer ties with the EU in order to balance the influence of China and Russia and advance its ‘third neighbour’ strategy. This strategy is common to most smaller states in Eurasia that have suffered as a result of the geopolitical interests of their neighbours.

This policy brief explores the reasons for Mongolia’s sustained commitment to European institutions, and especially to the EU. And it discusses the policy implications for Mongolia of a third neighbour partnership with the EU.

Reaching Out to Third Neighbours

Historically, Mongolia has been a geopolitical pivot for Japanese-Russian and Sino-Russian rivalries. Mongolia has been trying to reach out to the U.S., Japan, India and Western Europe for a long time. Up until the late 1980s, all of its attempts were crushed either by Beijing or by Moscow. But in the early 1990s, as Beijing and Moscow were forced to turn their attention to internal struggles and began to behave as benign regional powers, Mongolia succeeded in reaching out to third neighbours.

In essentials, Mongolia’s third neighbour policy is similar to the foreign policies of many other countries. It aims to develop closer political ties with powerful states in order to gain their support and recognition in international and regional politics. It promotes economic cooperation so as to diversify its foreign trade and investment. And it advances cultural ties with other states in areas such as education and religion. Mongolia’s third neighbour policy has one key difference from that of other states: it does not seek to obtain a security umbrella or pledge of mutual defence obligations unless its existence is threatened militarily. This is because of its delicate geostrategic location, neighbouring two great powers. Just as the Soviet military’s presence in Mongolia increased Chinese vulnerability in the past, military activities by third neighbours in Mongolia would trigger concerns in Beijing and Moscow.

Mongolia’s revised National Security Concept says that the third neighbour policy is aimed at developing bilateral and multilateral cooperation with developed democracies in the areas of politics, economy, culture and human security.3 The Foreign Policy Concept names the U.S., Japan, the European Union, India, South Korea and Turkey as Mongolia’s desired third partners.4 This official clarification is a result of two decades of diplomatic efforts to find third neighbours. Most of these states have responded positively to Mongolia’s outreach, but both they and Ulaanbaatar are aware of the limitations of third neighbour status.

Why the European Union?

Mongolia is an integral part of Eurasia, but it is geographically distant from Europe. However, a significant portion of Europe’s shortest air and land bridges to East Asia go through Mongolia’s territory. As a far eastern flank of Central Asia, Mongolia is at the boundary between the nomadic culture and lifestyle of Central Asia and the cultures of East Asia and China. Geographic remoteness and lack of awareness about Mongolia in Western Europe have hindered the development of any partnership between Europe and Mongolia. But European attitudes toward Mongolia have started to change.

Several factors have been critical to bringing about this change in outlook. Mongolia is determined to build an engagement with Europe, and it has kept up its efforts to create linkages ever since official relations were established with the European Union in 1989. Bilateral ties with former countries of the communist bloc and new partners of Europe have played an important role in generating support for Mongolia in Europe. Mongolia’s commitment to democracy has made the EU look more favourably on the country’s attempts to build relations. And Mongolia’s mining boom and economic growth have captured the attention of political and business interests in Europe.

A Trade and Cooperation Agreement was signed between the EU and Mongolia in 1993 and Mongolia became eligible for the Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS) programme in 1994. In 2001, the European Commission adopted its first Country Strategy Paper on Mongolia, outlining the EU’s priorities in dealing with the country. Three years later, Mongolia was granted a Generalized System of Preferences. The EU opened a Technical Office in Ulaanbaatar in 2006, when Mongolia joined the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). In the same year, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) became active in Mongolia. Mongolia’s repeated calls for cooperation with the EU, along with support from Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Bulgaria and others, resulted in negotiations on a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement in September 2009. The agreement is expected to be finalised this year.

For Mongolia, the EU is the ideal ‘third neighbour’. In contrast to engagement with India, Japan or the U.S, Mongolia’s partnership with the EU should not set off any strategic concerns in Beijing or Moscow. Mongolia has had traditional ties in trade and cultural exchanges with several EU members, somewhat comparable to those between Japan and South Korea. Twenty-one per cent of more than 100,000 Mongolians who reside abroad live in EU member states. And rather than a one-way donor-recipient relationship, the new EU-Mongolia partnership has the potential to offer mutually beneficial cooperation. At the annual meeting with European ambassadors in November 2011, Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, Prime Minister Sükhbaataryn Batbold and Chairman of the Ikh Khural (Parliament) Damdiny Demberel said that increased partnership with the European Union is vital in strengthening Mongolian sovereignty, democracy and the market economy. A renewed EU-Mongolia partnership would have a firm basis in common values, mutual economic benefit and contributions to global peace and security.

