Should Mexico turn some of the $190+ million it’s getting from the US this year (ostensibly to fight its internal drug war) into unmanned aircraft and start dropping bombs on machine gun retailers north of the border?
This is the question posed by Steve Coll in an opinion piece about US-Mexican drug policy in The New Yorker.
The Obama Administration has reportedly sent drones to help Mexico track cartel leaders and traffickers. If Mexico had America’s relative global military power, its own drones would probably be hovering over gun marts in suburban Phoenix and Tuscon, perhaps unleashing a few Hellfire missiles at the owners, under the same interpretations of international law that the United States now employs to justify cross-border drone strikes against Pakistan’s logistical “safe haven.”
The US gets away with its shady use of drones for a variety of reasons. Who, really, is going to step in and challenge US military policy? The only legitimate international institution capable of legally challenging US foreign policy, the International Court of Justice, is only occasionally (on a case-by-case basis) jurisdictionally recognized by the US. And, to be fair to US policy, there is a legal and moral grey area between the international norm of the inviolability of sovereignty and that of the responsibility to protect. The case of Libya offers a good example of this dilemma.
Really though, the US simply doesn’t care how other countries regard it – US diplomacy is more “take this” than “we’ll take that.”
If the US justifies its use of drones in places like Afghanistan by referencing both its constitutional obligation to protect its citizens from “terrorist” attacks and its international obligation to protect humans everywhere from the same kinds of attacks, then should not Mexico be able to invoke similar arguments for a theoretical drone attack on, say, Arizona? If the US attacks states like Yemen and Afghanistan because those are the places where terrorists like to hang out and plot their moves, then why can’t Mexico attack US states in that those are the places where gun smugglers (e.g., the ATF) hang out, buy guns and plot gun smuggling?
Obviously Mexico would never consider this move, President Calderon has neither the political capital nor the military capability to carry out such an operation. And thoughts of what a US retaliation would look like would be more than enough to un-table this idea pretty quickly.
Tragically, however, the unmitigated supply of US guns to Mexico offers another example of just how difficult it is to concretely define what constitutes “terrorism.”
* My number for Mexico comes from this country-by-country breakdown of US foreign aid. It’s important to note that the amount of money the US gives to Mexico for things like combating the narcotics trade and encouraging social development is largely offset by the amount of money the US spends on absurd projects like fencing the border. Restrictive border policies only encourage more smuggling and trafficking.