Friday, February 18, 2011

Mexico’s Drug War: An Insurgency?

Roughly a week and a half ago U.S. Undersecretary of the Army Joseph Westphal suggested the drug war in Mexico is comparable to an insurgency and it might be necessary for the United States to send troops to prevent a takeover of the country. Secretary of State Clinton also referred to the situation as an insurgency last year, although President Obama distanced himself from such a claim. Not surprisingly, Mexico was outraged by Westphal’s remarks, but they do spark an interesting discussion. In doing further research, the Brookings Institution’s Diana Villiers Negroponte released an article this week proposing a six-pronged counterinsurgency approach to addressing the violence in Mexico ( see article).

While the drug lords are out to make money and will stop those in their path (the state), Negroponte suggests that they have no interest in gaining political control. They resort to violence as a result of interference in their affairs. To some, this lack of political motive may appear to be in contradiction with the notion of an insurgency, and it may seem illogical to look to a counterinsurgency strategy for reform.

However, Negroponte’s article has a great deal of merit in suggesting that COIN strategy does in fact have the potential to rectify the problems looming in Mexico. She defines counterinsurgency as “measures to secure the population and mobilize sufficient strength to allow the state to dominate.”

Moreover, she argues that Mexico has already established most of the programs listed in her six COIN-based prongs, but it is lacking a national consensus. Mexicans must want security and need to put pressure on their government to provide it to its citizens. Yet, her article also argues that this national consensus won’t come about without leadership that is viewed as legitimate and without corruption.

Her favorable view of the use of COIN strategy in Mexico may prove effective, but the biggest oversight of the article is her neglect of the role the United States plays. The drug war will never end if the United States does not step up its efforts to control drug trafficking on the U.S. side of the border and work with Mexico to encourage further use of counterinsurgency practices. The U.S. has started to work with Mexican forces to train in areas such as intelligence and proper human rights practices (Sheridan). These energies must continue and improve in the future. As with any counterinsurgency operation, the goal is to get the Mexico to stand on its own two feet in addressing the problems within its borders.

Moreover, effective COIN strategy places emphasis on combating corruption. For Mexico, corruption within its government and police forces is an epidemic and has to be rectified before Mexicans will believe in the people running their country. As it stands now, many would argue that President Calderon has done an abysmal job at combating dishonesty and bribery. Greater pressure should be put on the Mexico government by the United States to ensure increased transparency and accountability to its citizens.

In the end, this is a very brief snippet of the drug related violence and crime in Mexico. Yet, it is safe to suggest that attempting a COIN approach to fix these problems must include further commitment from the United States. This assistance could come in the way of more training and funds like the proposed $50 million from the Pentagon’s 2011 budget (Sheridan). Deeper cooperation with Mexico is necessary for the United States not only because it is a neighbor, but also because the United States is gaining vast COIN experience in Iraq and Afghanistan that has the potential to be beneficial in combating drug related crime and violence.

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