The Turmoil in Mexico: What's Next?

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napalitano is testifying today before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on an issue that is increasingly grabbing more and more attention from policy makers: the growing instability and violence in Mexico. When Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair testified to the Senate earlier this month, he did not list Al Qaeda as the top threat in the intelligence community's annual threat assessment. Instead, he said "the primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications." One of the places where those implications are the strongest for the United States lies just across our southern border.

Debate is now occurring over whether or not Mexico is a "fragile state," a "failing state," or something else. While we struggle with the appropriate terms and diplomatically put them in the proper perspective, the fiscal impact of a deteriorating Mexico from an economic and security viewpoint are explosive.

Imagine the significant impact on our budget if taxpayer money is immediately required to fight escalating drug crime across our borer, increased immigration, weakening trade, lack of cooperation on border issues, new assistance programs to stabilize the Mexican government, constructing an even larger and longer border wall, or sending additional law enforcement or National Guard troops to the Southwest. What's next?

Put simply, we are learning in Mexico what we might have learned from Iraq's post-Saddam vacuum, from our neglect of Afghanistan's declining governance and what we may soon learn from the fragility and failure of states such as Yemen and Somalia. Pakistan, Russia and Eastern Europe, all strategically vital areas, are being rocked by the global economic crisis. We are learning that governance weak spots easily become security trouble spots with consequences often far outside their borders -- and especially on the American economy. International stability and the global economy, much like a chain, is often affected by the strength of its weakest links. Starting today, we must take a more holistic view of what may constitute a major security threat tomorrow. We must also take a broader view of the tools we employ to defend our national security to better incorporate good governance and economic assistance to fragile, threatened, weak or failing states.