Common Values

Mongolia has made a consistent commitment to democratisation and the protection of human rights. It has followed a similar path of democratisation to that of Central and East European countries and it has strongly rejected Russian, Chinese and North Korean models of authoritarian rule. Mongolia is the only Asian post-communist state rated since 1991 as an electoral democracy along the lines of Central European countries. It is rated significantly higher than all former Soviet republics as well as both its neighbours.

Democracy in Mongolia has been initiated and carried out without any obligation to meet the stringent membership requirements of democracy-promoting institutions like the EU, NATO or the OSCE. Elections are seen as the only way to obtain political power. Since 1992, six parliamentary and provincial elections as well as five presidential elections have been conducted, and all were regarded as free and fair by foreign observers. Electoral procedures are under constant scrutiny. The latest revision of the Law on Parliamentary Election in 2011 introduced requirements for people to resign from public service in order to be eligible to run in an election. It provided for a mix of proportional and majority representation as well as setting out electoral quotas for women. It prohibited making monetary promises, it gave more authority to the General Election Commission and it mandated the use of biometric IDs.

Civil society activity is also on the rise. Bureaucratic malpractices are openly criticised by the public and by civil society organisations. In response to public pressure, anti-corruption efforts have been institutionalised and prominent politicians and government officials now face investigation by the Independent Anti-Corruption Authority. Meanwhile, environmental movements are becoming more important because of the environmental damage done by mining companies. Because of public pressure, the government stopped issuing mining licences, began introducing stricter environmental protection requirements and joined international initiatives such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), to which Mongolia signed up in 2010.

Security forces are under civilian control and operate within a legal framework. The most recent reform efforts have concentrated on the judiciary and the police. International human rights watchdogs say human rights are protected reasonably well. In January 2012, Mongolia abolished the death penalty. In 2011, Mongolia became the first Asian post-communist democracy to chair the Community of Democracies (CD), an intergovernmental organisation of democracies that seek to advance democratic norms and work together to support and strengthen democracy worldwide.

Mongolia and the EU have common values on democratisation and the protection of human rights. Mongolian democracy is still young and EU support would be welcome in helping to be vigilant against possible backsliding. High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton recently commented on the corruption trial of Mongolia’s former president, Nambaryn Enkhbayar:

Mongolia is a new and vibrant democracy and shares many values with the EU. We have been closely following the developments in the case of the former President of Mongolia, Nambaryn Enkhbayar. We trust that this case will be treated transparently and with full respect for democratic principles, the rule of law and human rights. The EU reiterates its full support to the strengthening of democratic processes in Mongolia.

A Gateway to the Northeast Asian Economy

Mongolia could be useful to the EU as a gateway to the northeast Asian economy. It borders with the mineral-rich Russian Far East and with north-western China. And it is close to the fertile Tumen River delta, which has the potential for economic development linked to the Korean Peninsula.

With extensive financial assistance from international financial institutions and from donors like Japan, Germany and the U.S., Mongolia has restructured its economy and accepted the principles of the market economy. Mongolia began attracting foreign investors in the mining sector in 2005. In 2009, Mongolian government signed a multi-billion dollar investment agreement on one of the world’s largest copper-gold deposits with the Western mining companies, Rio Tinto and Ivanhoe Mines. Investment agreements on the high-quality coal mine, Tavan Tolgoi, have been negotiated with American, Chinese, Japanese, Russian and South Korean mining companies. Foreign investors are also involved in exploiting other, larger deposits of uranium, coal, aluminium and rare earths, as well as in contributing to related infrastructure projects.

Mongolia sees the EU, Australia, Canada and Singapore as development models. Australia and Canada provide examples for the mining sector, while Singapore’s example presents solutions for education and housing. Mongolia is particularly interested in applying EU norms and standards because the EU has valuable experience in assisting new members who faced similar socio-economic challenges to Mongolia. Following Mongolia’s official request, the EU has created a ‘multiannual indicative plan of cooperation’ to assist in Mongolia’s implementation of European norms and standards. As Mongolia reaches out to the EU for investment, technology and norms and standards, a number of EU members have begun to look for opportunities to participate not only in mining projects, but also in other projects in Mongolia.

Peace and Security

Mongolia has similar ideas and concepts to the EU on global peace and security. Mongolia is committed to all international initiatives for the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It declared its territory a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone and it has made every possible effort to institutionalise its nuclear-weapon- free zone status. Mongolia joined the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) in 2007 and has taken several steps to improve its border security. Since 2002, Mongolia has contributed over 5,200 military personnel to UN peacekeeping operations in Africa as well as to U.S. and NATO-led coalition operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo. Within this short period of time, Mongolia has deployed military contingents with a number of EU members and the United States. It deployed 1,200 personnel as part of a Polish contingent in Iraq. It sent 1,100 to Afghanistan with the U.S., Germany and Belgium. And it deployed over 100 in Kosovo with Belgian and French troops. Mongolia has at the moment about 400 personnel in Afghanistan. Given its modest GDP, its population of 2.7 million, the small size of its military and its ongoing contributions to UN peacekeeping, Mongolia’s commitment to peace and security is substantial.

