A Tale of Two Eagles: The US-Mexico Bilateral Defense Relationship Post Cold War

A Tale of Two Eagles: The US-Mexico Bilateral Defense Relationship Post Cold War

by Craig A. Deare


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The United States and Mexico share a history shaped in the 19th century by numerous US forces interventions into Mexican territory and US expropriation of considerable swaths of Mexican territory. However, in spite of structural impediments and a history of resentment by Mexico of US intervention into its affairs and territory, the levels of cooperation and understanding slowly began to improve following a series of international and domestic factors. The decline of the former Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall at a global level, coupled with major political and economic challenges and reforms within Mexico are a starting point from which to assess the evolution of the bilateral defense relationship between the United States and Mexico.

The American and Mexican militaries have evolved differently over the past 100 years and they each have very different responsibilities, mission sets, orientations, and capabilities. Yet in recent years, the Mexican armed forces have cooperated more closely with their US counterparts. This may be due to explicit direction coming from senior levels of the Mexican government and to operational requirements of the armed forces themselves as they seek to increase their capability and capacity to confront the growing levels in drug trafficking related violence. Today, both countries are dealing with the effects of this increased violence and insecurity in Mexico.

Relying primarily on one-on-one interviews with senior practitioners and analysts on both sides of the border, the text examines the evolution of the U.S.-Mexican bilateral defense relationship to better understand how and why this unique relationship has improved, in fits and starts, over the past 25 years. It offers a new understanding of how defense policymakers from each respective country perceive the other, as well as how the lack of trust and understanding between the two neighbors has delayed greater cooperation.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781442269439
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date: 03/16/2017
Pages: 430
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Craig A. Deare is professor of International Security Studies at the College of International Security Affairs (CISA) at National Defense University in Washington, D.C. He is a retired Army Intelligence and Foreign Area Officer.

Table of Contents

Chapter One An Introduction
Chapter TwoHistorical Overview
Chapter Three Mexican Armed Forces And National Security Circa 1990
Chapter Four The Salinas De Gortari Sexenio
Chapter Five The Zedillo Ponce De Leon Sexenio
Chapter Six The Fox Quezada Sexenio
Chapter Seven The Calderón Hinojosa Sexenio
Chapter Eight Conclusion
EpilogueInitial Impressions of The Peña Nieto Sexenio

Chapter Abstracts

The assault of Major General Winfield Scott against Veracruz 1847 (and many others events of less dramatic effect) continue to shape how the Mexican Army views their counterparts to the north. Although the shared threat during the Second World War led to a momentary period of relatively positive military cooperation, the traditional suspicion by the Mexican military (primarily Army) of their neighbors led to a cordial, formal, polite, but rather distant relationship. Exacerbating these suspicions, very distinct institutional defense structures in each country create additional challenges for effective communication. This chapter introduces the contemporary context in which the bilateral relationship interacts.

An effort to begin to grasp the complexities of Mexico requires a rudimentary knowledge of several key periods in Mexican history, as well as an awareness of five key themes that run the length of its relationship with the U.S. The chapter looks briefly at the indigenous Indian civilizations inhabiting modern day Mexico, the Spanish conquest and colonization of the 16th and 17th centuries, the independence movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the liberal versus conservative struggles of the 19th century, multiple and varied U.S. interventions in Mexico (with the highlight of the 1846-1848 Mexican-American War), la Revolución of 1910-1920 (Mexico's Civil War), and the phenomenon of the PRI in the 20th century.

The armed forces of every country in the world are a product of a given nation's geography, history, and society. They have often evolved over time primarily as a reaction to events thrust upon them, rather than being the result of a conscious political decision to develop identified capabilities to deal with specific threats. Mexico is no exception to this generalized trend. Mexico represents a unique case within Latin America in a variety of ways, and its armed forces are but one example of that distinctiveness. The previous chapter attempted to highlight the role of the military as the country developed over the course of its history; the intent here is to address how the military fits in the contemporary security environment which Mexico has faced over the past 25 years or so.

