Small Wars Journal

Mexico's Criminal Insurgency

Mexico's Criminal Insurgency - John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus, Defense and the National Interest

Grenades are thrown at popular gatherings. Mutilated corpses flood the morgues. Heavily armed gunmen blast police to shreds with high-powered automatic weapons. Just another day in Iraq or Afghanistan? No-all of the events described occur regularly in Mexico. Our southern neighbor is imploding under the weight of a criminal insurgency just as dangerous any crew of bomb-tossing jihadists--an insurgency that may soon envelop our borders.

Mexico has always struggled with crime and corruption, but its present troubles can be traced to the mid-90s downfall of the Colombian cartels. Those mega-cartels, epitomized by the excess of Pablo Escobar, directly threatened the Colombian state and lost. As nature abhors a vacuum, the gap was filled by Mexican drug cartels bolstered by gargantuan drug profits. These cartels burrowed into the superstructure of the Mexican state, corrupting the poorly paid civil servants and police officers that make up the Mexican bureaucracy. Those who refused to take a bribe earned a bullet to the brain for their scruples. The cartel evolution in political and financial affairs was matched by a rise in military power, as the narco-gangs built up a capable cadre of enforcers poached from the Mexican military's Special Forces. These men, known as the Zetas, enabled the cartels to gain a tactical advantage against the poorly equipped Mexican local and state police.

Worst of all, the sheer size of the black economy--$40 billion as estimated by Stratfor's George Friedman--strangles legitimate enterprise and concentrates power in the hands of a few narco-warlords. These criminal enterprises amass power and legitimacy as the Mexican state loses the trust of its citizens. As a result, Mexico's periphery has become a lawless wasteland controlled largely by the drug cartels, but the disorder is rapidly spreading into the interior. In a cruel parody of the "ink-blot" strategy employed by counterinsurgents in Iraq, ungoverned spaces controlled by insurgents multiply as the territorial fabric of the Mexican state continues to dissolve.

More at Defense and the National Interest.