Mexico is not close to being a "failed state"
by Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan
All of us who have been at one time or another involved with policy planning must speculate with worst case scenarios. However, those scenarios need to be plausible and probable. In this case, they are neither.
Posted on February 4, 2009
Over the past couple of months, a flurry of reports and articles in the U.S. has suggested that Mexico could become a failed State. While I do not in any way minimize the seriousness of the threat posed by organized crime nor the violence and brutality unleashed by drug-trafficking organizations in an effort to thwart President Calderon’s decision to roll them back, the suggestion that Mexico is remotely close to a “failed State” or is heading in that direction is analytically flawed, and therefore simply wrong.
All of us who have been at one time or another involved with policy planning must speculate with worst case scenarios. However, those scenarios need to be plausible and probable. In this case, they are neither. This judgment is not nationalistic chest-thumping; it’s based on facts.
First, the violence is a direct consequence of President Calderón’s decision to confront the threat posed by organized crime head-on and not tolerate a break-down in the rule of law. Violence has increased as drug traffickers have realized that the roll-back is for real and as they fight amongst themselves for turf and scarcer transshipment routes. Violent deaths are particularly concentrated in three cities, Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez and Culiacan, and most of these involve either drug-traffickers and their associates, or police and
military personnel killed in the line of duty.
Second, the violence in Mexico does not occur in a vacuum nor is it solely a function of the strength or weakness of the State. Most of these reports ignore that drug-trafficking and drug-related violence in Mexico also stem from a) its geographic location between one of the biggest drug-producing areas and the world’s most important market for drugs; and, b) the weapons illicitly being trafficked into Mexico from the US. The on-going collaboration with the US on these issues through the Merida Initiative is precisely a result of the recognition that transnational organized crime and border security is a common problem that demands shared responsibility and coordinated bilateral and regional strategies.
Third, organized crime in general does not seek to destroy the State; it weakens it and subverts its authority to conduct its illicit activities, but like all parasites and the host they live off, if the host dies, it dies.
At a more general level, setting aside any theoretical qualms one might have about the concept, if one considers the social, economic and political indicators most commonly used to identify failed States —a State that has little practical control over much of its territory or its borders and faces irregular armed contingents; a government that is unable to provide reasonable public services to its citizens; the existence of significant numbers of displaced people, refugees and involuntary movement of population; civil disobedience and the inability to collect taxes; an economy in disarray; a steep rise in infant mortality; or a government that is unable to interact with other States and fulfill its obligations as a member of the international community— it is difficult to see how the shoe fits.
Moreover, if one looks at Mexico’s political, economic and social evolution over the past years or indeed decades, the overall conclusion would be that the Mexican State has been getting stronger, not weaker. Mexico is today a country with solid institutions, a consolidating and pluralistic democracy, a vibrant civil society, and despite the global recession, strong economic fundamentals. Indeed, according to the “Failed State Index” published jointly by the Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy Magazine, from 2006 to 2008 Mexico has improved in this regard, while the Brookings Institute’s “Index of State Weakness in the Developing World,” places Mexico in the top quintile with 119 states out of 141 said to be weaker than the Mexican one.
It is also worth noting that while some institutions and pundits publish articles suggesting Mexico might be a failed state, others such as the Woodrow Wilson Center are issuing reports with titles like “The US and Mexico: Towards a Strategic Partnership.” How is it possible that some lump Mexico with countries struggling to survive as viable nations, while others recognize that a strategic relationship between the U.S. and Mexico is both possible and desirable? The true absurdity of the former position becomes immediately apparent if one asks if it make sense to talk of the U.S. developing a strategic partnership with a failed state. I think not.
Arturo Sarukhan is ambassador of Mexico to the United States.