I recently read a post on The Disaster of Culiacan about how the President of Mexico surrendered to the Sinaloa Cartel. The author of the article admits he doesn’t know the solution to the violence.

I would like to propose a solution, but first I need to give some geopolitical context. 

The Desert Is Important

The Mexican government has little control in northern Mexico and a lot of control around Mexico City. This lack of force projection is geographic and goes back into Spanish and potentially even Aztec times. 

There is a desert in northern Mexico and nation-states have a hard time projecting force across deserts. There is a reason the Aztec empire went only so far into the north and it’s not because there was some northern empire keeping them out. In some ways, deserts are even better than oceans as natural boundaries. 

Interestingly, even though the cartels have proven to be the most powerful authority in northern Mexico, they still allow the Mexican government to do a lot of the day-to-day administration of the region.

The cartels are not a true insurgency in that they want to overthrow government control. They are only an insurgency to protect their business interests. The protection is primarily from other cartels but also from the Mexican government.

Does Mexican chaos benefit America?

There is a school of thought in the US intelligence community that Mexican instability is good for the US. The argument goes like this: The reason America is the only global hegemon is that we control the world’s oceans. One reason we control the world’s oceans is that we are the only nation with warm water ports on both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and the population to support navies in both. 

There is only one other nation in the world that has warm-water ports on both oceans and a population big enough to support two navies: Mexico. With twice the population of the UK, Mexico could vie for naval supremacy… if they wanted to. 

So in order to keep Mexico from challenging us as global hegemon, we need (so the argument goes) to keep them focused domestically. This strategy has worked for a long time. Mexico stayed out of WWI because they were too busy with insurgents in Northern Mexico. Sound familiar?

Now conspiracy theorists would tell you that, since the Mexican cartels are advancing American interests, the US government is actively aiding them. While the Obama administration did give the cartels guns that one time, I don’t think we are actively helping them as a general policy. 

That said, it is very telling that the Mexican cartels have a strict “No Violence in America” policy. While we may not be actively supporting them, we are passively supporting them and they know it. We passively support them by protecting them from competition with powerful American corporations. We’ve made it illegal for American corporations to sell the same products the cartels sell. 

The Solution

If we want to get the cartels to stop terrorizing Mexico, the way to do it is the same way we got the mafia violence out of Vegas. We legalize & regulate drugs in the US. 

American corporations would force the cartels to fight with spreadsheets and quarterly reports rather than with bullets. Walgreens is not going to stock drugs from a violent cartel. Drug customers prefer to buy their drugs in drug stores.

Drug legalization forces the cartels in from the cold. Violent criminal empires thrive only when selling contraband. Otherwise, the costs of fielding an army outweigh the benefits. Military spending adds cost without adding value to the customer. Price pressure to cut spending leads to an inevitable demilitarization. 

There is a reason casinos don’t fight each other with private armies anymore. It’s not because they found religion and started walking the path of peace. They stopped fighting because it makes less financial sense in a legal casino market. 

So we could end the chaos in Mexico if we wanted to. But we don’t want to.

We can’t have a war on drugs and peace in northern Mexico. And for now, we are choosing an unwinnable war over a distasteful peace.