Security Studies and Foreign Policy Analysis: The academic legacy of Jorge Chabat
Rafael Velázquez Flores
Jorge Chabat was an outstanding and leading Mexican scholar, also well-known in the United States and Latin America, who dedicated his life to teach and research on national security and foreign policy issues. He left an extensive and important academic contribution to such topics, especially on organized crime, drug trafficking, and US-Mexican relations. He was a respected professor and a researcher in prestigious academic institutions in Mexico, such as the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE in Spanish), the Iberian American University (Ibero), the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), and the University of Guadalajara. He, as well, was a professor at the Matías Romero Institute, the academic branch of the Mexican Foreign Affairs Minister (SRE), which is in charge of training future diplomats and researching on Mexican international relations. He also taught courses and delivered conferences in world-known universities and associations, such as the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC, the International Studies Association (ISA), the Latin American Faculty of Socials Sciences (FLACSO), Oxford University, Harvard University, University of Chicago, Georgetown University, and the University of California, among others.
Without any doubt, Jorge Chabat was a prominent expert and one of the sharpest specialists on national and international security studies. He wrote several top books and academic articles in prestigious journals on his research interests. His publications became an obligatory reference for students, researchers, governmental officials, decision makers, diplomats, reporters, and people interested in security issues. He advised former Mexican presidents, such as Felipe Calderon, and past foreign affairs ministers, who constantly asked him for recommendations on public policy and decision-making process. He was also frequently interviewed by prominent newspapers, TV anchors, and radio programs. In other words, he was an invaluable influencer in Mexico and other parts of the world on security and foreign policy topics.
In his personal sphere, Chabat loved good novels, art cinema, photography, classical music, and arts. He traveled extensively throughout the world and was an eager shopper. He loved to play dominoes with his friends, eat at fancy restaurants, and enjoy good wines. He once was married but soon got divorced and never had children. He lived with his cats and was loving with them. He was constantly a friendly person and cared about the people he worked with. He always tried to help people when he could. In his analysis, he was sarcastic, but he had a very good sense of humor. He loved telling jokes in friend’s reunions. In general terms, he was an excellent and respected person.
In this context, the purpose of this paper is to highlight Chabat’s contributions on security studies and foreign policy analysis. The main argument is that Jorge Chabat leaves a significant and innovative legacy to the study of national security and foreign policy. The paper is divided into two parts. The first part describes the most important points of Chabat´s biography. It includes his main studies, key professional posts at universities, academic distinctions, and different awards. The second part analyzes the key Chabat’s contributions to the study of national security issues and Mexico’s foreign policy.
A Short biography: A Constructor of Institutions and an Expert on Security Studies and Foreign Policy
Jorge Chabat was born in the city of Guadalajara, Mexico. He received his basic education there. Once he obtained his high school diploma, he moved to Mexico City to study International Relations at El Colegio de México, one of the most prestigious universities, in Social Sciences, in the country. There, he met important people who influenced him on his studies, his research interests, and his professional career. For instance, Miguel Ruiz Cabañas, Mario Arriola, José Antonio Crespo, Ricardo Macouzet, Guadalupe González, and Luis Herrera Lasso were his classmates. They later became, as well as Jorge, important experts on Mexico’s foreign policy.
After he finished his studies at El Colegio de México, Jorge Chabat worked as a personal assistant of the president of the Metropolitan Autonomous University (UAM in Spanish) from 1978 to 1982. There, he started his teaching career at the undergraduate level. He taught mainly Political Theory and Theory of Law, but he also began to teach International Relations topics. Chabat also became a part-time professor at the School of Political and Social Sciences (FCPyS in Spanish) at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM in Spanish) from 1982 to 1988, where he taught Mexican International Relations. At that time, he started specializing in teaching Mexico´s foreign policy.
