“And so we have an initiative underway where the senior members of the Mexican Government will be coming up here on May the 18th to participate in an interagency process with us to see if we can get at transnational organized crime and begin to break these organized crime units up.“ Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson speech to Department of State employees, May 3, 2017.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson’s maiden speech before U.S. Department of State employees on May 3rd forms the backdrop for an important meeting he will host with his Mexican counterpart today. It will be an opportunity to redefine U.S.-Mexico security cooperation for the foreseeable future. The question is whether that opportunity will be used to define new and effective ways to address the vexing problem of organized crime, corruption, and extreme violence, or whether it will simply result in a doubling down on what has already been tried and mostly failed. In other words, will the new plan look a lot like the old plan with both sides simply trying harder?
Secretary Tillerson’s words are reassuring in part because they signal a willingness to work together with Mexico to address serious problems of insecurity. It goes without saying that nothing is more important to the immediate safety and security of the United States than its relationship with its neighbor Mexico. But the President’s own statements about Mexico, Mexicans, and their security forces during the campaign and after his election raised concerns that he might undermine decades of work to reduce tensions between the two countries and to address common security threats through a framework of “shared responsibility.”
But cooperation is not an end in itself, but a means to an end and what must be examined is whether the strategy being pursued is appropriate. The Secretary’s suggestion that the focus of security cooperation should be “transnational organized crime and (to) begin to break these organized crime units (OCU) up,” raises significant questions.