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Mongolia: Historical Traditions
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > The Armed Forces > Historical Traditions


Mongol military power reached its apex in the thirteenth century. Under the leadership of Chinggis Khan and two generations of his descendants, the Mongol tribes and various Inner Asian steppe people were united in an efficient and formidable military state that briefly held sway from the Pacific Ocean to Central Europe.

In an age when opposing armies were little more than feudal levies around a nucleus of well-armed and well-trained, but relatively immobile and inflexible, knights, the Mongol armies were the dominant force on the battlefields of Asia and Europe. Mongol forces, made up of skilled warriors well trained in marksmanship and horsemanship, were characterized by absolute discipline, a well-understood chain of command, an excellent communications system, superior mobility, and a unified and extremely effective tactical doctrine and organization.

As the control of the descendants of Chinggis weakened and as old tribal divisions reemerged, internal dissension fragmented the Mongol empire, and the Mongols' military power in Inner Asia dwindled. The tactics and techniques of the Mongol warrior -- who could deliver shock action with lance and sword, or fire action with the compound bow from horseback or on foot -- continued in use, nevertheless, through the end of the nineteenth century. The mounted warrior's effectiveness decreased, however, with the growing use of firearms by the Manchu armies beginning in the late seventeenth century.

Mongol leaders in the late sixteenth century, and later their Manchu overlords, encouraged the spread of Tibetan Buddhism. Its passive religious doctrine gradually diluted the warlike qualities of the Mongols and encouraged between 30 and 50 percent of the male population to escape military service by entering monasteries, and in the Boxer Uprising of 1900. They were employed as light cavalry and were considered the best of the traditional troops. Their style of fighting had become obsolete, however, because foreign troops and increasing numbers of Chinese units used firearms and modern tactics. Mongolia's nomadic economy could not produce guns, and the Qing would not permit their acquisition.

The memory of Chinggis, his descendants, and their military domination of Asia remains. Although little attention has been paid to Mongol military exploits after that period, popular legends are filled with accounts of violent opposition to foreign oppressors, such as the usurious Chinese trader and his armed guards, or the local Qing tax collector.

Data as of June 1989

Last Updated: June 1989

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Mongolia was first published in 1989. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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