In 1983, Chabat became full-time professor at the Center for Teaching and Research in Economics (CIDE in Spanish), a national and international well-known and prestigious university in Mexico City. At CIDE, he joined the Program on Mexico’s International Relations Studies (PERIM in Spanish), which was headed by Olga Pellicer, an outstanding expert on Mexico’s foreign policy. PERIM was one of the first programs dedicated to exclusively study Mexican international. At this program, Chabat became an expert and a leading scholar on the subject. In this center, Chabat’s academic work concentrated on Mexico’s foreign policy. He was particularly interested in analyzing the decision-making process and the factors that influence it. At the PERIM, the members had to write a monthly report on Mexico’s foreign policy. This was when Chabat published his first papers on this subject. Later he was appointed PERIM’s director. At CIDE, he taught Mexico’s Foreign Policy, Theory of International Relations, and other related courses.
Jorge Chabat made an important contribution to Mexican institutions dedicated to diplomacy and International Relations. For instance, he and Guadalupe Gonzalez designed the undergraduate program of International Relations at the Iberian-American University (Ibero) in Mexico City. There, he was a part-time professor and also coordinator of the undergraduate program on International Relations. At Ibero, he taught Mexican Foreign Policy and other related courses. He also was member of the Advisory Commission for Admission into the Mexican Foreign Service. This commission belongs to the Ministry of Mexico’s Foreign Affairs (SRE in Spanish) and is in charge of the admission process for Mexican diplomats who later work in consulates and embassies around the world.
In 1991, Chabat obtained a scholarship to study a master’s degree in International Studies at the University of Miami. At this institution, he met Bruce Bagley, an expert on security studies and drug trafficking issues. Soon Bagley became his mentor and influenced Chabat to study those same topics. Since then, Chabat became, in the 90s, one of the first Mexican scholars to study security and drug trafficking issues. Soon after, Chabat obtained his doctoral degree from the same university. During this period, he was coordinator of the Mexico’s team of the project “Drug Trafficking in the Americas” at the North-South Center of the University of Miami from 1992 to 1994.
Once Chabat returned to Mexico, his research interests changed slightly. He was still interested in Mexican foreign policy, but his focus shifted to security studies and US-Mexican relationships. He then became a well-known and leading scholar in Mexico on such topics. For instance, he was frequently interviewed by newspapers reporters, TV anchors, and radio news and was continually invited to deliver speeches and conferences in academic, diplomatic, and political forums in Mexico and worldwide.
He also continued with his labor as a constructor of institutions. He became the Director of the International Studies Division (DEI in Spanish) at CIDE from 1996 to 1999. He was Co-Director, together with Professor John Bailey from Georgetown University, of the project “Public Insecurity in Mexico and the United States: Challenges for Democratic Governance” from 1998 to 2000. He was also co-director of the “Security Study Group,” sponsored by the Ford Foundation from 2007 to 2010. Chabat was also an editorial writer for El Universal (a leading newspaper in Mexico), participated in the TV program “El Noticiero” of Televisa (a leading TV company in Mexico), and a commentator of Radio Imagen. He was a member of the Editorial Committee of the Revista Mexicana de Política Exterior (RMPE), which is edited by the Matías Romero Institute (IMR in Spanish), which is the academic institution of Mexican Ministry of Foreign Relations.
Chabat also received important awards for his academic trajectory in security studies and foreign policy analysis. In August 2014, the Autonomous Universidad of Tabasco awarded him for his academic career on the subject of national security. He was also member of important academic and civil associations, which are dedicated to study national security, drug trafficking, organized crime, and foreign policy. For instance, he was founder member of the Group on Security Analysis with Democracy (CASEDE in Spanish) and was counselor of the Center for Teaching and Analyzing Mexico’s Foreign Policy (CESPEM). By the same token, Chabat was one of the first members of the Global Initiative Network of Experts, which is an independent civil-society organization—headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland—dedicated to find new and innovative strategies to fight transnational organized crime. He was also vice-president of the Mexican International Studies Association (AMEI). For his outstanding academic contribution and his trajectory, the National Council of Sciences and Technology (CONACYT) appointed him as a national researcher, level II, which meant that he was a leading investigator/researcher in Mexico.
