THE UNITED STATES AND MEXICO: THE NEGLECTED RELATIONSHIP
Lieutenant Colonel John Blankenbaker
United States Army Reserve
Captain James Heffernan
This SRP is submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the Master of Strategic Studies Degree. The U.S. Army War College is accredited by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, 3624 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, (215) 662-5606. The Commission on Higher Education is an institutional accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
The views expressed in this student academic research paper are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army,
Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
U.S. Army War College
CARLISLE BARRACKS, PENNSYLVANIA 17013
AUTHOR: Lieutenant Colonel John Blankenbaker
TITLE: The United States and Mexico: The Neglected Relationship
FORMAT: Strategy Research Project
DATE: 23 February 2009 WORD COUNT: 6291 PAGES: 32
KEY TERMS: Mexico Security, Mexico Economy
Mexico is in a violent struggle for existence. Powerful Mexican drug cartels use narco-terrorism to undermine Mexican efforts to reform governance and reestablish internal security. The violence routinely affects U.S. border cities and threatens to expand to broader U.S. areas. The U.S. and Mexico relationship has significantly improved over the past few years; however, the U.S. still neglects Mexico choosing to put a higher priority on addressing other issues outside of North America. Mexico is a first line of defense for the U.S. against crime, drugs, terrorism, arms trafficking, and human trafficking. In the midst of a massive Mexican offensive against the drug cartels, Mexico faces the very real possibility of failing as a state. Mexico is at the edge of a transformational period, politically. The U.S. has a vested interest in supporting Mexican efforts to improve security and economic prosperity. The U.S. must continue broad interagency support of Mexico by continuing to expand on current programs such as the $1.4 billion Merida Initiative. U.S. failure to recognize the severity of the Mexican situation and take aggressive steps to assist the Mexican government, could contribute to a failed Mexican state and ultimately impact U.S. National Security.
THE UNITED STATES AND MEXICO: THE NEGLECTED RELATIONSHIP
President-elect Obama was very pleased to meet today with Mexico’s
President Calderon, and he hopes this early meeting helps emphasize the
high importance he places on the strong and deep relationship with
—Presidential Press Secretary Robert Gibbs,
January 12, 2009.1
While it is not the main causal factor, the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) and other United States (U.S.) foreign policy issues have relegated maintaining the crucial relationship with Mexico to a secondary priority. Former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, comments the ongoing civil war in Mexico is a severe problem all but ignored by the U.S. government and the media and will be a crisis President Obama must face in 2009.2 Despite these comments the U.S. and Mexico relationship has significantly developed over the past few years; however, the U.S. still neglects Mexico as we address other seemingly more pressing issues outside of North America. The fact is many common interests closely link the U.S. and Mexico’s collective wellbeing.3 The relationship between the two countries is complex, plagued by distrust, and requires nurturing by both sides to stay positive.
The implications of an unstable Mexico or an uncooperative relationship between
the U.S. and Mexico are unsettling at best and critical to national security at worst. The relationship with Mexico is so critical and yet, like a family member, the U.S. often takes it for granted. Largely, Mexico is a first line of defense against crime, drugs, terrorism, arms trafficking, and human trafficking. In the midst of a massive Mexican offensive against drug traffickers, really narco-terrorism, Mexico faces the possibility of failing as a state. Narco-Terrorism is terrorism conducted to further the aims of drug traffickers. It may include assassinations, extortion, hijackings, bombings, and kidnappings directed against judges, prosecutors, elected officials, or law enforcement agents, and general disruption of a legitimate government to divert attention from drug operations.5 If Mexico fails to suppress the narco-terrorist’s violence and regain internal security, both the U.S. and Mexico will feel the effects on their economy, immigration, and national security.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has deeply affected the
economic interdependence between the U.S. and Mexico. Since the ratification of
NAFTA in November 19936, trade between Mexico and the U.S. has increased from $49 billion in 1994 to $210 billion in 2007.7 Imports from Mexico account for about 11% of the total $1.9 trillion in worldwide goods the U.S. imported in 2007, making Mexico 3rd behind China and Canada.8 Mexico exports about 80% of all its products to the U.S. while the U.S. exports about 12% of its products to Mexico.9 NAFTA also stimulated foreign investment within North America between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada but also drew funds from investors outside of NAFTA who saw the value of free trade in the region.10 The interdependence of the U.S. and Mexican economy may also have negative affects within Mexico. Because of the current trade balances and interdependence, the U.S. economy drives the Mexican economy, either in a typically positive direction or negative direction when there is a down turn in the international economy. To mitigate any decline in the U.S. economy, Mexico continues to attempt market diversification with limited success.11 As demonstrated recently, the weakening of the U.S. stock market and decline of the dollar greatly affected Mexico’s economy.12
Migrant workers in the U.S. from Mexico are critical to a strong U.S. and Mexican
economy; however, immigration is a contentious topic for both countries. The Mexican migrant work force includes both legal and illegal immigrants raising
some difficult U.S. social, economic and national security issues. A large percentage of Mexican immigrants take jobs that Americans do not desire to perform. While this is beneficial for the U.S. economy in many respects, it has negative impacts when the immigrants are illegal. This illegal immigration drives overall U.S. public opinion of Mexico and causes increased discrimination against legal immigrants.
