Mexico’s people have spoken. On June 24, 2013, the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs presented the findings of a major survey compiled by the Centro de Investigacion y Docencia Economicas (CIDE), a well-regarded Mexican research center. The survey collects the opinions of Mexican citizens and policymakers regarding various foreign policy issues, including whether Mexican security forces should participate in the United Nations’ peacekeeping operations (PKO). In general, most of the nearly 3,000 respondents expressed their support for a greater Mexican involvement in the UN ’s operations.
Allowing the Mexican military or police to take part in PKOs is more complicated than writing a presidential executive order; the country’s constitution will need to be amended. Nevertheless, the results of the CIDE survey, along with recent declarations by Mexican policymakers demonstrate that the public would likely welcome significant policy changes. The international community would also benefit from this development given the numerous conflict zones that exist across the globe.
The Mexican constitution states that the government must maintain a policy of non-interference with regards to the affairs of other nations. Namely,Article 89, Section X, describes that it is the duty of the president to uphold the principle of non-intervention, whileArticle 76, Section III, explains that the legislature must authorize the deployment of troops abroad. This means that Mexico, while an active participant in the international community, hasonly seldom participated in peacekeeping operations, and even then its role has been very limited.
However, the recent CIDE survey makes apparent the shift in popular opinion of both Mexican citizens and policymakers in favor of a growing Mexican role in peacekeeping operations. The CIDE explains that between 2004 and 2012, popular support grew from 48% to 58%.
However, it is worth noting that support for this initiative among policymakers, who were also interviewed for the survey, is lower, at 52%, although several prominent Mexican officials have publically declared their support. For example,Ambassador Juan Manuel Gomez Robledo, deputy secretary for multilateral affairs at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, has declared that “it is necessary to have a debate” regarding Mexico’s role in PKOs. The goal of this proposal would to promote greater governmental support for this to happen.
Despite the inability of the Mexican government to reach a consensus on the issue regardless of the political party in power, the country’s military is already preparing itself for this eventuality. For example, a Mexican army general has been assigned to theMexican mission to the UNto learn more about current peacekeeping operations. Furthermore, the Secretaria de Defensa Nacional has begun carrying out civic projects to gain further civilian and governmental support for Mexican participation in peacekeeping operations. Such initiatives hint that there’s a desire by some Mexican military officers to participate in them.
Reasons To Serve
Certainly, a decision to deploy a country’s armed forces to a UN peacekeeping operation should be made only after a healthy debate among the government, military, scholars and civic society. There are potential threats to consider when negotiating the possibility of contributing to these operations, including the likelihood that deployed soldiers could lose their lives on foreign soil. As recently as mid-July,seven UN peacekeepers were killedby rebels in the UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Sudan’s Darfur.
The concern for deploying soldiers to war zones is expressed in the CIDE poll. While Mexicans are generally in favor of PKOs, support varies depending on the type of UN mission Mexican soldiers could be deployed to. Only 37 percent support the deployment of soldiers to conflict zones (with 46 percent against). On the other hand, 89 percent of the polled citizens were in favor of sending troops to other countries to help with relief operations after natural disasters.
But even with significantly positive numbers, we will not see an increased Mexican involvement in peacekeeping operations anytime soon. Constitutional reform will require an amendment (or re-interpretation) of the concept of non-intervention. In Mexico, one of the congressional chambers will have to first propose a constitutional amendment. After it is passed, it will be sent to the 31 state governments, plus Mexico City, for approval. Only when 17 out of the 32 states have approved the motion, the President will receive it for final approval. In other words, this process can take years.
In a FebruaryVOXXI commentary, I discussed the future of Mexican foreign policy under President Enrique Peña Nieto. Specifically, I assessed the tools the Mexican government has at its disposal to increase its leadership role in Latin America. A greater role in peacekeeping operations will have the positive effect of aiding people in conflict zones.
What’s more, from a more real politik perspective, participation will increase the international pedigree of the Mexican government and military. Mexican military personnel themselves would also benefit from gaining more battlefield experience as well as monetarily, as soldiers are generally well-paid by participating in peacekeeping operations. As a point of comparison, Brazil has certainly profited diplomatically from its proactive role in the UN, including PKOs like in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
With that said, Mexican troops should not be put needlessly at risk simply for diplomatic gains considering the threats that peacekeeping troops are exposed to. But greater Mexican involvement in UN peacekeeping operations would likely result in overarching benefits for global security and Mexican standing in the international community. Especially considering the recent evolution in public opinion, President Peña Nieto should waste no time in pushing this initiative.