security

The Zetas: a Flawed Victory in Mexico’s War on Drugs

Earlier in this blog, I’ve discussed the Mexican drug war and the narco-blogs that have covered it. Calderon will leave Mexico’s presidency at the end of the year, but the drug war appears to continue unabated. As someone who began his career studying the Latin American military I have followed events closely. One of the aspects of the conflict that has struck me has been the extent to which the Mexican armed forces have relied upon the navy in the conflict, likely because the drug cartels have extensively infiltrated the army. Indeed, perhaps the most powerful cartel, the Zetas, emerged from within the armed forces itself. Now we have truly remarkable news coming out of the Mexico, that marines managed to kill the head of the Zeta cartel, Heriberto Lazcano. If true, this represents a striking victory for the government. Or it would, except that heavily armed members of the cartel promptly stole the body from the funeral home. If the armed forces cannot even provide security for this body, how can they impose order on society? Still, despite this strange loss, the Zetas have suffered from a series of deadly blows over the last year, and their power is waning. Lazcano’s death would surely accelerate this process. Still, this victory seems unlikely to change fundamentally the dynamic of the drug war, which grinds on. In the meanwhile, check out this excellent piece by the New York Times on Lazcano’s death, and the disappearance of his body.

Realism and Human Security: A Map of U.S. Security Interests

Last week in my class we focused on security issues, and I compared and contrasted two powerful approaches in the field: Realism and Human Security. Realism is an older approach to security, which claims to have historical roots that stretch back to Thucydides, but perhaps truly began with E.H. Carr in the 1930s. Because of the theory’s richness it is difficult to summarize briefly, and it has evolved through time. But in general, its proponents argue that security is the key issue in international affairs. They also generally share a pessimistic view of human nature, and of the inevitability of war. Realists also view the international system as anarchic, in the sense that they doubt the ability of international law to limit conflict. Realism focuses on threats to the nation-state rather than populations, relies on the military as the key instrument in security, and draws on the usual tools of state-craft, such as alliance formation and power balancing. …

India/Pakistan Standoff on Kashmir’s Siachen glacier

Picture of glacier thanks to puttsk at freedigitalphotos.net

This week there was a disastrous avalanche on the Siachen glacier, which buried perhaps 135 Pakistanis, 124 of whom were troops in the 6th Northern Light Infantry Battalion. It seems unlikely that many of these troops will ever be found, despite a concerted rescue effort, given that they may have been buried under 25 meters (75 feet of snow). The force of the avalanche -over a thousand meter line- was indescribable. This sad incident is but one tragedy in a the strange stand-off between India and Pakistan over a glacier, which must be one of the most inhospitable fortified regions on earth. …

The Mystery of the Arctic Sea

"Sea Victim" by Evgeni Dinev at freedigitalphotos.net
“Sea Victim” by Evgeni Dinev at freedigitalphotos.net

In July 2009 the world was fascinated by the mystery surrounding the cargo ship the Arctic Sea. American owned, Canadian operated, based in Malta, and with a Russian crew, the ship had taken on a load of timber in Finland, which it was delivering to Algeria. It never arrived. After passing through the English channel, its tracking system was shut off, and the ship disappeared from the world. It was amazing enough that in an era of satellites and modern navigation systems an entire ship could disappear. But then came the remarkable announcement that in July the ship had been taken over by pirates in the waters off Sweden. The men had approached the ship, and -in English- claimed to be police. They took over the ship, and interrogated the crew, before leaving hours later. But first they allegedly had disabled communications equipment and confiscated the crews’ phones. This was unusual enough, as there had been no pirates in the Baltic in living memory, or for centuries for that matter. The ship was in one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Even stranger, however, was what happened next- the ship continued on its way without stopping for authorities to investigate the crime (for a timeline of events, click here). …

The Vela Incident

Image of satellite courtesy of dream designs at freedigitalphotos

On September 22, 1979 an aging American spy satellite detected a powerful flash of light that was so deep in the southern oceans that it was unclear if the flash was in the South Atlantic or the Indian ocean. National Security authorities soon notified President Jimmy Carter that there had been a nuclear test. But had there really been one? The issue mattered because at the heart of the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treat of 1963 was the belief that the United States (and the Soviet Union) could detect clandestine explosions. The President convened a special task force to determine what the satellite had observed. In the end, the committee decided that the flash most likely resulted from a micro-meteorite hitting the satellite, rather than an event on earth. Many defense observers with considerable expertise held a different view. The debate has continued over three decades, with the consensus shifting as first one piece of new evidence comes forward, only to be countered by the next revelation. So what exactly happened deep over the southern oceans? …

