Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Not So Bad. Or Maybe It Was

Despite my irritation in the preceding post, the NY Times reports (H/T) that there actually was some positive stuff in the official press conference after the meetings:
Under the new strategy, officials said, American and Mexican agencies would work together to refocus border enforcement efforts away from building a better wall to creating systems that would allow goods and people to be screened before they reach the crossing points. The plan would also provide support for Mexican programs intended to strengthen communities where socioeconomic hardships force many young people into crime.

The most striking difference between the old strategy and the new one is the shift away from military assistance. More than half of the $1.3 billion spent under Mérida was used to buy aircraft, inspection equipment and information technology for the Mexican military and police. Next year’s foreign aid budget provides for civilian police training, not equipment.


This revised strategy, officials said, would first go into effect in Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez, the largest cities on Mexico’s border with the United States. Ciudad Juárez, a city of 1.7 million, has become a symbol of the Mexican government’s failed attempts to rein in the drug gangs.

I like the part about focusing on specific cities, because in smaller spaces the relatively limited American contribution can still have a measurable impact on security. That bolded part makes you wonder how much faith to put in any of this, though. They aren't going to spend any money on equipment? All of a sudden the US has $300 for civilian police training? William Booth's Post writeup is rightly a bit more skeptical:

Faced with soaring drug violence that Mexico's military has failed to stem, U.S. and Mexican officials said Tuesday that they will seek to bolster nonmilitary spending on police and courts and look for ways to help ravaged communities, but they offered few concrete proposals for fighting the powerful drug cartels.

So all of this might actually represent a genuine, sea-changing shift of focus, or it might be a rather timid shift of actual focus coupled with a substantial change to the nations' rhetoric. I suspect it's the latter. Part of the problem is that spending hundreds of millions a year on helicopters is just a lot easier than spending the same amount on small-bore training and development programs. We have Blackhawks and Bells to spare, but scaring up the expert human resources necessary to implement such a program would be difficult in normal circumstances, all the more so when the US is engaged in two nation-building projects thousands of miles away.

I remain suspicious that the ease of implementation was one of the biggest reasons for Mérida's original focus on hardware. In 2007 as in 2010, Mexico's hardware needs were clearly secondary to the problems in their security agencies, and the idea that Mexico's armament problem was so severe that it had to be addressed first is simply not credible. But Bush and Calderón presumably wanted a big, showy agreement, and $1.4 billion in helicopters was a far better way to grab people's attention than, say, a $200 million training program implemented over five years, even if the latter would have delivered better results.

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