Book Review: Understanding the Security Conundrum in Mexico


Not so long ago, in response to political rhetoric in the United States, former Mexican President Vicente Fox reportedly said: “Instead of building walls, we should build bridges”. This can describe Mexico’s national challenges and frustrations on many fronts, whether in the areas of water resources, security, trade, or migration. Living next to the world’s most powerful country and largest economy often means that most Mexican foreign policy actions and decisions necessarily revolve around the relationship with the neighbor to the north. It is in this context that Agustin Maciel-Padilla offered an additional reflection on .

Anyone who paid attention to international news before the COVID-19 pandemic is also familiar with the security problem facing Mexico, namely the extreme levels of violence and endemic corruption accompanying the activities of the country’s main drug cartels. . Much has been written about these dynamics, including nuanced and in-depth work from George Mason University. Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera on the passage of cartels in other fields of activity besides illicit narcotics, and of the University of Chicago Benjamin LessingEmphasis on calculations carried out by cartels before deciding to carry out offensive armed attacks against police and military forces.

As in the United States, many policing responsibilities in Mexico fall on its 32 states and over 2,000 municipal governments. However, the lack of local institutional capacities, corruption and the constant threats of cartel violence against mayors have seriously compromised local governance and national security. In this vacuum, consecutive Mexican administrations have used the military and navies to attack the pillars of the cartels with varying degrees of success. These missions presented many challenges to the military as they were taken out of their comfort zones of disaster response and manual eradication of marijuana and opium poppy. Current Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has taken the initiative to activate an intermediary force called the National Guard. The Guard relies on a mix of civilian and military capabilities and personnel to confront cartels and public safety in general. In response to pressure from the Trump administration, the Mexican National Guard has also been deployed to strengthen border control and thwart illegal migration.

To say the least, much of the research and writing about Mexico’s challenges in recent years has understandably focused largely on the “drugs and thugs” framing and narrative. Maciel-Padilla combines a unique academic background obtained from the Department of War Studies at King’s College in the United Kingdom and professional positions in the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including stays related to consular and border affairs in El Paso, Texas and Belize. In Understanding Mexico’s Security Enigma, its main thesis is that for Mexico to overcome its current challenges, it must go beyond a criminological approach and incorporate plans derived from international relations, geopolitics and strategic studies. Mexico’s foreign policy has long been associated with a doctrine of non-interference. Despite the relaxation of this stance over the past decades vis-à-vis the US-funded Mérida Plan, the López Obrador administration has sought to return to a more traditional approach to diplomacy that remains outside the US. affairs of other countries while demanding that they bypass Mexico’s Internal Affairs.

Maciel-Padilla’s main criticism is that Mexican institutions spend too much time addressing their immediate internal problems at the expense of developing a more comprehensive view of the external environment. This is in part because Mexico’s own laws and organizational structures combine national security with related concepts of public and internal security. At the same time, Maciel-Padilla expresses his frustration that the recent reforms of the National Intelligence Service, restructured and renamed the National Intelligence Center in 2019, greatly strengthen this inward-centered paradigm. For this reason, he says, Mexican public and foreign policies are insufficient to address a range of issues affecting the country. These issues include the lack of governance in the northern triangle of Central America and its fallout, the deterioration of many long-standing points of understanding with the United States, the rise of China, the impact of change. climate and the evolution of energy markets. , as well as the whole range of technological issues related to cyber, artificial intelligence and the quantum computing revolution.

Among Maciel-Padilla’s most interesting policy recommendations is the creation of a new interdisciplinary Mexican intelligence service focused on analyzing developments in the external environment, perhaps modeled in part on British intelligence service MI6 without the clandestine espionage component. This might not be a bad idea at a time when most governments struggle to make sense and make policy decisions in an overabundant data ecosystem. The conundrum is to come up with a coherent strategy when globalization pulls in one direction and national sentiment shifts in another.

Godnick is Professor of Practice at the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies at National Defense University in Washington, DC. The opinions expressed here are his.

Keywords: Book review, Mexico, Safety

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The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its editors.


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