Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mexico’s Strategy

Héctor Iñigo Guevara Moyano
(SDP, February 2008)
Mexico
Iñigo Guevara was head of statistical analysis at a Mexican State law enforcement agency from 2004 to 2008.  He is currently a CONACYT fellow at Georgetown University's Security Studies Program. 

The State of Public Security
Upon assuming the presidency in December 2006, Felipe Calderon engaged in an all-out war against organized crime.  His strategy is to use the military as the centerpiece of national security policy.


In 2006, Mexico’s public security forces comprised some 340,000 personnel, divided into over 1,600 Federal, State and Municipal law enforcement agencies.  Federal forces accounted for approximately 5% of this force and were organized into two relatively new agencies: the Federal Preventive Police (PFP) which reported to the Public Security Ministry (SSP) and the Federal Investigations Agency (AFI), attached to the General Attorney’s Office (PGR).  These two agencies were considerably undermanned and underequipped, as well as penetrated and compromised, making it difficult for them to take the lead on the President’s anti-crime strategy.
The country’s State and local public security institutions were plagued with corruption and lack of professional standards, from recruitment and training to day-to-day operations.  According to an independent poll (SIMO-CASEDE 2008), Mexican police departments had the lowest levels of public trust, next to unions and congressmen.

An attempt to homogenize standards in the Federal, State and Municipal public security forces, which varied considerably in size and quality, through the National Public Security System (SNSP), had been met with indifference from most of the State and Municipal agencies, as their chain of command did not include the Federal government.  As mentioned, the difference in dimension is impressive, with manpower levels ranging from 11 to 80,000, but there was also a lack of a security culture.  The concept of “security clearance” was non-existent in most state and municipal law enforcement agencies; sensitive information was shared without control mechanisms and very little supervision.

Mexico’s most capable intelligence agency, the National Security Intelligence Center (CISEN), had gone through a painful reform during the previous Fox administration (2000-2006) that decimated its budget and stripped it of its already limited operational capabilities.
With this national security infrastructure in place, using the military to implement an urgent security policy was not the last option—it was the only one.

Mexico’s Military Structure, Roles, and Missions

The Mexican military had been relegated to a “backstage” political role since the 1930’s, which arguably helped to consolidate civilian power and strengthen the institutional nature of the armed forces.  Mexico was one of the few countries in Latin America not to have a military coup in the second half of the 20th century.  Without an external enemy and the random needs of conducting counter-insurgency operations, the military concentrated on providing civil assistance after natural disasters and emergencies.  The Mexican military is one of the most popular and trusted institutions in Mexico, ranking third after the Catholic Church and schools.

In 1941, the armed forces were divided into two separate ministries: the National Defense Secretariat (SEDENA), which controls the army and the air force, and the Navy Secretariat (SEMAR), which comprises the fleet, naval air service, and a marine infantry corps.  These ministries are headed by a senior active duty General and Admiral, which makes Mexico the only country in the hemisphere with two full defense ministers.

Each of these institutions has its own doctrine, deployment, training, communications, logistic, and procurement systems.  Only after 2008 did they begin a process to establish a common logistics infrastructure.

SEDENA is the largest ministry, with over 200,000 personnel (99% of whom are military).  Of these, only some 120,000 are actual combat forces, with the rest performing bureaucratic and general support functions. Its main roles are based on three directives:
  • DN-I: national defense of the state from external (foreign) aggression, including foreign conventional threats, terrorism, and other non-state transnational threats.
  • DN-II: national security of the institutions from internal threats, including internal terrorism, insurgencies, and, recently, drug cartels.
  • DN-III: defense of the population in emergencies, usually natural emergencies such as earthquakes, forest fires, floods, hurricanes, etc.
The army has created a new brigade structure over the past 10 years, with three independent infantry brigades as the main rapid reaction force, backed by three light infantry, three Special Forces, one paratrooper, engineer, military police, and three armored brigades.  However, the main operational unit continues to be the infantry battalion or (battalion sized) armored, cavalry, or artillery regiment, which reports directly to a geographic Military Zone.  There are 46 Military Zones grouped into 12 regions.

SEMAR has close to 60,000 personnel.  This also includes a significant bureaucratic element.  It can best be explained by the fact that the Navy’s main HQ, located in Mexico City along with a “naval” airbase and four marine infantry battalions, is 240 miles from the nearest port. SEMAR’s roles are similar to SEDENA’s, in that they include external defense, coast guard, SAR responsibilities, and a similar DN-III civil emergency plan (PLAN MARINA).

