“Mexico is in the midst of a worsening security crisis,” warns David A. Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego in a new Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Special Report. “Explosive clashes and territorial disputes among powerful drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) have killed more than thirty-five thousand people since President Felipe Calderón took office in December 2006.”
Estimates place the profits from the drug industry at $30 billion per year—about 3 to 4 percent of Mexico’s GDP.
Shirk stresses that the United States is not immune from the effects of this drug trade. “The February 2011 killing of a U.S. immigration and customs agent signals that U.S. law enforcement officials are now in the crosshairs.”
Tensions between Washington and Mexico City flared up in the wake of the recent Wikileaks scandals. Cables criticizing Mexico’s handling of the drug cartels resulted in Carlos Pascual, U.S. ambassador, resigning. However, “the United States remains the world’s largest consumer of illegal drugs. It is also the world’s largest supplier of weapons, which fuel the drug war in a more direct way.”
Shirk notes that “despite the most dismal assessments, the Mexican state has not failed, nor has it confronted a growing insurgent movement.” In addition, “Mexico has made impressive efforts to improve the transparency and credibility of elections, protect the rights of indigenous people, strengthen judicial independence, and even investigate past government abuses.”
In The Drug War in Mexico: Confronting a Shared Threat, Shirk points out that the United States has “much to gain by helping strengthen its southern neighbor and even more to lose if it does not”.
Shirk’s report argues that the weaker the Mexican state, the greater difficulty the United States will have in controlling the nearly two-thousand-mile border. As the dominant wholesale distributors of illegal drugs to U.S. consumers, Mexican traffickers are also the single greatest domestic organized crime threat within the United States.
Additionally he says that economically, Mexico is an important ally for the United States. It is the third-largest trade partner, the third-largest source of U.S. imports, and the second-largest exporter of U.S. goods and services. Trade with Mexico benefits the U.S. economy, and “the market collapse that would likely accompany a deteriorated security situation could hamper U.S. economic recovery.”
Shirk claims that Mexican stability serves as an anchor for the region. “Given the fragility of some Central American and Caribbean states, expansion of DTO operations and violence into the region would have a gravely destabilizing effect.”
If the security conditions in Mexico were to worsen, according to Shirk, “a humanitarian emergency might lead to an unmanageable flow of people into the United States. It would also adversely affect the many U.S. citizens living in Mexico.”
Shirk recommends a three-pronged approach for U.S. policy that can help Mexico overcome its security crisis: 1) Enhance and consolidate the mechanisms for bilateral and multilateral security cooperation in Mexico and Central America, 2) Focus on U.S. drug demand, firearms, and money laundering at home, and direct greater assistance for institutional and economic development, such as educational and judicial reform; and 3) Work toward drug policy adaptation that includes alternative approaches to reducing the harms caused by drugs.