With all the external security threats facing the United States, the importance of Mexico to U.S. national security often is overlooked.
But the trafficking of drugs and people across the southern border can include people who pose a security threat to the nation, and the Mexican Army increasingly is cooperating with U.S. authorities to address those threats, a panel of Army and civilian experts said.
"We must recognize the absolute necessity of Mexico to U.S. security," Brig. Gen. James Taylor, deputy director for plans at U.S. Northern Command, told a forum at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition.
Taylor compared the role Mexico plays in U.S. national security to the part Canada has held for decades in facing the "existential" airborne threat from over the North Pole, a reference to the possible nuclear attack from the Soviet Union and now Russia.
Because of the potential flow of dangerous elements across the southern border, "Mexico is postured to play just as import a role in that threat, as Canada does in the existential threat," he said.
The good news is Mexico, particularly its military, is expanding its engagement and cooperation with U.S. security organizations to address what is a common threat, Taylor and Michael Houston, principle director for the Americas at the Department of Homeland Security, said.
"The Mexican military is requesting more ties with us," Taylor said. "Our objective is the cooperative defense of North America."
Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, noted that due to Mexican tradition, the military has focused solely on the homeland, on territorial control against political threats, such as anti-government guerrillas, and has been prevented from projecting force outside Mexico.
But it is the second most trusted institution in the country, behind only the church, he said.
The Army’s focus has changed in recent years with the fight against the violent drug cartels, which has led to "enormous questions of human rights violations" that will require a cultural change, Wood said.
Lt. Gen. Perry Wiggins, commanding general, U.S. Army North, cited the close relations he has with Mexico’s top military leader and the growing cooperation with them in dealing with the common threat the two nations face.
He also noted changes in the Mexican military’s training, including greater focus on human rights.
The Army also is working to help the Mexican Army develop the capability to join multi-national peacekeeping missions, Wiggins said.