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A “New” Dynamic in the Western Hemisphere Security Environment: The Mexican Zetas and the Other Private Armies

A “New” Dynamic in the Western Hemisphere Security Environment: The Mexican Zetas and the Other Private Armies published on

Authored by U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute

A new and dangerous dynamic has been introduced into the Mexican internal security environment. That new dynamic involves the migration of power from traditional state and nonstate adversaries to nontraditional nonstate private military organizations such as the Zetas, enforcer gangs like the Aztecas, Negros, and Polones, and paramilitary triggermen. Moreover, the actions of these irregular nonstate actors tend to be more political-psychological than military, and further move the threat from hard power to soft power solutions.

In this connection, we examine the macro “what, why, who, how, and so what?” questions concerning the resultant type of conflict that has been and is being fought in Mexico. A useful way to organize these questions is to adopt a matrix approach. The matrix may be viewed as having four sets of elements:
(1) The Contextual Setting, (the “what?” and beginning “why” questions);
(2) The Protagonist’s Background, Organization, Operations, Motives, and Linkages (the fundamental “who? why?” and “how” questions); (3) The Strategic-Level Outcomes and Consequences (the basic “so what?” question; and (4) Recommendations that address the salient implications. These various elements are mutually influencing and constitute the political-strategic level cause and effect dynamics of a given case.

The Contextual Setting explains that the irregular conflict phenomenon in Mexico is a response to historical socio-political factors, as well as new politicalmilitary dynamics being introduced into the internal security arena. New and fundamental change began to emerge in the 1980s. Mexico began to devolve from a strong, centralized, de facto unitary state that had the procedural features of democracy, but in which the ruling elites faced no scrutiny or accountability. At the same time, Mexico started to become a market state that responded to markets and profits rather than traditional government regulation. In that connection, we see the evolution of new private, nonstate, nontraditional warmaking entities (the Zetas, and others) capable of challenging the stability, security, and effective sovereignty of the nation-state. Thus, we see the erosion of democracy and the erosion of the state. In these terms, the internal security situation in Mexico is well beyond a simple law enforcement problem. It is also a socio-political problem, and a national security issue with implications beyond Mexico’s borders.

Publication Date:
Jul 05 2014
1500414379 / 9781500414375
Page Count:
Binding Type:
US Trade Paper
Trim Size:
7″ x 10″
Black and White
Related Categories:
Political Science / Political Freedom & Security / International Secur


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