Refocusing U.S.-Mexico Security Cooperation

The Merida Initiative -- the cornerstone of U.S.-Mexico security cooperation -- completed its fifth year in 2012.

Launched under the George W. Bush administration, Merida promised $1.4 billion over three years to "support Mexico's law enforcement in the fight against organized crime." The Obama administration revised and expanded Merida's mission, moving from a heavy emphasis on military equipment to a more comprehensive bilateral strategy that seeks to reduce the role and influence of organized crime. The initiative now encompasses four priorities (called pillars): disrupting the operational capacity of organized crime, institutionalizing the rule of law, creating a twenty-first-century border to speed the flow of legal commerce and stop that of illegal goods, and building strong and resilient communities that can stand up to criminal intrusions.

The main problem today is not Merida's design but its uneven implementation, with the gains in some areas offset by minimal progress in others.

U.S.-Mexico security cooperation is vital and must continue. But with Enrique Peña Nieto's inauguration, Mexico's political landscape is now changing, and the United States must adjust its strategy and support accordingly.

Building on the lessons of the past five years, the United States should work with Mexico to implement the nonmilitary programs envisioned in the current Merida framework, in particular supporting and prioritizing Mexico's ongoing judicial reform, training police officers at the state and local levels, modernizing the U.S.-Mexico border, and investing in local community and youth-oriented programs.

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Shannon K. O'Neil is senior fellow for Latin America studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Her expertise includes U.S.-Latin American relations, energy policy, trade, political and economic reforms, and immigration. She directed CFR's Independent Task Force on U.S.-Latin America Relations: A New Direction for a New Reality. She is the author of the forthcoming book, Two Nations Indivisible: Mexico, the United States, and the Road Ahead, which analyzes the political, economic, and social transformations Mexico has undergone over the last three decades and their significance for U.S.-Mexico relations.