by Zach Rosenberg
The Mexican military of gets about .5% of the GDP, putting them on relative par with such, ahem, heavily notoriously militarized, violent nations as The Bahamas, Moldova and Gambia. The budget, about $4 billion in 2006, has recently received a $500 million boost from the Merida Initiative, which is mainly to be dedicated to reconnaissance and interdiction equipment. The result is a slow upgrade from their weird hodgepodge of outdated systems into a relative modernity. This is not to insult the Mexican military, but seriously, nobody really uses T-33s anymore.
Recent purchases of weapons and associated systems from Israel, Germany and the U.S. will likely result in a real upgrade in capability. However, in a country like Mexico, which has major problems with inequality (Gini coefficient of .54) where citizens have little faith in their governmental institutions, with a history of forceful intervention in domestic affairs (pdf!), military modernization can be controversial. Recent proposals to buy Russian Su-27s for the Navy, for instance, were rejected.
Mexico, surrounded by weak military powers and bordering a world superpower, has long been oriented towards domestic operations, which are now, under significant pressure from the U.S., anti-drug in nature. President Felipe Calderon ordered the military to intervene directly in northern Mexico, superseding and sometimes directly replacing heavily corrupt or ineffective police forces and putting emphasis on national counter-drug operations — despite these measures the military has been generally ineffective in increasing security. This is not unexpected given the level of corruption within the military.
Indeed, Los Zetas, as one of the more notorious drug hit squads are known, is composed partially of deserters from Mexican special forces units. Men in Mexican Army uniforms have been seen (pictured) and fired upon escorting drug shipments over the U.S. border. That said, they are trying. The Army can now be seen all over northern Mexico, backed by heavy weapons, helicopters and surveillance aircraft (from the U.S. as well). While corruption almost certainly means that these resources are being used selectively against a limited range of targets, they are there. The strength of the drug cartels and level of support (and terror) they inspire likely mean that the status quo will not change drastically, but their effectiveness remains to be (publicly) seen.