Mongolia's entry to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is its latest effort to implement the "third neighbor" policy, which is to strengthen cooperation with Western countries and major international bodies other than its neighbors China and Russia, analysts said.
Mongolia on Wednesday was ratified to become the 57th member of the world's largest regional security organization. It has been the Vienna-based OSCE's Asian partner since 2004.
Analysts said developing ties with the West has been the priority of Ulan Bator's diplomacy since the end of the Cold War due to the landlocked country's concerns about the influence of neighboring powers and the West's increasing attention to the Asia-Pacific region.
But the Mongolia that suffered historically from external control is unlikely to lean totally toward any party.
A country under rule in a system based on that of the former Soviet Union tries to get rid of the lingering influence of Russia and also worries a great deal about the possibility of being economically controlled by China, its largest trade partner and foreign investor, said Na Lin, a researcher at the School of Mongolian Studies at the Hohhot-based Inner Mongolia University.
The unique geopolitical opportunity Mongolia presents makes it an essential strategic partner for those wanting to hedge against the influence of either China or Russia, or both, J. Berkshire Miller, a political analyst on the Asia-Pacific for the Tokyo-based Diplomat, said in a blog earlier.
Mongolia's rich natural reserves and fast-growing economy also attract the recession-stricken West, said observers.
Mongolia has the largest coal reserves in the world, and some of the largest reserves of copper and many other resources, from gold to a variety of rare earths. According to the World Bank, its economy is at the start of a huge expansion as it begins to develop its mineral wealth.
It recorded GDP growth of more than 17 percent in 2011.
Though cooperation with China is likely to determine Mongolia's future, the country is uneasy about this, clearly trying to avoid being embraced too closely by China. A controversial foreign investment law is implicitly aimed at discouraging Chinese investments, Mark Clifford, the executive director of the Hong Kong-based Asia Business Council, said in an article on Nov 16.
Burgeoning relations between Mongolia and the West were underlined by Ulan Bator's participation in the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago this May, with Individual Partnership and Cooperation Program status.
Both sides in March also signed their first bilateral cooperation program under NATO's new policy of developing more flexible partnerships with countries that engage significantly with international security affairs.
Mongolia has provided troops for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan since 2010. It sent two contingents to support NATO's mission in Kosovo from 2005 to 2007.
However, Mongolia is not likely to join NATO ― it mainly wants the Western backup to shield it from the possibly overwhelming influence of its neighbors and to yield enough diplomatic space when engaging with any sides, Na said.