Mystery rocket launches off of L.A. and Newfoundland

On Monday, January 25th 2010, Darlene Stewart saw something remarkable in the skies over Harbour Mille, a small community in Southern Newfoundland. She grabbed her camera, and snapped a picture of what appeared to be a rocket shooting diagonally into the sky. Another witness said that the rocket appeared to be only one of three objects that seemed to come out of the ocean itself. As people in Harbour Mille tried to understand what they had seen, different branches of the Canadian government passed of the responsibility for answering questions amongst themselves: “Originally on Wednesday, the RCMP said questions about the alleged missile sightings were being handled by Public Safety Canada, which had no comment other than to refer questions back to the RCMP. Then on Thursday, that federal department referred questions to the PMO” (Prime Minister’s Office). …

The Lord’s Resistance Army and the Power of NGOs

The Lord’s Resistance Army is an armed group that first appeared in Northern Uganda in 1987-8, but later spread to Southern Sudan and Central Africa. Over the last 25 years it has become infamous for kidnapping children to serve in its ranks, as well as for using violence against civilians. Although the group’s power largely comes from military force, its leader Joseph Kony also tries to claim legitimacy as a religious leader, who blends Christianity with local beliefs, such as spirit possession. Because of the group’s brutality (mutilating people, sexually abusing children) the LRA creates such great fear that after one attack in Northern Uganda in 1997, perhaps 100,000 people became refugees, who fled the region to escape the violence. According to the website Global Security, in 1998 the LRA kidnapped 6000 children into its ranks, although most of them ultimately managed to escape. Because of this long history of violence and brutality, in October 2011 President Obama chose to send 100 troops to Africa, to help regional armed forces track down the Lord’s Resistance Army. …

Narco Blogs: Following Mexico’s Drug War

In an earlier post, I talked about Mexico’s drug war. Because the cartels have murdered journalists, and infiltrated news organizations, it can be difficult to follow the conflict using the main-stream Mexican press. For this reason, Mexicans themselves have increasingly turned to blogs that cover the conflict -so called Narco blogs- to gain information that may be difficult for conventional reporters to print. At the same time, some of these blogs clearly play to people’s interest in sensationalism, and most sometimes contain videos or photos that are disturbing and violent, or even have been filmed by the cartels themselves. The bloggers are also facing pressure, although sometimes it is unclear from whom the threats are coming.  In particular, Mexico’s Blog del Narco has had trouble remaining accessible, which has attracted media coverage in the United States. Still, for students interested in Latin America, and what is happening in Mexico, these blogs are a useful resource, particularly if they speak Spanish, so I wanted to list a few here. …

Mexico’s Military and the Drug War

I already discussed the drug war in Mexico in an earlier blog posting on the UNC website. But it’s worth returning to this topic, because of many new developments since last February. At this point, over 45,000 people have been killed in the drug war since President Calderon began it in December 2006. The toll of this carnage has been described in detail by the Los Angeles Times, which has had the best coverage of this conflict from its inception. Sadly, its very difficult for Mexican reporters to cover this conflict, because the drug cartels have infiltrated the major media organizations, and are killing reporters who cover the war. For this reason, Mexicans have turned to twitter and blogsfor information. While these sources provide a great deal of information,  one topic, in particular, seems to me to be under-covered: the struggle’s impact upon Mexico’s armed forces.

Photo of army truck by Stuart Miles

Hillary Clinton was widely denounced within Mexico in September 2010 for declaring that the conflict had taken on the appearance of an insurgency. But the reality is that Mexico is no longer primarily engaged in law enforcement, but rather a war between the government and the cartels. Mexico has become a frequent topic in the Small Wars Journal, which is devoted to low-intensity warfare (the British term) and counter-insurgency operations (COIN, the American term). Consider a recent communique from the Zeta’s drug cartel, as described on a blog covering the war:”A communique from the special forces of the Zetas. Message to the nation, the government, and all of Mexico and to public opinion. The special forces of Los Zetas challenges the government and its federal forces. Not the Army, not the marines nor the security and anti-drug agencies of the U.S. government can resist us. Mexico lives and will continue to live under the regime of Los Zetas. Let it be clear that we are in control here and although the federal government controls other cartels, they cannot take our plazas. You want proof? Look at what happened in Sinaloa and Guadalajara. If we can get all the way into their kitchen we are not going to lose control of our territory. Sincerely, Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, Z-40.” Such statements leave little question how the cartels themselves view the contest. …

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