Pakistan, Mexico and U.S. nightmares

By Bernd Debusmann
January 7, 2009

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

What do Pakistan and Mexico have in common? They figure in the nightmares of U.S. military planners trying to peer into the future and identify the next big threats.

The two countries are mentioned in the same breath in a just-published study by the United States Joint Forces Command, whose jobs include providing an annual look into the future to prevent the U.S. military from being caught off guard by unexpected developments.

“In terms of worst-case scenarios for the Joint Force and indeed the world, two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico,” says the study – Joint Operating Environment 2008 – in a chapter on “weak and failing states.” Such states, it says, usually pose chronic, long-term problems that can be managed over time.

But the little-studied phenomenon of “rapid collapse,” according to the study, “usually comes as a surprise, has a rapid onset, and poses acute problems.” Think Yugoslavia and its 1990 disintegration into a chaotic tangle of warring nationalities and bloodshed on a horrific scale.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan, where al-Qaeda has established safe havens in the rugged regions bordering on Afghanistan, is a regular feature in dire warnings. Thomas Fingar, who retired as the U.S.’s chief intelligence analyst in December, termed Pakistan “one of the single most challenging places on the planet.”

This is fairly routine language for Pakistan, but not for Mexico, which shares a 2,000-mile border with the nightmare-pakistan_mexico-wUnited States.

Mexico’s mention beside Pakistan in a study by an organization as weighty as the Joint Forces Command (which controls almost all conventional forces based in the continental U.S.) speaks volumes about growing concern over what’s happening south of the U.S. border.

Vicious and widening violence pitting drug cartels against each other and against the Mexican state have left more than 8,000 Mexicans dead over the past two years. Kidnappings have become a routine part of Mexican daily life. Common crime is widespread. Pervasive corruption has hollowed out the state.

In November, in a case that shocked even those (on both sides of the border) who consider corruption endemic in Mexico, former drug czar Noe Ramirez was charged with accepting at least $450,000 a month in bribes from a drug cartel in exchange for information about police and anti-narcotics operations.

A month later, a Mexican army major, Arturo Gonzalez, was arrested on suspicion he sold information about President Felipe Calderon’s movements for $100,000 a month. Gonzalez belonged to a special unit responsible for protecting the president.

DESCENT INTO CHAOS?

Depending on one’s view, the arrests are successes in a publicly-declared anti-corruption drive or evidence of how deeply criminal mafias have penetrated the organs of the state.

According to the Joint Forces study, the possibility of a sudden collapse in Mexico is less likely than in Pakistan “but the government, its politicians, police, and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels. How that internal conflict turns out over the next several years will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state.”

It added: “Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone.”

What form such a response might take is anyone’s guess and the study does not spell it out, nor does it address the economic implications of its worst-case scenario. Mexico is the third biggest trade partner of the United States (after Canada and China) and its third-biggest supplier of oil (after Canada and Saudi Arabia).

No such ties bind the United States and Pakistan but the study sees a collapse there not only as more likely but also as more catastrophic.

It would bring “the likelihood of a sustained violent and bloody civil and sectarian war, an even bigger haven for violent extremists, and the question of what would happen to its nuclear weapons. That ‘perfect storm’ of uncertainty alone might require the engagement of U.S. and coalition forces into a situation of immense complexity and danger … and with the real possibility that nuclear weapons might be used.”

It is not clear where on the long list of actual and potential crises around the world Mexico and Pakistan will rank once Barack Obama takes office as U.S. president on Jan. 20. During the election campaign, Obama repeatedly criticized Pakistan for not cracking down hard enough on terrorists inside its borders.

Since then a new Pakistani president came to power. Not long after, tensions between Pakistan and India, also a nuclear power, rose sharply after gunmen attacked two luxury hotels and other sites in Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, and killed 179 people. India described the attack as a conspiracy hatched in Pakistan and carried out by Pakistanis.

Closer to home, the U.S. economic crisis looks likely to slow down a $1.4 billion assistance program (military equipment, training, technology) to help the Mexican government gain the upper hand over the drug cartels and re-establish control over what some have called “failed cities” along the border, places where shootouts, beheadings and kidnappings have become routine.

It would take a very rosy outlook on the future to expect rapid progress.

