Vincent Dueñas is a recent graduate of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, a U.S. Army Major, and an Associate Member of the Military Writers Guild.  This Mexico vignette was first written to fulfill a requirement in his degree program.  The views reflected are his own and do not represent the opinion of the United States Government or any of its agencies.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto faces a potentially combative relationship with the United States (U.S.), anemic economic growth, and increasing security concerns from Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs).

Date Originally Written:  December 21, 2016.

Date Originally Published:  February 9, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the perspective of the National Security Advisor for Mexican President Peña Nieto, who is offering options for Mexico, in light of incomplete domestic reforms and emergent challenges from the U.S.

Background:  President Peña Nieto’s “Pacto por México” was an agreement aimed at unifying the country’s three major parties in strengthening the Mexican state, improving political and economic democratization, and expanding social rights.  This agreement resulted in the successful enactment of constitutional reforms, but implementation has stalled due to opposition and unfavorable global conditions[1][2].  President Peña Nieto won the presidency as a member of the historically powerful, centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).  His election revived the PRI’s control after a 12-year tenure under the right of center National Action Party (PAN).  The PAN and the left of center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) have recently undermined the implementation of the President’s reforms for their own political gain prior to the 2018 election.

Significance:  Current U.S. overtures calling for the funding of a border wall by Mexico and the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) pose a significant challenge to Mexico’s economic and national security dynamics.  This dramatic shift in relationship with the U.S., Mexico’s largest trading partner, may detrimentally impact Mexico and create a dangerous security issue.  Although we have a large capable military, our forces are committed to fighting TCOs and we are not prepared to engage in a direct conflict with the U.S.  As a nation, Mexico has actively sought to participate fully in the global liberal world order and a failure to counterbalance U.S. overtures threatens to destabilize our economy and amplify the worsening TCO problem.

Option #1:  Continue the “Pacto por México” and engage in limited unilateral diplomatic confrontation with the U.S.

Risk:  The risk in continuing the “Pacto por México” rests mainly in the inability for the country to implement these reforms at this critical juncture.  President Peña Nieto’s legacy will be incomplete as the PAN and PRD sabotage the progress on reforms in order to gain political advantage.  In responding reactively to the U.S., President Peña Nieto risks being seen as weak and our government will continue to lose legitimacy.  Progress in combating TCOs will continue to fall short as necessary judicial reforms will fail to materialize.

Gain:  The greatest gain from this approach would be the preservation of the status quo, drawing the least ire from the U.S.  It would minimize potential economic blowback and allow maximum possibility for favorable concessions from the U.S. during any renegotiation over NAFTA.  Additionally, it provides the most assured means of avoiding repercussions against vital security cooperation and assistance funding and collaboration with the U.S. military and its security agencies.

Option #2:  Get out in front of the U.S.’ overtures and reframe the challenge of the U.S. through a new PRI-led domestic campaign of “Dialogues” that would represent the next phase of “Pacto por Mexico” and reinvigorate public support for the reforms.  Acknowledging that the “Pacto” has faced difficulties, Mexican society can be rallied together by the PRI through a communications campaign that frames Mexico as a parent-like figure to the U.S., who is suffering from drugs and self-destructive behavior.  This campaign can connect directly with Mexican citizens’ familial inclinations through a perspective that describes a parent who is caring for a fellow family member with understanding.  Simultaneously, a provisional dialogue with TCOs should be initiated to seek a reduction in violence on the basis of pride and the threat that U.S. actions pose to Mexican society writ large.  Lastly, we should initiate and lead a multilateral hemispheric effort to economically and diplomatically counterbalance the U.S. by reinvigorating the concept of the Free Trade Agreement for the Americas.

Risk:  The risks are many, but the dialogue with TCOs poses the greatest risk, as the perception of government collusion with criminals could become a scandal that could undo the party.  The suspension of remittances and security cooperation and assistance funding, such as the Mérida Initiative, would be extremely costly.  This approach would also signal a clear departure from a collaborative approach with the U.S. and commit Mexico to dependency exclusively on other markets, such as China and the countries in Latin America, which historically have not looked favorably towards Mexico.

Gain:  This would increase Mexico’s leverage against the U.S. by spearheading a hemispheric economic block.  A deliberate campaign of domestic and international action could consolidate the PRI’s authority within the country as the leader that will protect Mexican citizens from hostile U.S. intentions and lead a hemispheric coalition to confront discordant U.S. policies.  Riding the hopefulness of the Colombian peace process, a successful truce with TCOs could bring about an era of peace and stability that would allow judicial reforms to be implemented, which could eventually tackle corruption.  President Peña Nieto can garner attention, legitimacy, and credibility by speaking objectively and unemotionally as a counterbalance to the U.S. approach.  This could also pay out in dividends as other regions of the world may begin to look to Mexico as a primary partner in the hemisphere.

Other Comments:  The U.S.’ redefinition of its role as guarantor of the international post-World War 2 order provides the opportunity for other states to become more authoritative in international affairs.  China, for example, has begun challenging the U.S.’ will to engage in a military confrontation in the South China Sea.  Brazil, Canada, Colombia and Mexico are the hemisphere’s most sizeable economic and military powers after the U.S.  Brazil is experiencing political upheaval and is incapable of significant international action.  Canada is too close of an ally to the U.S. and most likely would be unwilling to challenge them directly.  Colombia is undergoing a peace process and is also a major ally of the U.S., which reduces their willingness to challenge the U.S. directly.  Mexico therefore stands as the only country with the ability and freedom to assert itself against the U.S. in the hemisphere.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Sada, Andres. “Explainer: What is the Pacto por Mexico?” Americas Society/Council of the Americas. March 11,2013. Retrieved January 26, 2017, from http://www.as-coa.org/articles/explainer-what-pacto-por-méxico.

[2]  U.S. Congressional Research Service. Mexico: Background and U.S. Relations (CRS-2016-FDT-0759; December 5, 2016), by Clare Ribando Seelke. Text in ProQuest Congressional Research Digital Collection. Retrieved January 26, 2017.

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