Saturday, March 5, 2011

COIN for Mexico?

I make the case against it at Small Wars Journal:
It has grown fashionable in recent years to argue that the solution to Mexico’s public security difficulties lies in treating organized crime within the context of counterinsurgency theory. Many have made this argument, one of the most recent being Robert Culp here at Small Wars Journal. This is an unfortunate misreading of the security problems that are plaguing Mexico. While COIN theory offers a handful of sensible ideas, as an overarching philosophical guide, it is an imperfect fit for Mexico.

The first thing that bares mentioning when considering whether COIN as the answer for Mexico is that, problematically enough, Mexico in not suffering from an insurgency. Hillary Clinton and other American officials have indicated that it is, but they are incorrect. An insurgency seeks either concessions from the state or its overthrow, and it uses attacks on the state or on civilians as a means to achieve that. Mexican gangs are seeking profits, and their attacks are overwhelmingly directed at competitors, not at government officials or innocents.


Noel Maurer said...

Congratulations! That's a great forum.

pc said...

Thanks! Yeah lots of great stuff there.

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff. You're saying that Mexican cartels to prosper dont need public support and fighting them is not about that but what about fact that some of the cartels supposedly originated from vigilante groups (is this true?) which would make them well rooted in the society and popular in some areas? What about popculture praising drug-related way of life? You didnt mention that but I figure we may call it kind of public support.
Finally, when it comes to organized crime and the reasons of its success there often the weakness and unpopularity of police is a very important factor. For example take Russia where people asked in polls: whom do they fear more police or mafia, they always answer police. Is Mexican police really popular and seen by the public as a friend and ally? Im just asking.

Marcin (from Europe)

pc said...

Hi Marcin, thanks for reading...
That's definitely a valid point, there's certainly fear of the police and the army, and the local police are widely disdained. This makes the distribution of support less clear-cut. Improving public perceptions of the police especially would help improve cooperation from the public. But people often do call the authorities (most of the arrests made by the army, I believe, are the product of anonymous tips), and I don't see any sort of sea change on this as being a determining factor. IMO, the narco model is just based less on active protection of the civilian population than it is on ignorance.

As far as narcos coming from vigilante groups, in Mexico, no one comes to mind. Many are ex-police, and most just came up through the ranks of the industry. The original Zetas were commandos and then hit men, so their background is a bit different. La Familia kind of painted themselves as defenders of the Michoacán community, which creates the sort of dynamic you are talking about, though they were traffickers from the start, it's more just PR from them.

RE narcos in pop culture, I think there's a pretty strong class element there. Broadly speaking, I think the narcos are looked down upon both for their actions and where they are thought to have come from by most middle class people around the country. If you look at comment threads in or youtube, you see a lot of pinche narco naco, or, roughly translated, fucking low-class narco, or words expressing that sentiment. I don't think narco culture is mainstream even the way that gangsta rap was in the US in the mid-1990s.