For previous columns by Bernd Debusmann, click here. You can contact the author at Debusmann@reuters.com.

509 comments

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“Poor Mexico so close to the U.S. and so far away from God” reads a popular saying. And on top of that, vast corruption and drug wars. If that is not a recipe for chaos,then what?

Posted by Richard | Report as abusive

Mexico is the victim of the American War on Drugs. In our own declaration of independence we complained about laws that were foisted on us by the king of England. Yet we now have laws foisted on us by our own legislatures. As Robert Heinlein said in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, we pass laws to tell us what we don’t want to do anyway. But “we” (as opposed to our elected officials) clearly don’t support the anti-drug laws by virtue of the number of people who ignore them. Having laws that are not widely supported is a sure recipe for corruption. Mexico is quicker off the mark than the US but corruption is increasing in the US as well. The current situation is a train wreck waiting to happen and nobody seems to either care or have a better idea than pushing the car back up the hill to see if it does it again (also known as “cracking down”)

Posted by Jeff | Report as abusive

Dear Bernd Debusmann:

Don’t worry about Pakistan. Indeed Pakistan have many problems. I am very optimistc about the future of Pakistan. In your column, I did not see a single word about those countries who created these problems in that region. You should talk about those countries as well. As far India is concerned, India must look into his own backyard for “Hindu Terrorism” as well as “Independence Movements.” You also need to read the book of President Nixon and the columns of Prominent Indian Writer
Arundhati Roy. You will find the truth about India very clearly. May God give you the courage to be honest with your profession.Thank you.

Posted by M. Z. Mustafa | Report as abusive

Pakistan is on brink of economic collapse. The administration and the people live in a state of denial. They do not have any industries. A vast majority of the population is illliterate, there is no scientific mind set among the people. The reason for this their past governments , who had no vision for future of Pakistani people and country as a whole. Each administration was better than the previous administration in only one thing- corruption.
The money comes in to Pakistan only as aid and loan and from hardworking Pakistanis overseas. There are no internal accruals.
The world as a whole and Pakistanis should take a careful look at themselves and realize that Nuclear arms(the technology and parts for which was smuggled) is not going to take them anywhere. There was time when China was equal or worst in development and standard of living than Pakistan. Look where China is now and where is Pakistan. However, the world can just sit and watch and protect itself from Pakistan. There is only god who can help Pakistan. But god has clearly stated that he is willing to help only those who are willing to help themselves.

Posted by Tyvek | Report as abusive

What the west need to do is:
1-Help Pakistan and its general population get self sustainable and build a sustainable economy and businesses for themselves.

This alone will take most of the idle minds off the wrong paths implanted on them by shrewd individuals.

Nothing is wrong with the country- what is wrong is all the time and no money situation which is fueling the idle minds with no reason jihad workshops.

Posted by Dave | Report as abusive

Though what Dave suggests seems the right thing to do but its not smart thing to do. The reason is simple. West has already done this. The result-nothing. Money went to the leaders and politician.
The only solution is let them live the way are living. Don’t bother them.
Don’t talk about them because if you do then they start comparing themselves with neighboring India. By the way comparing themselves in each and every level with India is national pass time. Please leave them alone.

Posted by Tyvek | Report as abusive

I think before we pass judgment upon others, we should examine our governments actions and identify whether or not they have been forms of terror. Fortunately for the victims of our bombs, our economy is in collapse as well and we will not, much longer, be able to sustain such activity.
Our nation throughout it’s history has grappled with the societal ills caused by narcotic, alcohol and pharmaceutical abuse. Perhaps we should have examined the failure of our wars on poverty, drugs and terror at home before we carried it around the world.
All of these issues will be exacerbated by drought, famine and flooding caused largely by unsustainable use of resources by industrial societies. We as a nation would be well advised to find different solutions to our problems at home. The ones we have been employing have clearly not worked.

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

I think Mr. Debusmann has been on a theme for his last three articles. The gross amounts of illicit income financing the criminal elements south of the boarder are causing sever problems. As has been stated before, if you legalize pot and cocaine you cut off that illicit income. Then the money we give those governments can be spent on cleaning up the criminal elements and you no longer have a critical problem.

