January 25, 2013
With a U.S. defense strategy focused heavily on the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East, officials at U.S. Northern Command here are enthusiastically advancing engagement to the United States’ immediate southern border.
Mexico, which has long focused its military internally, is increasingly receptive to building a closer bilateral relationship with the U.S. military, Army Maj. Gen. Francis G. Mahon, Northcom’s director for strategy, plans and policy, told American Forces Press Service.
“During the past two to three years, as the Mexican army and Mexican navy have taken on a larger role beyond internal security issues, our relationship with them has really grown and expanded through security cooperation,” Mahon said. “They have opened up to us and said, ‘Let’s start working closer and closer together.’”
That’s good news for the United States, he said, because the United States and Mexico share a 2,000-mile border and are intertwined culturally as well as economically. What happens in Mexico matters to the United States — in terms of trade, immigration and, of particular concern here at Northcom, U.S. national security, he said.
Closer military-to-military cooperation will enable the U.S. and Mexican militaries to share best practices as they collaborate in tackling common challenges, Mahon said. They will be able to deal more effectively with threats such as transnational organized crime, while increasing their ability to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster response throughout the region.
Mexico’s constitution explicitly prohibits foreign forces from operating on Mexican soil. But as SEDENA and SEMAR, Mexico’s army and navy, respectively, shed their internal focus, they are becoming increasingly open to combined training and subject matter expert exchanges, Mahon said.
The Merida Initiative opened the door to increased engagement in 2007, with the United States providing funding and equipment to help Mexican law enforcement fight drug cartels and related criminal elements.
Five years later, the United States expanded the mission to include other efforts that contribute to security. Today, the Merida framework includes disrupting organized crime, training state and local police, supporting judicial reforms, promoting legal cross-border commerce while stopping illicit shipments and building strong communities that discourage criminal activity.
The bottom line — for the Merida Initiative and for all other theater security cooperation — is about building partnership capacity, Mahon said.
“The end state for Mexico, from our perspective, is that we are their strategic partner of choice in the region, and they are a regional partner who can then assist other nations in the region or respond to other crises in the region, for example through humanitarian assistance or disaster relief,” he said.
The Mexicans, for example, are modernizing their aviation platforms. Northcom worked with them, through the State Department, to help upgrade their RC-26 aircraft and acquire UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters for SEMAR, he said. The United States also is helping Mexico buy C-130J Hercules aircraft through the foreign military sales program, along with the logistics capabilities required to maintain these latest-generation cargo aircraft, Mahon said.
But Mexico’s interest in bilateral cooperation extends beyond equipment.