On September 24, 2014, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto made an announcement to the United Nations that for the most part went unnoticed in the news media. The announcement that Mexico will now be taking part in United Nations peacekeeping missions fundamentally changes Mexico’s posture in its foreign policy doctrine.
The president’s office issued the following statement to the news media, “Mexico supports and values Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) and their work as a United Nations instrument” for humanitarian aid and security. The release added that Mexico’s engagement will be “gradual” and may “include military or civilian personnel”.
The release states that any participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations will be contingent on four specific terms. The first is the “express authorization and a clear mandate from the UN Security Council”. The second is the requirement that the receiving country of peacekeeping forces consents and cooperates with the peacekeepers. The third requirement is that the deployment adheres to Mexico’s legal framework and foreign policy priorities. The final requirement is that the focus of the operation be humanitarian in nature and for the benefit of the population.
Although this is not the first time a Mexican president has expressed an interest in UN peacekeeping operations it is the first time the Mexican president has stated that his administration has made Mexican participation in peacekeeping operations a policy of the administration.
Prior discussion within Mexico has been stymied by arguments that the constitution prohibits deployment of Mexican military forces outside of the country. According to the current administration, the constitution provides authority for the deployment of Mexican military troops with the approval of the Mexican senate.
As a matter of fact, the presidential release points out that Mexico has participated in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations previously on “three occasions: 1) the Balkans (1947-1950); 2) Kashmir (border between India and Pakistan) (1949), in both cases, with military observers; 3) in El Salvador (1991-1993) with 120 policemen”.
Most recently, Mexico deployed its military forces outside of its borders in support of Hurricane Katrina relief operations in the United States. Mexican military forces deployed relief forces to San Antonio, Texas and Biloxi Mississippi. Although the deployment was not a United Nations humanitarian operation, it demonstrated that Mexico has begun to look outward instead of inward when it comes to its foreign policy agenda. Additionally the troop deployment proved that the Mexican Senate would support deployment of Mexican troops for humanitarian reasons.
In 2001, then President Vicente Fox began the transformation of Mexico’s foreign policy away from isolation towards actively becoming involved in worldwide foreign affairs. Unfortunately, Mexico’s foreign policy change was short lived when US president George W. Bush refused to honor his promise for immigration reform because Fox refused to support Bush’s case before the United Nations to invade Iraq. Mexico occupied one of the rotating Security Council seats at the time.
Because of historical necessity Mexico remain inward looking in national security issues until Vicente Fox argued that Mexico needed to engage politically internationally now that its economy was dependent on international trade. There was and remains much resistance politically for Mexican forces to be deployed internationally both for domestic and political necessities. The Mexican armed forces is divided into two branches, the army and the naval forces. The army has been reluctant to engage outside of the country while the Navy composed at least two forces capable of deploying in peacekeeping operations since Fox called for foreign participation.
Much has been made about the “transition to democracy” of Mexico because of the election of the PAN candidate in 2000. However, it is important to note that fundamental changes in Mexican foreign policy began under the PRI in the form of Carlos Salinas de Gortari and his implementation of NAFTA. NAFTA took the Mexican closed economy and converted into one of the most open economies in the world. This radical shift was followed by the PAN; first through Fox with making national security a foreign policy cornerstone on through Felipe Calderón’s war on the drug cartels through fundamentally updated the capabilities of the Mexican military and opening up US-Mexico military coordination.
Last month, Enrique Peña Nieto, a PRI-backed politician, is continuing the transformation by making participation by Mexican military forces in United Nations peacekeeping operations an official policy of the Mexican government. When and how Mexico will participate in its first official peacekeeping operation is still an open question however, the inward-looking country is now on the road to asserting influence on the political stage.