In 2015, Jorge Chabat returned to Guadalajara, his hometown, to join the Center for North American Studies, at the University of Guadalajara (UdeG). This center is headed by Arturo Santa Cruz, a leading Mexican scholar on North American studies. There, Chabat joined the graduate program on Global Politics and Transpacific Studies and taught courses on national security and foreign policy. Jorge Chabat spent his last months working for the UdeG. He surprisingly passed away in his home in Guadalajara on 25 June 2022, due to a heart attack. He was 66 years old when he died. His passing was a shock because, even though he had minor health problems, Chabat was very careful about health issues and had his illness under control. He even was on a strict diet to manage his conditions.
During his lifetime, Chabat left an important academic legacy for future generations on security studies and foreign policy analysis. There is no doubt that his writings and his ideas will prevail for many years. They will be an important base to understand those phenomena. In this context, the next part of this paper summarizes and analyzes his most significant contributions on these topics.
Jorge Chabat’s Academic Legacy on Security Studies and Foreign Policy Analysis
When Jorge Chabat joined the CIDE in 1983, he was part of the International Studies Program on Mexican International Relations (PERIM in Spanish), then headed by Olga Pellicer, an outstanding academic and diplomat. There, he started to work on studying Mexico’s foreign policy. His main interest focused on analyzing the decision-making process and the actors that influence it. His first paper was intitled “El marco jurídico de la política exterior: Tendencias y perspectivas” (Legal Framework of Foreign Policy: Trends and Perspectives), which was published in the book: Cuadernos de política exterior mexicana. In his analysis, Chabat pinpointed that the Mexican president had considerable power in the decision-making process and that the Congress was a subordinate branch. Even though the Constitution establishes co-responsibility between both branches, the president had wide leeway in international relations decisions. Later, he continued with this topic when he wrote the book chapter: “The Making of Mexican Policy toward the United States.” In this text, Chabat stated that, for Mexico’s foreign policy matters, the United States was the most important relation for Mexico.
In this first period, Chabat continued working on the same subject. He wrote a remarkable paper in 1986 dubbed “Condicionantes del activismo de la política exterior mexicana” (Determinants in Mexican foreign policy’s activism). His conclusions were that the external environment (mainly the US pressure), the domestic setting, and the personal preferences of the Mexican president were key determinants in the decision-making process. Chabat agreed that the Mexican government, under the regime of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI in Spanish) which ruled Mexico from 1930 to 2000, used foreign policy for domestic consumption. In other words, the use of principles (such as Non Intervention and Self-Determination), close relations towards Latin American countries, and autonomy from the United States, generated national consensus and democratic legitimacy for the PRI. The text was published by El Colegio de México, a leading academic institution, and became an essential reference in the field. By that moment, Chabat became one of the most outstanding experts on Mexico’s foreign policy.
A few years later, he wrote the paper “Los instrumentos de la política exterior de Miguel de la Madrid” (The instruments of Miguel de la Madrid’s foreign policy), which was published in the most prestigious Mexican journal for international relations: Foro Internacional. In this piece, he mentioned that, due to the severe financial crisis, the Mexican president had to resort to economic instruments to deal with the turbulence. In this context, Mexico changed its economic model of development, from a protectionist scheme to a neoliberal pattern, in which free trade and foreign investments were the priority.
Once Salinas de Gortari came to power and the NAFTA treaty negotiations started, Chabat concentrated his research interest on the interdependence concept and on economic integration with the United States. At the beginning of the 90s, he wrote the following papers: “La política exterior de Miguel de la Madrid. Las paradojas de la modernización en un mundo interdependiente” (Miguel de la Madrid’s foreign policy: The paradoxes of modernization in an interdependent world), “México en 1991: Diversificando la interdependencia” (Mexico in 1991: Diversifying the interdependence), “México: entre el nacionalismo y la interdependencia” (Mexico: Between Nationalism and Interdependence), and “Mexico’s Foreign policy in 1990: Electoral Sovereignty and Integration with the United States.” This last article was published in the Journal of InterAmerican Studies and World Affairs, which was edited by the University of Miami. In these texts, Chabat stressed the new international environment after the end of the Cold War, the Mexican ongoing financial crisis, the electoral result of 1988 when Salinas won the presidency under an unclear process. According to Chabat’s view, these factors paved the way for NAFTA negotiations and a broaden integration with the United States.
