JEJU ISLAND, South Korea -- Mongolia is a landlocked wilderness the size of Alaska. With a population of only 2.7 million, it is squeezed between two geopolitical giants, China and Russia. The collapse of the Soviet Union led to the withdrawal of Russian troops in 1992, leaving the country alone -- and vulnerable.

Mongolia devised a novel solution to its security dilemma: It declared its territory a nuclear weapons-free zone and has worked to gain international recognition of that status. Success would mark an important advance in the fight to shore up the global nuclear nonproliferation regime.

Mongolia's euphoria at the end of the Soviet era was tempered by concern. Northeast Asia remained a dangerously tense region. North Korea is a focus of international attention, and while Russia and China have declared a new era of "friendly, good neighborly" relations, their past has often been tense.