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Mexico Table of Contents


United States Concerns

Mexico has enjoyed peaceful relations with its northern neighbor for many decades. In the United States, national security issues involving Mexico gained increased attention during the 1980s because of the growing importance of Mexico's oil reserves and installations and because of the fear that leftist-inspired turbulence in Central America might spread northward. Mexico's economic difficulties and societal frictions intensified fears that the long period of stable border conditions might be ending. By the early 1990s, however, unrest had abated in Central America. Radical movements were no longer threatening the government of El Salvador, and the leftist Sandinista (see Glossary) government was out of power in Nicaragua. In Guatemala, the civilian government had largely overcome the left-wing insurgency and had begun to engage in serious peace negotiations under United Nations auspices. The Mexican military leadership, although conservative and anticommunist in outlook, had never been persuaded that it faced a security threat arising from the spread of violence in Central America or that popular discontent in Mexico had gathered sufficient force to provoke widespread domestic disorder and revolutionary violence.

Historically, relations between the military establishments of Mexico and the United States have not been close. Cooperation reached its peak for a brief period during and after World War II. In the Cold War atmosphere that followed, Mexico opposed the United States concepts of regional security; in particular, it did not support the United States intervention in Guatemala in 1954 and the trade embargo imposed against Castro-led Cuba in the early 1960s. The country's leaders felt that the roots of violence in Central America could be found in social and economic problems and in right-wing dictatorships, rather than any Cuban and Soviet subversion. The defense commission with the United States formed in World War II became inactive, and military assistance--under which the United States transferred US$40 million worth of modern equipment to Mexico in the late 1940s--ended in 1950.

By the late 1980s, relations between the military establishments of Mexico and the United States became somewhat warmer as cooperation expanded in the fight against illicit drugs. Purchases of United States military items, which had amounted to US$140 million in the five-year period 1982 to 1986, rose steeply to US$410 million over the period from 1987 to 1991, accounting for three-quarters of all of Mexico's arms imports. Numerous Mexican officers received training in the United States and became well acquainted with United States military doctrine. On the whole, however, the Mexican armed forces were less influenced by the United States military than were the armed forces of other countries of Latin America. In the mid-1990s, military assistance and concessional military credits from the United States to Mexico still had not been resumed. About US$500,000 was allocated by the United States government for military education and training each year, enabling more than 900 Mexican officers to attend United States military institutions between 1977 and 1991. This figure was exclusive of training funded by Mexico in connection with weapons procurements.

Treaty Obligations

Mexico is a signatory to the principal defense-related multilateral treaties and agreements in the Western Hemisphere but has refrained from entering into alliances or collective security arrangements that could be viewed as inconsistent with its principles of nonintervention and self-determination. In early 1945, Mexico, along with nineteen other nations of the hemisphere, signed the Act of Chapultepec. Under the act, the first hemispheric defense agreement, signatory nations agreed that if any aggression across treaty-established boundaries occurred or was threatened, a meeting would be convened to determine what steps, up to and including the use of armed force, should be taken to prevent or repel such aggression.

Mexico signed the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, also known as the Rio Treaty, in September 1947. The Rio Treaty, which expanded the responsibilities of nations under the Act of Chapultepec, emphasized the peaceful settlement of disputes among Western Hemisphere nations and provided for collective defense should any signatory be subject to external aggression. Although the treaty was conceived as a means to protect the nations of the hemisphere from possible communist aggression, Mexico chose to interpret it as a juridical association of states, not as a military alliance. Each time that the treaty has been invoked, Mexico has voted against the adoption of collective security measures (see Foreign Relations, ch. 4).

Upon formation of the Organization of American States (OAS) in April 1948, Mexico actively opposed proposals to create a standing military force under OAS supervision. Mexico insisted on limiting the newly created OAS defense body--now known as the Inter-American Defense Board--to serving in a consultative capacity to OAS member nations. Subsequent amendments to the charter have underscored the goal of peaceful resolution of disputes among member states.

Mexico initially proposed and then became a signatory to the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco, which prohibits the introduction of nuclear weapons into Latin America. Similarly, it is a signatory to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which limits the application of nuclear technology to peaceful purposes. Mexico has accepted the safeguard agreements of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which include the accounting and control of nuclear reactor by-products that could be used to make weapons, but has refused to permit on-site inspections of its nuclear facilities.

Data as of June 1996

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Mexico Table of Contents