Cooperation between SEMAR and SEDENA has increased since 2007, with the Chiefs of Staff of both services holding regular periodic meetings, but the establishment of a Joint Command structure is still far off.

When called upon, the Mexican military hierarchy was ready to take a center stage role in the government’s security strategy.

Adapting to the Anti-Narcotic Role

The Mexican military began anti-narcotic operations as far back as the 1960’s.  They were usually limited to field eradication duties; a natural evolution led to interdiction activities with military units setting up roadblocks on major highways.

The anti-narcotic mission has evolved into a concept designated “high impact operations,” which includes an eradication, interdiction, and anti-organized crime combination, with heavy emphasis on increasing detection, surveillance, mobility, intelligence, and counter-intelligence capabilities.  The current situation called for an enlarged presence in urban areas, bringing their operations closer to the civilian population.

Both ministries have initiated structural reforms and force transformations in order to adapt better to the evolving anti-narcotic mission.  SEMAR is considerably expanding its marine infantry corps, moving from two depleted amphibious brigades to 32 marine infantry battalions (BIM) tasked with performing maritime police, transportation, and port security, as well as their traditional amphibious assault mission.

Acknowledging its increased contact with Mexican society, SEDENA created the Human Rights General Directorate under the command of a full General.  Its human rights record continues to be perceived as poor and is highly criticized by the media.

At the operational level, SEDENA designed a special 10,000-man force dubbed the Federal Support Corps (CFFA), which would be especially equipped and trained for low intensity, urban warfare operations.  This elite unit would be directly subordinated to the President. This became a major controversy, and funds were not allocated by Congress for its implementation.

A clear sign of the army’s changing operational needs is a 2009 order for 2,238 4X4 pick-up trucks, instead of an original requirement for 1,000 HMMWV’s.  Speed and maneuverability in urban environments were the deciding factors.

In both ministries, the use of innovative technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s), surveillance aerostats, and non-intrusive detection systems has begun, although at a pace that can best be described as “cautious.”

Expanded Missions and New Strategies

The missions entrusted to the military are expanding as counter-intelligence operations launched by multiple federal agencies have exposed just how deeply organized crime and corruption had penetrated most of Mexico’s institutions.

With uncontrolled violence rampaging in ungoverned or ill-governed spaces, the government devised a surge strategy dubbed “Joint Operations,” overwhelmingly pouring in troops and federal agents to stabilize selected hot spots.  Medium sized cities such as Chihuahua, Morelia, Ciudad Juarez, and Tijuana saw large-scale military deployments.  To date (July 2009), Ciudad Juarez has a presence of some 12,000 troops.  The initial effect was positive, but the problems of living in a militarized state soon became evident.  Active duty officers were assigned to command local law enforcement agencies directly, as police chiefs resigned, fled, or were executed by organized crime.

In 2006 the air force took over the air eradication mission, performed by a fleet of some 50 helicopters and 8 aircraft operated by the PGR.  These were transferred along with spares and ten forward operating bases.  Their amalgamation was not problem free, and the air force found itself with 30% of its helicopter assets exclusively dedicated to the eradication mission.

In an effort to increase detection of illegal fields, SEMAR implemented a satellite imaging system based on the SPOT constellation of satellites in March 2009.  Detection of illegal fields has increased to such a degree that SEDENA is finding it hard to obtain the proper number of personnel for the field eradication work. In the summer of 2009, two new programs have been put into place: the deployment of over 5,000 cadets from all the branches of the military education system to the Golden Triangle (the violent tripartite border of the northern Chihuahua, Durango and Sinaloa states) and a pilot program that saw 300 conscripts deploy on a month-long eradication tour to Michoacán starting June 26.  This is a complete revolution in Mexican military service, as conscription had been limited to Saturday-only exercise and civil action tasks for decades.

During June 2009, maritime transportation and port security became completely entrusted to SEMAR, which will now deploy forces to Mexico’s 107 ports.  At roughly the same time SEDENA has taken responsibility for providing security at customs and border posts.  Army troops will be responsible for inspecting vehicles and cargo going into Mexico; the U.S.-Mexico border is especially targeted for the anti-weapons smuggling mission.  This plethora of new missions brings us to the next major issue: funding.

