U.S.-Mexico Security Cooperation Four Years On

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US Secretary of State Clinton and Mexican Foreign Minister Espinosa (Saul Loeb / Courtesy Reuters).

US Secretary of State Clinton and Mexican Foreign Minister Espinosa (Saul Loeb / Courtesy Reuters).

Last Friday, Hillary Clinton hosted the Merida Initiative High-Level Consultative Group in Washington. The meeting was the Group’s third, building on previous meetings in November 2008 and March 2010 in Mexico City to deepen the security partnership between the two countries. The meeting brought together cabinet secretaries from both governments, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Attorney General Eric Holder, DHS chief Janet Napolitano, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, and Ambassador Pascual, as well as Mexico’s Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa, Secretary of Governance José Francisco Blake Mora, Secretary of National Defense General Guillermo Galván Galván, top police chief Genaro García Luna, Attorney General Marisela Morales Ibañez, National Security Spokesman Alejandro Poire Romero, and Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan.

Much as the Calderon visit to Washington in March, little new was announced beyond renewed commitments to the current four-pillar strategy and a recognition of shared responsibility. Instead, the main “news” is that security relations continue on the same path. Which begs the question –  where are we now after 4 years of US-Mexico security cooperation?

An excellent new paper by Andrew Selee and Eric L. Olson at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute lays out a concise evaluation and accurate scorecard. On the first pillar, targeting organized crime groups, they argue that while progress has been made in intelligence sharing and the arrest of key leaders in both Mexico and the U.S., a clear strategy to dismantle the cartels’ financial and arms smuggling networks – arguably the most important task ahead to erode future capacity – has yet to emerge. On the second pillar, to strengthen Mexico’s rule of law institutions, they find that police reforms and efforts to clean up Mexico’s courts have been slow and face numerous setbacks, and have failed to filter down from the federal to the state and local levels. On the third pillar, they see positive first steps in the lengthy task of modernizing the U.S.-Mexico border, including new ports of entry and technology to expedite transit and improve security. They find that the least progress has been made on the fourth pillar, as U.S. resources for strengthening communities through job creation and youth engagement  has lagged behind other programs. Finally, they name the implicit fifth pillar that should be a key component of measuring success: demand reduction in the U.S.

While no news may be good news out of these high level meetings, Selee and Olson’s analysis suggests the need for much bolder measures and stronger support on both sides of the border, given how much is needed to turn the security tide.

Published in conjunction with Latin America’s Moment at the Council on Foreign Relations.