When Chabat started his graduate studies at the University of Miami, he became interested in security issues, mainly drug trafficking and organized crime in the context of the US-Mexican relationship. Influenced by Bruce Bagley—who was an expert on such topics and later became his mentor—Chabat started to research the subject and publish book chapters and articles in prestigious journals. His first publications were: “Seguridad Nacional y Narcotráfico: Vínculos Reales e Imaginarios” (National Security and Drug Trafficking: Real and Imaginary Links), “Drug trafficking in the U.S.-Mexican relations: What you see is what you get,” “Drug Trafficking and Mexico-United States relations,” and “El narcotráfico y sus alternativas” (Drug Trafficking and its Alternatives). In these texts, Chabat laid his first ideas around these topics. In one of his papers, Chabat argued that there was a close connection between security and drug trafficking. He pointed out that the military response—that has characterized the US policy to combat drugs in South America—“has been based to a great extent on the link between drug trafficking and national security.” In the same paper, Chabat stated that the Mexican and US governments “were trapped” in their anti-drug strategy because it causes high levels of violence and corruption. According to Chabat, this strategy could not be changed because it responded to pressures exerted by US public opinion. Therefore, it was difficult for the US government to change it.
Even though he was working on security studies in the late 90s, Chabat never discarded the analysis of Mexican foreign policy. In those years, he published “La nueva agenda internacional y la política exterior mexicana” (The New International Agenda and Mexico’s Foreign Policy), “La política exterior de Salinas de Gortari: la transición reticente” (Salinas de Gortari’s Foreign Policy: The Reticent Transition), “Mexico’s Foreign Policy after NAFTA: The Tools of Interdependence,” and “Mexican Foreign Policy in the 1990s: Learning to Live with Interdependence.” In these texts, Chabat paid attention to the new Mexico’s international relations after NAFTA, emphasizing the new international order after the end of the Cold War, the close interdependence towards the United States, and the 1994 financial crisis. His argument was that Mexico had no other option but cooperate with the United States due to the domestic and external conditions.
By the end of the twentieth-century and the beginning of the twenty-first, Jorge Chabat was very prolific. In 2000, the PRI lost—for the first time in history—the presidency to the right-wing National Action Party (PAN). Vicente Fox, the new president, wanted to change the PRI’s foreign policy. For example, He promoted democracy and human rights, something that the PRI was not willing to do because its regime violated human rights and resorted to electoral fraud to win elections. However, this policy caused diplomatic crises with Latin American countries, mainly Cuba, Venezuela, Argentina, and Bolivia. Jorge Chabat closely studied these events. By the end of Fox administration, a deep violence arose in the country due to the war among drug cartels. Thus, security studies were needed.
When Felipe Calderon took power in 2006, his government declared the war against organized crime, but the violence grew. In this context, Chabat closely analyzed these developments from a critical perspective. His main interest was to study the government’s response to drug trafficking. For instance, he published the following papers: “Combatting drugs in Mexico under Calderón: The Inevitable War,” “La respuesta del gobierno de Calderón al desafío del narcotráfico: entre lo malo y lo peor” (The Calderón Government’s response to the drug trafficking challenge: Between the Bad and the Worst), “Mexico: The Security Challenge,” and “Mexico's War on Drugs: No Margin for Maneuver.” In these texts, Chabat acknowledged that the only way to reduce violence was through the use of military force against organized crime. He also agreed that it was necessary to strengthen the police institutions, reform the judiciary system, cooperate with the United States, and establish the depenalization process for drug consumption. According to Chabat, those measures were necessary to reduce violence and promote national security.