This chapter describes how President Carlos Salinas began efforts to tie the Mexican economy to the logical economic locomotive of the United States in a more formal and effective fashion. Despite winning the election by the narrowest of margins (one allegedly characterized by vote fraud), Salinas effectively persuaded the Mexican Congress to enter into a Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. and Canada. The surprise of the Zapatista rebellion in January 1994 served as a contemporary example of the limitations of the Mexican military to operate effectively to secure the country. This event suggested to the political leadership that improvements in Mexican military capabilities were in order. The bilateral defense relationship witnessed the beginnings of an incipient reduction in coolness, although traditional antagonisms and suspicion remained firmly in place.

President Ernesto Zedillo inherited two major crises as he began his second month in office in January 1995 – the ongoing Zapatista uprising and the Peso Devaluation. The U.S. reaction to these crises was mixed, much more helpful with the Peso Devaluation than with the Zapatistas. To further improve Mexico's defense capacity, a watershed event took place in October 1995 when Dr. William J. Perry became the first U.S. Defense Secretary to ever visit Mexico. The invitation by Mexican Defense Secretary General Enrique Cervantes, certainly authorized by President Zedillo, represented perhaps the clearest evidence of a conscious desire to strengthen the traditionally proper but distant relationship. The visit led to the establishment of the U.S.-Mexico Bilateral Working Group and the beginnings of greater efforts at cooperation. Senior level policymakers in both countries were charged with overseeing the process, ensuring that the shortcomings of the basic structural interface could be overcome. This sexenio also contains perhaps the best case study of how the two sides view U.S.-Mexico cooperation: the saga of the 73 Hueys "donated" to the Mexican Air Force, and their return within a few years characterized as "junk" by the Mexican Defense Secretary.

After more than 70 successive years in power, the Partido Revolucionario Institutional lost its grip on the Mexican presidency, and Vicente Fox of the Partido de Acción Nacional ushered in the birth of true democratic alternation of power in Mexico. President Fox attempted to change the status quo in Mexico, to include pursuing a foreign policy of greater integration of a North American community. On the military front, he selected the youngest secretaries of Defensa and Marina in recent memory. Coinciding with the election of President George W. Bush, expectations were raised for never before seen levels of cooperation between the two former governors and their administrations. U.S. reaction to the attacks of 9-11 had an unwelcome effect on Mexico; for its part, Mexico's withdrawal from the Rio Pact days before the one year anniversary of 9-11 sent a confusing signal to the U.S., raising questions about Mexico's solidarity. This was the context within which defense cooperation continued to move forward, including the creation of U.S. Northern Command which managed to upset Mexican defense authorities. Despite these setbacks, a major highlight of this period was the unexpected but welcome offer of the Mexican armed forces to provide unprecedented assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in August, 2005, providing evidence of a better future.

Although successive Mexican governments actively participated in the counternarcotics effort, President Felipe Calderón was the one who most aggressively confronted the cartels, declaring war on Mexican Transnational Criminal Organizations. Increases in drug-trafficking related violence raised concerns on both sides of the border, leading to greater attention by U.S. policymakers. His commitment to this fight, coupled with increasing U.S. concerns, led to the watershed Mérida Initiative and an initial U.S. pledge of $1.4 billion over three years to engage as well. Initial resistance by the Mexican Defense Secretary to the creation of U.S. Northern Command subsided with his retirement, and significantly greater security cooperation grew with both the Mexican Army and Navy. A major blow to these improved relations was the release by Wikileaks of classified State Department cables critical of the Mexican government, leading to the departure of U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual.

This chapter analyzes the major conclusions derived from the multiple case studies reviewed over the course of the more than 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Salinas initiatives. It provides recommendations with the intent of maintaining the gains seen over the past 25 years, and with the hope of improving the bilateral defense relationship in the immediate and long-term future.

U.S. concerns that a return of the Partido Revolucionario Institutional might represent a significant retrenchment in the bilateral relationship, and in particular the greatly enhanced military-to-military links, have been overcome by President Peña Nieto's policy of continued cooperation with U.S. agencies. Revelations of National Security Agency intelligence collection efforts against senior Mexican officials, to include President Peña Nieto, appear to have been dealt with as little antagonism as possible. Recent acquisition decisions by both Defensa and Marina to pursue U.S. weapon and transportation systems are suggestive of deepening ties.

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