The end of the Cold War has thrown security studies into uncertainty. Old animosities no longer hold the vehemence they once did, and old enemies are apparently now friends. Security studies in Latin America have always been fraught with more questions than U.S. national security studies because the enemy was more difficult to identify (perhaps the biggest security threat came from the hovering friend up north), and because the forces charged with providing national security in Latin American countries often ended up violating the social order far more than any foreign threat. In Mexico, as several contributors to this volume indicate, national security has only recently returned to the public agenda after decades of going unmentioned. Indeed, few studies of the Mexican military and its role in either the political order or the provision of external security have emerged in the past several decades.
The authors of this volume’s individual chapters make little headway in defining Mexico’s security interests. Their difficulties partly reflect profound policy differences in Mexico. Some of the contributors fear that widening the definition of national security will either render the term meaningless or permit those in charge of the actual function to take action against a wide range of “threats,” much as the militaries of the Southern Cone have done in recent decades. Other contributors advocate a broad sense of the term, in the belief that Mexico’s security depends on a healthy development strategy, autonomy from international economic forces, care for environmental resources, and political stability. Some contributors can barely bring themselves to use the term security, writing instead of national interests and national identity.
The papers in this volume, originally presented at a 1989 conference in Mexico City, clearly suggest that the conference achieved little consensus. Those advocating the narrow definition of security, even though it may have a more limited policy meaning for Mexico, are correct in suggesting that the broad definition poses severe conceptual dilemmas. The advocates of the broader interpretation identify a number of salient policy issues that are unlikely to disappear from Mexico’s political agenda anytime soon; but to call those issues security interests does little to link policy challenges with policy instruments. In contrast, using a narrow definition of security (for example, threats to political sovereignty and territorial integrity) identifies challenges that the nation’s armed forces can be poised to meet.
For those seeking an introduction to the wide-ranging debate on security in Mexico, this volume fills the need. For those seeking analytical clarification of Mexico’s security interests and challenges, the search must continue; although the editors’ introduction (with Jeffrey Stark) and the final chapter (by Luis Herrera-Laso M. and Guadalupe Gonzáles G.) bring valuable conceptual clarification to a muddled debate.