Friday, May 7, 2010

On the National Security Law

There's been some criticism of it in some quarters. Macario Schettino:
Maybe because some commentators have no sympathy for Calderón, because they continue to wait for a ray of light, or because they haven't been able to move out of the web of the Cold War, there is a narrative against the combat of organized crime. As is customary, politicians move according to public opinion, and they have agreed on an initiative for a domestic security law that, instead of strengthening the army, seeks to weaken it.

There is a bit of everything in the mix: fair complaints about the violations of human rights (which are very few, but spectacular), natural failures of a military operation in a civilian area, bad intentions, hidden agendas, memories of youth, and lots of politics. But it's a very delicate topic, and it's not beneficial to treat it like that.

We have to remember what the problem is: organized crime. A phenomenon in all societies, but in Mexico it is particularly grave for two reasons: first, for the quantity of money that is moved is very large, and second, because the vast majority of the authorities that should combat it work for it. They are two overlapping reasons, without a doubt. Money buys the authorities, which permits criminals to move more money, and the spiral grows.
Here's Jorge Fernández Menéndez on the same issue:
[A]s it was passed in the Senate, it doesn't have the support of the armed forces, there exist nuanced differences among the, but the main points of the law, as it was passed, confront an clear opposition to these commands: it doesn't facilitate the operational capacity of the army and the navy, on the contrary, it imposes innumerable holds on their actions and doesn't assure judicial security to the commands and, particularly, General Guillermo Galván objects with insistence before legislators, and that it takes from the commander-in-chief, the president, real control over the armed forces, to disperse control among mayors, governors, the National Security Council, and Congress, in a legal mess that could turn military operations into a chaos. If we add to this topics related to military justice we will have, as we warned with great foresight before this law was approved by the Senate, the components for a perfect storm regarding the armed forces and civil power.
I don't think that limitations on the army necessarily weaken it, especially not in the long term. However on second thought, I do think that requiring local officials to get involved when the army is deployed domestically has the potential to create problems, depending on how the practice develops. In any event, Fernández reaction seems excessive, and the fact that Mexico's military brass is upset about a limitation to its autonomy is not in and of itself evidence that it's a bad idea.


jd said...

This is one of the more asinine columns I've seen from Schettino. First of all, it's straw mannish - who specifically, among the large number of Mexican legislators who support the law, does he think seek merely to weaken the army? And his characterization of the rights abuses as "muy pocas, pero espectaculares" is infuriating - what does he think constitutes "pocas?" How does he know that, given the Mexican military's grave accountability deficit, it actually is "pocas?" Isn't it far more likely that the "espectaculares" are the ones that see the light of day? He presents some of the criticism of Calderon as irresponsible, but that's a label I'd much sooner affix to his column. The Fernandez piece is remarkably reactionary as well, with its whining about political correctness and the tough situation the military is in. No doubt they are...but what of it? Then improve their equipment, improve their training, improve pay so that their colleagues don't desert and take up with the other side, fix the police, and on and on, as we've heard so many times. Worrying about the military's "juridical security" over the incentives for soldiers to act within the law is Bill Kristol- or Doug Feith-esque. If the "perfect storm" comes about as a result of civilians attempting to impose control over military behavior, well, may a hard rain fall.

(Your point about potential confusion in terms of who calls in the troops is a worthier one, but I don't think it's at the heart of what these two pieces are postulating.)

pc said...

I thought Schettino's column was more reasonable than Fernandez's, insofar as the former was more a criticism of Calderón's critics as motivated by spite, whereas the latter just seemed more like out and out militaristic, at least Mexico's version of it; I mean it seemed like something like Robert Kaplan would write. But yeah I didn't agree with either in their reaction to the modification (or not) of how the army operates. I think the basic issue is that the military is unhappy and when a powerful, usually silent (or at least quiet) interest group (in this case, that's basically what they are) that the country is presently dependent on gets angry, it makes waves. But I don't see how you can argue that there shouldn't be a change in oversight, nor that the army is capable of policing its own. The army just doesn't seem interested. No one from the military brass has (to my knowledge) publicly accepted the HRW report and said something like, The people who did this will be punished, and we won't tolerate acts like this in the future. SOME quantity of people have been murdered by soldiers acting in uniform, and no one has been made an example of. If they're not interested, that's fine, but you can't blame the legislature for the act of stepping up, even if you object to some procedural provisions or don't think they have the purest of motives.

And one thing that Chabat gets at that is missing so often in this debate is that the army is among the primary beneficiaries if it improves the way approaches its tasks. Even if you separate yourself from the moral questions (which are of course essential), there's no operational advantage to being abusive. The army isn't more efficient or effective because if it has murderers in its ranks. Quite the opposite.

jd said...

Yes, Schettino was mostly just annoying due to its straw man element. I like the Fernandez-as-Mexican-Kaplan comparison, though Kaplan's fetish is a bit more toward the manliness of individual soldiers, while Fernandez seems to exalt the institution in a classically conservative way.

The position of the military's defenders on these issues is quite untenable. Mexico is behind most countries in the hemisphere on these issues. Part of the reason may be that the military never went through a wrenching, post- or mid-conflict examination of its conduct like in Peru or Colombia, or a post-dictatorship one like the Southern Cone. But either way, as you say, legal, moral, and pragmatic concerns all point in the direction of serious policy change. This is a case where analysts need to stop nitpicking in political-strategic terms and take a broader perspective, like Chabat does (and in fact this is something Schettino usually is relatively good at).

pc said...

It's odd how Mexico, compared to other LA nations, has been in the middle ground in a lot of ways over the past 50 years or so. Not quite dictatorship, but authoritarianism. The military never did what it did in Chile (not to mention Argentina), but it also was abusive. To the extent that it avoided the ills sweeping the rest of LA, good for Mexico, something Mexican politicians of past eras should be, I dont know, maybe not proud of, but you definitely feel like they dodged a bullet. At the same time, you do wonder if it wouldn't benefit from some sort of cathartic national recognition and sorting out like you see in other nations, but hasnt really been pushed to face it because the scale of the abuses was so much less severe.