Like the EU, Mongolia is working towards the promotion of human security norms. Human security is officially endorsed in the revised National Security Concept as one of Mongolia’s six security priorities: external, economic, domestic, human, environmental and information security. The document includes specific goals on human security priorities: public health, food security, security of living environment and protection from transnational crimes.14

Conclusion

A renewed EU-Mongolia partnership could offer constructive cooperation in the areas of democracy, economy and international peace and security.

Mongolia’s young democracy still wrestles with challenges, and the EU has experience in assisting new democracies in strengthening their institutions, the rule of law, protection of human rights and governance. One area in which the EU and its member states could help is in supporting the independence, professionalism and accountability of the judiciary and law enforcement institutions. The EU could support the development of civil society in building capacity to monitor and participate in governance. EU financial assistance would also be beneficial in providing opportunities for European and Mongolian civil society to cooperate and exchange views. Mongolia would welcome the EU’s help in encouraging and also monitoring the democratisation process. Increased foreign investment brings with it the likelihood of multinational corporations involving themselves in domestic politics. Brussels could help protect Mongolia’s democracy against intervention by serving as a neutral and reliable observer of elections, the fight against corruption and the promotion of civic and political rights.

The EU is the third largest trade partner of Mongolia, which means there are advantages for both sides in economic collaboration. The EU can assist Mongolia to incorporate key European norms and work towards economic reform, since Mongolia is still listed by the EU as a non-market economy, although the WTO, World Bank, IMF, and Asian Development Bank regard Mongolia as a free market economy. The EU is Mongolia’s most welcomed investor in the mining and infrastructure sectors, because it fits into Mongolia’s third neighbour policy, offers advanced technology and standards, and nurtures Mongolia’s economic links with European partners.

Mongolia continues to be a valuable partner for the EU on security, especially in view of its contributions to international peace and security. Human security is the area in which Mongolia has the greatest interest in collaborating and in promoting stronger international norms. Other areas for cooperation are peacekeeping and the democratic reform of security forces. Mongolia maintains experts and contingents for peacekeeping, humanitarian and disaster relief operations, which can be rapidly deployed. Mongolia’s sound civil-military relations, its experience in peacekeeping and its status as a neutral country could be of benefit to the EU and to the EU’s policy in Central Asia.

The most practical way to broaden the EU-Mongolia partnership would be to include Mongolia in the EU’s initiatives on Central Asia. The EU seems to present the only forum for Central Asian states, and potentially Mongolia, to discuss issues like democratisation, human rights and rule of law, while at the same time incorporating these matters into other policy areas such as energy and security. These issues are not dealt with in Russian-driven organisations such as the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, nor in the Russia and China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization. And they are not taken into account in plans for the establishment of a Eurasian Union. Mongolia’s inclusion in the EU Strategy on Central Asia could provide an important local example for consolidating democracy, promoting the involvement of small states in delicate geopolitical and economic situations, and facilitating the socialisation of new generations beyond the political and cultural influence of regional great powers.

Jargalsaihan, M. (July 2012). Mongolia’s Quest for Third Neighbours: Why the European Union?. EU Central Asia, (N25). Retrieved from: http://www.eucentralasia.eu/fileadmin/PDF/PolicyBriefs/MONGOLIA_QUEST_FOR_THIRD_NEIGHBOURS_WHY_THE_EU.pdf

My Take on It
I believe that the European Union indeed will be an excellent candidate for Mongolia’s ‘third neighbour’ strategy. Aside from the vast natural resources that Mongolia possess, the country has been successful in building a free democracy with efficient market economy and relatively free of petty corruption which has characterized the region. Other  former Soviet Central Asian countries like Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have had long history of tyranny and totalitarian policies. The other Central Asian country that can set a shining example for Mongolia’s development is Kazakhstan. Since the fall of  Soviet regime in Kazakhstan, the country have been very successful in transitioning to a democratic free market society. In fact, the relocation of the capital from Almaty to Astana is  a lesson that Mongolia can look at pending the problems within its own capital of high pollution and poor city planning but that is a story for another day.
In conclusion, it seems that economic ties between the EU and Mongolia looks bright as the recent deals involving the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (ERBD) and the Netherlands Development Finance Company (FMO) in addition to the Private Sector and the Government of Mongolia takes effect. This recent investment is going into the clean technology sector for harvesting of energy from wind turbines. The potential for Mongolia as an energy supplier is a very real and substantial prospect.