Not a Wartime Budget

Mexican defense funding has increased to a modest 20% since 2006, but at about 0.6-0.8% of GDP, it is still considerably low, even by Latin American standards.  It continues to be dominated by an inadequate salary structure, and procurement is done in a reactive and priority-driven way.  It is especially hard to exercise good accountability and transparency under these circumstances.  Long-term procurement planning for modern and efficient armed forces cannot be achieved with the current structure.

Mexico’s Congress has discarded efforts from SEDENA and SEMAR to fund the more conventional and basic defense needs, such as fighter jets, amphibious ships, howitzers, and air defense batteries, arguing that they are not a priority in the national security scenario.  Acquisition of the proper force multipliers, including much-needed helicopters, transport, and surveillance aircraft for air-mobile and air-interdiction missions has been considerably slow, and to a large degree dependent on foreign assistance.

Natural Allies

Although this is a complicated relationship in almost every dimension, Mexico’s natural ally is the United States.  One thing to keep in mind is that the asymmetries between the U.S. and Mexican armed forces go well beyond the former’s technological superiority, as their roles and missions differ considerably.  While the Mexican force’s roles are mainly centered on internal security and civil protection operations, the Posse Comitatus Act restricts the U.S. armed forces from operating in a similar role.  Although the Mexican military’s main operational counterparts lie in the U.S. Homeland Security community rather than at DOD, a military-to-military relationship also needs to develop.

The absence of external threats and a non-military interventionist policy has meant that the Mexican military stands alone, with no formal allied structure.  Its last combat expedition took place during the latter part of WWII, with the deployment of a single fighter bomber squadron to fight alongside Allied forces in the Pacific.

More recently, Mexican forces have performed several international deployments on humanitarian relief missions. Some of the most significant include the deployment of 184 army troops and 45 vehicles to Texas as well as a Newport-class LST and helicopters to Biloxi, Mississippi to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina in September 2005.  Earlier that same year, SEMAR sent 487 personnel, a Newport-class LST, a multi-purpose vessel, and three helicopters to Indonesia in the aftermath of the Tsunami.

Strategic Recommendations

A series of 2008-2009 independent polls (SIMO-CASEDE) provided (or reinforced) a picture of what Mexicans want to see their armed forces doing.  There was little surprise: 85% approve the use of the military in the war on drugs, 75% approve of its use against armed groups, and 69% want to see them directing law enforcement efforts. 51% of the polled population supported participation in UN peacekeeping operations and 43% favored participating in bi-national or tri-national operations with the United States and Canada.  With this in mind legislators need to become more involved and the country needs to develop a defense policy.  It is only through increased engagement by Congress and organized civil society that real public policy can be drafted. This is essential to obtain true democratic control of the armed forces.  Reaching consensus may well be Mexico’s biggest challenge.
  • In order to relieve the burden of a bureaucratized military, a civilian-staffed defense ministry needs to be established.  This cannot be improvised; a generation of civil servants needs to be trained in defense administration, strategy, planning, and intelligence and civil-military relations.  Experience from countries where this has enabled a more professional and capable military, such as Colombia, Chile, and Spain should prove invaluable.
  • New civilian security agencies need to be created soon to eventually take over a number of internal security functions that have recently been militarized. Institution building is a long process which has to start as soon as possible.
  • The armed forces’ operational capabilities need to be enhanced in order for them to fulfill their current priorities as well as the more traditional roles of a military force. This should see a continuance on airmobile development, intelligence and counter-intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets, infrastructure protection, command and control, and situational awareness, among others. The pace of integrating new technologies that become force multipliers and enablers, such as unmanned vehicles, biometric devices, non-intrusive detection systems, area denial systems, and all weather sensors should be increased.
  • Inter-agency studies into the development of next generation requirements, ranging from space operations and cyber-defense to underwater sovereignty, need to be addressed.
  • U.S. policymakers need to understand that even the slightest perception of exercising direct oversight or conditional mechanisms over Mexican forces is a political killer for any Mexican administration.  The U.S. should rather direct its efforts at helping the Mexican government create an efficient and democratic oversight capability.  Healthy examples of this are the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Congressional Research Service (CRS).
  • Backing from the U.S. Government is seldom mentioned in this paper for a very simple reason: it is unquestionable that full cooperation between our two great nations is needed in order to attain a secure future.  The U.S. Government should continue to back the Mexican government through the Mérida Initiative as well as the increasing military-to-military relationship.

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