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Mexico's Uncertain Quest for a Strategy To Secure its Southern Border

Michael J. Dziedzic, Stephen J. Wager


Contradictions arise from time to time in almost every nation's security policy. Although not normally aired publicly on network television (the U.S. being a notable exception), they are sometimes manifested in curious patterns of state behavior. It is intriguing but not surprising, therefore, to discover certain inconsistencies in the way Mexico handled challenges to security on its southern flank during the early 1980s. The policy conflict centered on Mexico's reaction to subversion and domestic unrest within the region. When this instability afflicted countries not sharing a border with Mexico (i.e., Nicaragua and El Salvador), the official position was one of sympathy and even support for forces seeking to overturn the existing order. When the residue of similar turmoil spilled over the Guatemalan border onto native soil, however, Mexican policy makers responded with much less enthusiasm. Neither guerrillas opposed to the Guatemalan government nor innocent victims fleeing Guatemalan Army repression received a hearty welcome. In part, this incoherency arose because national security thinking in Mexico was almost exclusively oriented toward the threat from within. The prevailing national security consensus offered little or no guidance for dealing with security challenges emanating from the external environment (Sereseres 1984:201-202). Hence, this border issue provides fertile ground for exploring the status of national security thinking in Mexico during the 1980s and may partially account for modifications that were subsequently made in their security policy apparatus.

To conduct this exploration properly, it will be essential to examine various international and domestic factors that have impinged upon Mexican decision makers in this issue area. After establishing the context, we will review the unfolding of events along the Guatemalan border following the 1979 Nicaraguan Revolution. Having done this, it will be possible to offer an assessment of Mexico's curious response to its southern security problem.

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Print ISSN: 0886-5655
Online ISSN: 2159-1229