The multilateral security mechanism in Northeast Asia and role of Mongolia

Global Peace Foundation
February 26, 2017

The regional institution building in Asia has long been focused on Southeast Asia, with its so-called “comparatively advanced institutional structure” of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).[1] But in Northeast Asia, according to many analysts, the region, “calls for an effective and a new security mechanism, adapted to the changes of the political relations and the fast development of economic interdependence among the nations,”[2] or, “should not base its security measures on bilateral frameworks any longer,” even, “the institutionalization of Northeast Asia has been widely regarded as impossible.”[3] Also several initiatives, proposes, and projects are focusing on developing a regional mechanism for managing broader security issues. For instance, in 1993 the Institute for Global Conflict and Cooperation Studies of California University initiated and organized Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue.[4] In 2013, initiated by the South Korean President, the “Northeast Asian Peace and Cooperation Initiative” (NAPCI), was established. In the same year, initiated by the Mongolian President,  the “Ulaanbaatar Dialogue for Northeast Asian Security” (UBD)[5] was established. These initiatives are still an important Track 1.5 (government officials to nongovernment actors) and Track 2 (nongovernment to nongovernment actors) forums for Northeast Asian countries.

So a multilateral security arrangement in Northeast Asia is not a new idea. The Six-Party Talks is still “a test of whether these countries can collectively deal with regional security concerns.”[6] The paper begins with a summary on a proposal how regional countries could cooperate more “effectively” toward mutual trust and benefit. Secondly, the paper argues the role of small and middle states, such as Mongolia.

  1. How regional countries could cooperate more “effectively” toward mutual trust and benefit?

The fundamental concept of an “effective” approach for the agenda of a multilateral security mechanism is clearly interpreted in the 1994 Human Development Report. The report is noted,

“The concept of security has for too long been interpreted narrowly: as security of territory from external aggression, or as protection of national interests in foreign policy or as global security from the threat of nuclear holocaust… forgotten were the legitimate concerns of ordinary people who sought security in their daily lives.”[7] Also the report outlines the following threats to human security: “economic, food, health, environment, personal, community and political security.”[8]

So the “effectiveness” of the multilateral security mechanism should be related with all aspects of human security threats, including non-traditional and economic security issues. Why should we focus deeply on these two areas?

Many scholars highlight that the agenda of multilateral security mechanism in Northeast Asia should include the non-traditional security challenges. Especially, “Non-traditional security issues as economic security, information security, food security, energy security, water resource security and public health security demand careful studies and joint efforts to cope with by all the countries in the world.”[9] Also, “We cannot be optimistic about the international security situation, what with the surge in energy prices, global warming, the ecological crisis, the gap between the rich and the poor, cross-national crime, and frequent outbreaks of major epidemics.”[10]

Due to the rising demand for energy, such as coal, oil, gas, and nuclear energy, the need for energy cooperation network that promote mutual benefit and cooperation in the region has never been more pressing. Today in Northeast Asia, the energy cooperation environment has rapidly changed. The main issue is about energy supply and demand.

According to the recommendations, suggested by the International Crisis Group, “Support civil society engagement with the DPRK, particularly programs that enable North Koreans to travel, while exercising care that such engagement is not utilized as a channel for transactions prohibited by UN resolutions.”[11] The civil society can play the role not only between the individual and the state but also can play the role of “mediator” between the citizens. Many scholars still argue, “Engage or isolate? How the world should deal with North Korea, according to its citizens?”[12] So today it is also “effective” to engage the North Korean citizens to the multilateral dialogues and events, focused on non-traditional security issues.

So the non-traditional security issues should be one of main components of regional cooperation in Northeast Asia. Also, the non-traditional security issues makes the opportunity to involve the social groups and individuals in the process of ensure the threats.

  1. Mongolian perspective

Many scholars point out that one important element of multilateralism in Northeast Asia is the expansion of membership. For instance, according to the South Korean scholar Ok-Nim Chung, “Given that post-Cold War regional multilateral proposals emerged from such middle powers as Australia and Canada, and that North Korea currently places more weight on improving relations with these countries, it is vital to engage in any multilateral process countries as Canada, Australia and Mongolia.”[13]

I think that there can be no multilateral politics without bilateral relations. Unlike many countries in the region, Mongolia has good relations with all countries in the region, including both North and South Korea. Thus, Ulaanbaatar is good third country location in which countries could meet for dialogue.


The above is a prepared presentation for the Global Peace Convention 2017. Changes in actual delivery may not be reflected.


[1] Today few security frameworks in the Asia-Pacific region either promoted by ASEAN, such as the East Asian Summit, ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and ASEAN Defense Ministry Meeting.

[2] Chun Si Wu, “The Six-Party Talks: A Good Platform for Broader Security Cooperation in Northeast Asia”, Korean Journal of Security Affairs, Research Institute on National Security Affairs, (Vol.12. No.2, December 2007), pp.109-118, p.110

[3] Martina Timmermann, “Institutionalizing Northeast Asia: Challenges and Opportunities,” “Institutionalizing northeast Asia: regional steps towards global governance,” (Ed.) Martina Tummemann and Jitsuo Tsuchiyama. (Tokyo, United Nations University Press, 2008): pp. 1-18, p.8

[4] “Is an unofficial, multilateral forum where foreign and defense ministry officials, military officials and academics from China, Russia, North and South Korea, Japan and the US are able to meet for frank discussions of regional security issues,” ISN ETH Zurich, accessed April, 12, 2016,

[5] UBD was proposed by Mongolian President in 2013, during the 7th Ministerial Conference of Community of Democracies held in Ulaanbaatar.

[6]James Goodby and Donald Gross, “From Six Party Talks to a Regional Security Mechanism,” accessed March 12, 2016,

[7] Human Development Report: New Dimensions of Human Security, United Nations Development Programme, , (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), p.22

[8] Human Development Report: New Dimensions of Human Security, p.24

[9] “Non-traditional security: Being unmanageable single-handedly,” (July 11, 2012), accessed April 19, 2016,

[10] Evan S.Medeiros, “China’s international behavior: activism, opportunism, and diversification,” (RAND Cooperation, 2009), p.37

[11] “North Korea: Beyond the Six-Party Talks,” Asia Report 269, (June 2015), accessed March 3, 2016,

[12] “Engage or isolate? How the world should deal with North Korea, according to its citizens?”, accessed April 15, 2016,

[13] Ok-Nim Chung, “Solving the Security Puzzle in Northeast Asia: A Multilateral Security Regime,” Brookings, (September 200), accessed April 5, 2016,

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