The Mexican Senate has just overwhelmingly voted to keep the armed forces in public security roles until 2028. At the same time, the roles of the military keep expanding. Expanding the roles of the Mexican military to address myriad problems and now giving them more roles in government and business is a bad idea because the military is not “fit for purpose” for non-defense related tasks.
As a management consultant my first question is always: “What’s the problem you want to solve?” The definition of the problem should define the solution. Solutions need to be “fit for purpose.” In other words, they should be designed using the tools that that can best solve the problem. If a solution is not “fit for purpose,” it won’t work.
Militaries should be used to solve problems that are military in nature, i.e. require defeating an external enemy or occupying territory. Disaster response would be a logical exception to this rule, as getting people out of harm’s way, requires all hands on deck.
Because standing armies require a lot of people and resources, there is always a temptation to use them for non-defense tasks. This is not unique to Mexico. Militaries get used because they already exist and cost a lot to maintain.
According to Mexico City-based MUCD (Mexicanos Unidos Contra la Delincuencia) the Mexican military now has over 200 roles and half of them have nothing to do with defense or public security.
Using the military is often politically popular. A mystique around militaries has been created. We have made them our heroes, protectors of the nation, those who sacrifice for the greater good. I would argue that many other professions – including teachers, public health and social workers do this – but we don’t give them the same respect or benefit of the doubt. They lack the mystique.
According to the Latinobarómetro survey, the military is the most trusted institution in Mexico. The public trusts them more than, the police, the courts or the President. Only the church scored higher.
The military is also thought to be less corrupt. But are they? It is a hard case to make considering that the Mexican military is known for its lack of transparency.
Today the armed forces are called upon to address a broad range of issues like public security, a rampant homicide rate, drug trafficking, corruption and organized crime. These are complex problems that require institutions and approaches that should involve local government and national government, schools, social workers, financial institutions, police, and a functioning judiciary.
The military also has state responsibility for administering the ports, the airport, major construction projects – like the Mayan Train, even banking. Newly uncovered internal government communications reveal that the military is being considered for even more roles in tourism and possibly having their own airline.
The question should be, who is “fit for purpose” to address the complex problems facing Mexico? Solutions not fit for purpose are not efficient and generally don’t work. Right now, the military has so many roles that it is hard to remember what their purpose is.
* Joy Olson is the former Executive Director of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a research and advocacy organization working to advance human rights. Twitter: @JoyLeeOlson