Monday, November 16, 2009

Mexico our most immediate national security threat?

While America focuses on foreign terrorism and the resurgence of China and Russia, Mexico is emerging as perhaps the more immediate security threat. Mexican drug cartels have dominated the illegal drug market in the United States over the past two decades. The U.S. continues to be the largest purchaser of illicit drugs worldwide and the violent drug cartels move increasingly further into U.S. soil. Consequently, the problem is both right at our 2,000-mile doorstep and into major cities such as Atlanta, Phoenix, and Birmingham.

As of February of this year, more than 200 Americans have been killed since 2004 in “an escalating wave of violence, amounting to the highest number of unnatural deaths in any foreign country outside military combat zones.” There’s reason to believe the true number of Americans killed in Mexico is much higher, as many missing person and kidnapping cases remain unsolved. But again, this cannot be thought of as only a Mexican problem. Attorney General Eric Holder called the drug cartels a "national security threat," to the United States and stressed that “we simply can't afford to let down our guard." The Justice Department’s National Drug Intelligence Center estimates that, as of December 2008, the cartels have established operations in at least 230 U.S. cities.

Narcotics trafficking is a national security problem because the issues of narcotics, criminal organizations, and terrorism are interrelated. We must avoid the modern presumption that terrorists are all Muslim fundamentalists interested in directly inflicting damage on the American state. Mexican drug cartels terrorize American interests and require a massive amount of law enforcement officers and resources to be positioned along our southern border. The most violence has occurred in Ciudad Juarez, just below the El Paso border, where many feel even the Mexican military is unable to ameliorate the situation.

An effective strategy at combating this problem must directly involve policies directed toward the Mexican state. We need to continue push reforms in the Mexican justice system to make it more accountable. The U.S. should revisit its gun control laws to prevent arms from falling into cartel hands, as the U.S. is the source of the vast majority of cartel armaments. Obama should also consider changes to the federal and local law enforcement presence along the border, which doesn’t seem to be working as effectively as it should. If we are considering sending 40,000 troops to Afghanistan on the other side of the world to reduce Islamic militancy, we should at least be willing to focus additional efforts in keeping Mexican drug runners from illegally entering the U.S. with automatic weapons, stockpiles of cash, and hard drugs.


Dr. Smellgood said...

I was under the impression that we were building a big expensive wall...??

danger!danger! said...

15 members of La Familia Michoacana (LFM), a Mexican vigilante group-turned-drug cartel, were arrested in Chicago. It shows that LFM has connections in the U.S. far from the Mexican border.

danger!danger! said...
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danger!danger! said...

The drug trafficking industry has corrupted the Mexican police, and arguably the Federal Police and Military as well. One has to wonder if a military approach to this problem will be effective at all. It has been tried (on a smaller scale) several times in Mexico's past and (on a much larger scale) in Colombia. Though Colombian security has improved drastically since the 80's, the narco-business is still strong, with its inherent security problems. If U.S. military and police personnel are put on the border in a similar capacity to their Mexican counterparts, would similar corruption creep in? Certainly the U.S. forces would be better trained and disciplined, but would they be untouchable? And if not, would this make the problem worse instead of better?

In a report on Mexico's drug war in Foreign Affairs this summer, Shannon O'Neill proposed several methods of dealing with narcotics as part of a strategy to partner with Mexico in security and economics. Interesting stuff, if she is right about the strength of the Mexican middle class. Maybe the best we can hope for is to turn trafficking into a "normal" organized crime problem (one that is limited and somewhat controlled), instead of an existential war that threatens to tear Mexico apart.