Almost at the end of the George W. Bush administration, Mexico and the United States agreed on the Merida Initiative, which was a cooperative scheme to fortify the capacities of the Mexican state to fight drug trafficking. Then, Chabat paid close attention to this new bilateral agreement. Chabat deemed that, under the Merida Initiative, perceptions in both parts of the border changed. For example, the US government recognized its co-responsibility in Mexico’s violence due to the huge demand of drugs in the United States. In this way, US agencies in charge of combating drugs started to trust its Mexican peers to exchange information and coordinate efforts to fight the problem. In the past, the US government distrusted Mexico because some of its governmental officials were directly involved with the drug cartels. But now, they were willing to cooperate. In the same vein, Mexican authorities and society agreed to cooperate with the United States on security issues. In the past, Mexican public opinion considered that the US government intervened in Mexico’s domestic issues and violated sovereignty. These ideas were put in the following papers by Chabat: “La Iniciativa Mérida y la relación México-Estados Unidos: en busca de la confianza perdida” (The Merida Initiative and the US-Mexican Relationship: In Search of the lost trust), “Drug Trafficking and US-Mexico Relations: Causes of Conflict”, and “Violence in Mexico: In Search of an Explanation.”
In his final years, Chabat co-edited several books with colleagues from the University of Miami and Georgetown University. First, with John Bailey, they edited the book: Transnational Crime and Public Security: Challenges to Mexico and the United States. The book was published by the Center for US-Mexican Studies of the University of California San Diego. In 2019, he co-edited with Jonathan Rosen and Bruce Bagley the book: The Criminalization of States: The Relationship between States and Organized Crime (Security in the Americas in the Twenty-First Century). The book was published by Lexington Books. Both manuscripts became a relevant reference for security studies in the United States and other parts of the world.
Chabat’s final contributions centered on didactic papers. He participated in several books which were oriented to serve as teaching tools. For instance, he published the chapters “El concepto de seguridad: origen y evolución” (The concept of Security: Source and Evolution), “Seguridad nacional” (National Security), “Interdependencia y seguridad” (Interdependence and Security), and “La Ley de Seguridad Nacional” (National Security Act). These texts became helpful tools to facilitate the understanding of the security concept. His last paper, which was published by Foro Internacional, was “La seguridad en la política exterior de Peña Nieto: el invitado incómodo” (Security in Peña Nieto’s Foreign Policy: The Awkward Guest). This paper was part of the project to evaluate Mexico’s foreign policy at the end of each presidential term, headed by Humberto Garza, a professor at El Colegio de Mexico. In this program, only the key Mexican specialists took part, among them Olga Pellicer, Guadalupe González, Jorge Schiavon, Ana Covarrubias, Blanca Torres, and other important researchers. Jorge Chabat participated during several years in this endeavor; thus, he was considered among the top analysts on the subject.
When Chabat died in June 2022, several academic institutions organized special tributes for him and many people recognized his contributions through media and social networks. The Mexican foreign affairs minister, Marcelo Ebrard, posted a twitter in which he mourned his death. By the same token, Miguel Ruiz Cabañas, Chabat’s classmate and former foreign affairs undersecretary, dedicated his editorial column to him. A week after his dead, Jorge Schiavon organized a homage on Chabat´s honor at CIDE, where Chabat worked for almost 30 years. Similarly, Arturo Santa Cruz set up an event at UdeG to commemorate him and highlight his key contributions for security studies. CESPEM and AMEI also dedicated a workshop on foreign policy to his memory during the AMEI annual congress. Months after his dead, the most important book fair in Latin America (FIL Guadalajara) organized a panel to honor him.
Several newspapers and TV news reported his death. For example, Televisa, the leading TV channel in Mexico, dedicated almost 5 minutes to announce his death and remember his key legacy in national TV. At the same time, the renowned weekly magazine, Proceso, also published an extensive article to enumerate Chabat’s academic contributions. In this piece, Mathieu Tourliere mentioned that Chabat used to question the “war on drugs” approach of the United States, which Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan imposed on the Latin American region. In this context, the US government equated drug trafficking with national security. Tourliere added that Chabat found no relationship between drug traffickers and ideological terrorist groups and, in that sense, “they do not constitute a threat to national security” for Mexico. Another of Chabat’s ideas was that one effect of the fight against drug trafficking was an increased violence and the strengthening of the military sector to the detriment of civil authority. In the article, Tourliere recalled that Chabat recognized the collusion between high officials and criminal groups.