As for the “bad” elements in the Middle East like al Qaeda, this is much more troublesome. They are funded by opium and oil. We can deal with it but it is more complicated. Europe and the US will need to legalize opium and it’s derivatives. There is precedence we can follow and improve on. Then we need to make sure that oil stays between $30 and $40 while we move our transportation industry away from oil. With oil at this level the states providing support to al Qaeda will no longer be able to do so and still maintain their current standard of living. The only reason OPEC want oil higher ($80 – $100) is to fund Iran’s and Venezuela’s military expansion plans and so Syria, Saudi Arabia, Arab Emirates and Kuwait can fund al Qaeda, Hamas and other such groups. All the US has to do is open the oil pumps. To sustain the effort the US needs to drill the fields we know about that are on land. It costs $23 to lift oil from on shore wells and $60 from off shore. You make the call. The oil companies do not care about peace or life. They care about profit. They are very big and very powerful. The US oil production has decreased over the last 5 years while demand up until 08 has remained steady. And you thought we were trying to get off foreign oil?

Posted by B.Free | Report as abusive

The real shame here lies with the citizens of the United States. As the consumers of illegal drugs, we feed the drug cartels that have gutted Mexico’s government. The best thing America can do to bolster our economy and protect our national security, is work on our own drug addiction.

Posted by Thane Eddington | Report as abusive

The USA is burning other countries with its so called war on terror after the 9\11.
Pakistan is one of the victims not from terrorist but from USA so called war on terror.
If USA wants to be the contractor of peace then what Israel is doing must me condemned as well. You also need to give the suggestion to the USA that it should be more concerned what is going on with in its own borders rather taking keen interest in other countries matters. The time has arrived finally for the MUSLIM nations to unite together to face the biggest terrorist nation in the world the United States of America.

Posted by saqib | Report as abusive

I Guss we have already Forgotten that millions of Taliban, formally “Mujaheddins” are the creation of the Unites States, to destroy the Soviet union.America supplied them with 3+ million stinger missiles, anti tank rockets and other heavy weaponry and training. Well, Now 20 yrs later, Pakistanis are having to deal with the problem.
I think we should support Pakistan Financially and militarily, and help them clean out the mess we created.

Posted by mohammed | Report as abusive

Pakistanis should learn from these discussions on how to identify and solve the problems.

These ordinary citizens are bold and courageous enough to take part of the blame on themselves not putting on somebody else. That’s the reason the country as whole can correct itself (if needed) and continue to grow and prosper.

The people and government of Pakistan do not have guts and as I said earlier are in a state of complete denial on where they are and where they want to be as a nation.

So please leave them alone. They will not follow any good advice because they destined to doom.

Posted by Tyek | Report as abusive

Just like all US financial institutions, their New Media organizations are corrupt and sleeping with Devils. One they will collaps. Perfect storm is waiting to happen.

Along with Bernd Debusmann Reuters News and Associate Press have one thing common, they are baised against coutries like Iran, Mexico, Pakistan, Syria, Russia, China, Burma and their favorite is Venezuela. They will never critize the U.S. and thier puppets such as Israel, Egypt and sadly now INDIA the real criminals.

Even though they know that their monster challenge is Israel and Palestine but they will never admit to this. For the whole world this is a Mother of all challenge.
Due to Iraq war Palestinian cause was never a headline news.