Illegal immigration is a longstanding difficult issue the U.S. faces in its
relationship with Mexico. In 2007, estimates of Mexican illegal immigrants currently in the U.S. range from six13 to twelve14 Million. Approximately 400 thousand Mexicans
immigrate to the U.S., legally and illegally, yearly.15 That is a staggering number
considering the population of the U.S. is about 300 million. President Felipe Calderon of Mexico, after taking office in December 2006, quickly spoke out against U.S. immigration policies.16 Specifically he believes the strengthening of border fences and increased border patrols will lead to additional deaths as illegal immigrants attempt crossings in more desolate areas of the border.17 Despite the rhetoric, President Calderon appears willing to work closely with the U.S., for the long term, to develop a lasting and mutually beneficial solution to immigration. He has introduced ideas in Mexico to limit illegal immigration and improve Mexican social services, increase domestic jobs, increase education opportunities, as well as aggressively lobby the U.S. for immigration reforms.18
The porous border provides many opportunities for crossings of illegal
immigrants seeking a better life in the U.S.; however, it also poses a security threat. In addition to allowing easy movement of low wage workers, the 2000-mile border between the U.S. and Mexico provides criminals or terrorists an unfettered gateway to plan, supply, and execute illegal activities within U.S. cities.
While illegal immigration can strain U.S. social services, allowing Mexico’s
government to fail in the struggle against drug cartels or allowing a terrorist attack by
way of the Mexican border could have catastrophic consequences. If we hope to
prevent an ungoverned Mexico and possible future terror attacks in the U.S., it is
essential for the U.S. and Mexico to have comprehensive and mutually supporting, law enforcement, drug enforcement, border enforcement and immigration policies.
Another important security consideration in our relationship with Mexico revolves
around Mexico’s role as a leader in Latin America and with the Caribbean countries. By Latin American standards, Mexico has a strong economy, second only to Brazil. As a result, Mexico wields substantial influence with countries like Venezuela and Cuba. The U.S. has strained relations with these countries and can benefit from proxy communication through a friendlier Mexico. With this in mind, the U.S. must be careful not to undermine Mexico’s prestige in Latin America. Mexico is very proud and wants to exert influence in both Latin America and North America. It is in the interest of the U.S. to help support Mexico’s prestige in greater Latin America without giving the appearance that Mexico is merely a U.S. puppet state.19
As the U.S. looks to improve the future relationship with Mexico, it is important to
review the rich history between the two countries. The U.S. has not always been the
best neighbor. In the past, the U.S. had a tendency for involving itself in Mexican affairs. Mexicans have traditionally viewed this involvement as interventionism and stubbornly attempted to block U.S. efforts. Since 1821, when Mexico gained independence from Spain, the U.S. periodically meddled diplomatically in Mexican internal affairs. The U.S. actively participated in armed invasions from 1846 to 1918.
The U.S. has a long history of meddling in Mexican affairs. During the Mexican
struggle for independence from Spain, the U.S. envoy to Mexico, Joel Poinsett
supported one revolutionary faction over another during the struggle for an independent government.20 In addition, later in 1911, the U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson even helped to plot the overthrow of the Mexican President.21 Up until 2001, the U.S. government required extensive oversight into internal Mexican affairs as a condition of providing monetary aid to Mexico to combat drug trafficking.22 As recently as last year, Congress showed a desire to maintain oversight of internal Mexican affairs. In July 2008, Congress reluctantly compromised on the extent of oversight of their most recent aid initiative, the Merida Initiative.23 These and other similar issues provide the lens through which Mexico views U.S. involvement or assistance.
U.S. and Mexico history is also rich with armed conflict. In 1846, the U.S. invaded
Mexico and in 1847 after the Mexican/American war terminated, Mexico lost forty
percent of its territory.24 This conflict was a direct result of the independence of Texas and the battle of the Alamo in 1836.25 The U.S. supported the independence of Texas and then annexed Texas in 1845.26 In 1846, the U.S. President James Polk sent an emissary to Mexico to negotiate the purchase of California.27 The Mexican President, Jose Herrera, refused to see the emissary, as he was not empowered to discuss the Texas issue.28 Shortly after the failed negotiations on California, there was a border clash between the Mexican and American Armies at the Rio Grande and the Mexicans killed or captured all of the Americans.29 This brought a declaration of war from the U.S. Congress and almost two years later, the end of the war facilitated a huge increase in U.S territory at the expense of Mexico.30
Later in 1914, the U.S. Marines landed at Veracruz and intervened in a power
struggle after the assassination of President Francisco Madero.31 Two years later, in
1916, the U.S. launched the Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa in response to
Villa’s raids on U.S. border towns.32 Looking holistically at the U.S. propensity for
interventionism and military expeditions in Mexico, it is understandable that Mexico
views the U.S. with a wary eye.