According to Tourliere, Chabat also denounced the US intervention in Mexico's anti-drug policy, which “violated Mexico’s national sovereignty.” In this sense, the topic of drug trafficking took on an increasing importance in public opinion and among decision makers. Chabat also studied, according to Tourliere, “the multiple and deficient reforms to the justice administration system and the collaboration programs between Mexico and the United States in the fight against drug trafficking –such as the Mérida Initiative–, and the tensions in the bilateral relationship induced by this issue.” Chabat also criticized the security and foreign policy implemented by the Enrique Peña Nieto administration, which had promised to “reformulate” Calderón’s approach to achieve social peace. However, by the end of 2018, the violence had increased. For his part, Pablo López stated that Jorge Chabat stood out for making specific and crude statements about the state of security in Mexico, especially in the last 20 years, after the escalation of violence in the country. According to Lopez, the most controversial claim by Jorge Chabat was his support for the use of the military force to fight drug trafficking due to police corruption.
There is plenty of evidence in this paper that Jorge Chabat made an important and vast scholarly contribution to the fields of national security and foreign policy in Mexico. In this sense, his publications will be used by people interested in such topics and his ideas and proposals will prevail for many years. As long as Mexico is involved in this cycle of violence, Chabat’s knowledge will be necessary. In this way, decision makers will have to return to his writings to better understand the problem and shape public policy. In the same context, society and students will require Chabat´s expertise to find answers and explanations to this dreadful phenomenon.
Without any doubt, Jorge Chabat became a leading specialist in security studies and foreign policy analysis. He was one of the most prolific authors in this subject because he published a myriad of books and papers on his research interests. His writings were a key guide to understand the roots of the drug trafficking phenomenon, particularly in the context of the US-Mexican relationship. His proposals to cope with this problem were bold. He agreed with depenalization and the use of military force to fight drug cartels. He even criticized the Mexican government when the strategy to deal with the issue failed. He clearly understood how drug cartels operated and had a profound knowledge on this matter. He also had thoughtful ideas about national security and was able to advise governments, teach on the subject, and communicate his thoughts through the media.
In foreign policy matters, he was also an outstanding expert. He understood how the decision-making process worked, which actors participated in its formulation, and what factors were determinant in its projection. He accepted that, during the PRI regime, Mexico’s foreign policy was mainly for domestic consumption. In other words, a principled stance, an autonomy vis-à-vis the United States, and a close relation towards Latina America, were necessary to promote national consensus and democratic legitimacy. However, this policy changed when the PAN took power in 2000. The Fox and Calderon administrations tried to project a different foreign policy from the PRI. However, the domestic violence that was a product of the war among drug cartels overshadowed Mexico’s performance in foreign affairs, as Chabat considered. This period of violence persisted during the Peña Nieto and López Obrador administrations. Thus, Chabat’s ideas and recommendations were highly relevant during these years.
As a person, Jorge Chabat was always friendly with all kinds of people. He was willing to help them when he could. Even though he was sarcastic, Chabat possessed a very good sense of humor. He was a respected and admired professor by his students. He was also concerned with human rights and democracy. He was a keen political analyst for domestic and foreign issues in his editorial columns and in his TV and radio comments. There is no doubt that Chabat left an important legacy in academic terms for future generations interested in security studies and foreign policy analysis. Chabat will be always remembered as an excellent person and as a great scholar.
The author wants to thank Miguel Ruiz Cabañas, Jorge Schiavon, Guadalupe González, and Arturo Santa Cruz, for insightful information to write this paper. This text is a special tribute in honor to Jorge Chabat’s memory.
Rafael Velázquez Flores is an International Relations professor at the Autonomous University of Baja California, in Mexico. He obtained his PhD in International Studies at the University of Miami. He was a personal and close friend of Jorge Chabat.
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