stop weeding dude leave Mexico and Pakistan alone

Posted by david duke | Report as abusive

Careful reading of events in Indo-Pak relations shows that a series of governmental upheavals in Pak have their roots in the ISI/? and its plots aimed at removing perceived obstacles to the use of nukes on India by Pak. First was the removal of Benazir Bhutto by Nawaz Sharif on the specious grounds of ‘corruption’ when in reality it was a deal between Mush and Nawaz to take out Bhutto before she fired them as generals and plotters which they certainly were. Then Sharif refused to use nukes on India over the Cargill dispute a few years later, so Musharref (Mush) displaced him and ruled as a dictator. Now it was up to him to use the nukes, but even he then had second thoughts now that HE was the one with the finger on the button that would doom tens of millions of Pakis when the Hindu BJP retaliated. Mush made himself content playing a double game of playing off the Islamists, druggies, secularists, ultras of all stripes not just Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba (JeM and LeT). Giving each faction, and the ISI the idea that he was secretly on THEIR side is a very hard tiger to ride. Now he is kind of off that tiger, so Benazir’s widower is left picking up the pieces. An ISI coup is a real possibility, followed by strikes into Afghanistan as part of a new Talibo/Pak alliance to secure the rear guard and to put a huge presence on the Iranian border to stop the United States’ natural allies in the area, the Iranians?! yeah you read right, they ARE our natural allies but neither realizes that fact yet because both Bush and Ahmenadinajad are as alike as peas in a pod and both literally drink out of the same idealogical dogmatic glass. When our new Prez Buraq Hussein Obama, who runs away from his Islamic roots yet holds on to his Islamic names, meets Mahmoud Ahmenadinejad, who talks to an imaginary ‘spirit’ in an old dusty well, the synergy may be different. That new spirit between Iran and the US still will leave both as spectators to the main act in Pakistan’s south when the next world war starts between Pak and India, soon involving China aiding Pakistan while suppressing its own Islamists in Xinkiang. China’s main fish to fry here is to use this campaign as a distraction while seeing an opportunity to grab the main course, Taiwan, Russian Siberia, and both Koreas before then feasting on the so called ASEAN countries of southeast asia. This will so tie up the weak and decadent west that Indonesia will have no trouble grabbing Australia and New Zealand while no one seems to be looking.

Posted by Mohandas Patel | Report as abusive

Until their economies improve these Countries will never attain peace.

These 2 countries will not care a damn for peace of otehers

pakistan, is one of the worst county i have ever seen, the people of pakistan cant do any better for any.
USA govt not taking any step to pakistan, but one day they will realise, when usa got attacked from pakistan.
Well god bless usa.

Posted by gopal | Report as abusive

A very good story established by my friend Bernd. I want to ask you one thing for how long and for how many times you been to Pakistan. I guess not a single time. Will be better if you know about the ordinary Pakistani instead of west sponsored politicians. You will come to know how strong Pakistani is and how much they love their country. As far as Nuclear weapons are concerned, If a nation can develop Nuclear weapon they can also protect it. we are a nation with 160 million Muslims. True we have some of our brothers angry with the Politicians but they are not threat to the Pakistan stability. They are threat only to the west imposed policies in our beloved country. So stop dreaming for no Muslim country with Nuclear Weapons. But be prepare to face another Nuclear armed Muslim country Iran. I wonder how west will do propaganda for Iran instability. which is strongest and true Muslim Nation on the earth.

Posted by M S Malik | Report as abusive

Between five and ten years ago there was an experiment done in Liverpool England. At the time Liverpool had one of the highest crime rates in England ( as well as a high number of drug addicts ). What they did was , if you were an addict you went to your doctor and when your addiction was confirmed.The government then supplied your herion and tried to get you on a methadone program as well as provided councilling. After a year the crime rate was one of the lowest in England.By the way,enough heroin to last a week cost the government $5 as opposed to $1500 on the street.TAKE THE PROFIT OUT OF DRUGS AND THERE IS NO REASON TO GET SOMEONE HOOKED.

Posted by terry kindle | Report as abusive

Dear sir,
i think to make this world a better place to live in, we should recede our influences on others–related to power and diplomatic threats as example. There is no country in this world that America hasn’t meddled into, brought chaos and imposed ideologies. If they try to get by pinning their intentions on the word ‘democracy’, so why don’t they let nations decide their fates on their own? Why Afghanistan needs American help to protect its own people? For whom? Where does this word ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom of movement, ideology and belief’ stand in between? Why don’t just Americans ask for, and buy, what they need (oil) instead of trying to ruin countries for the same??

Posted by gautam | Report as abusive

We didn’t give the Mujahadeen 3+ million Stinger missiles; after all the USSR didn’t have that many MI-23 helicopters to shoot down, not nearly, and besides after some period of time the solid propellant in those rocket motors decays and becomes unusable. Eddington is right though; we should try dealing with the demand side of the drug problem instead of blaming everyone else for what natural economic market forces do. And it sounded like Liverpool got the solution right too; no need to reinvent the wheel, just the need to get off our sanctimonious high horse when we blame addicts for their addiction. But that’s religious fundamentalism for you; no thought, all knee-jerk response.

Posted by jimbo | Report as abusive