The military-to-military relationship between the United States and Mexico is a bond well-worth strengthening, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for western hemisphere affairs said today.
“We’ve witnessed many promising changes in the past few years,” Rebecca B. Chavez said during a panel discussion at the Wilson Center. “Both the United States and Mexico … have taken steps that have resulted in a transformation of the strategic relationship.”
Mexico is the 15th largest economy in the world and is playing a growing role in global affairs. On the military side, Mexico is expanding its contacts, placing military attaches in countries like Indonesia, Iran, Egypt, South Africa and six others, Chavez said. Mexico is also highlighting its expertise in peacekeeping with observers or forces in Haiti, Lebanon and maybe in Colombia to help with the peace treaty.
The U.S. and Mexico work together to combat transnational criminal networks, but Chavez said she would like to see more emphasis on more traditional military cooperation.
All this is built on the policy shift championed by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto that beefed up Mexico’s presence around the globe as befitting its economic might. “Even before the shift, Mexico engaged in in approximately 40 external activities to support around 25 different partner-nations -- many of these in the area of disaster response,” Chavez said.
DoD’s approach to Mexico is based on respect for its sovereignty and shared interests, the deputy assistant secretary said. “Our first step has been to expand the dialogue and relationship from just a narrow internal security focus … to expand it to include traditional defense missions,” she explained.
DoD has been working closely with the Mexican Secretariat of National Defense -- the cabinet-level agency that controls the Mexican Army and Air Force -- and the Naval Secretariat -- the cabinet-level Navy department -- “to develop long-term objectives and set the priority areas of engagement,” Chavez said.
U.S. and Mexican units could exercise together on humanitarian assistance/disaster response missions. “Other potential areas of cooperation are Central America, and working together to strengthen the Inter-American Defense System,” she said.
This won’t change overnight, Chavez said, but the countries are cooperating more and there are more contacts between the two militaries on every level from cadets to senior leaders. Building trust, she said, is important for the relationship to get better.
Chavez emphasized that “Mexico has its foot on the gas pedal,” and that “Mexico determines the speed” of the relationship.
One area that can be expanded is professional military education, she said. “Expanding those professional and personal relationships are critical,” Chavez said.
“I am very optimistic about the way ahead and the opportunity to further mature our defense relationship,” she said. “I am not going to understate the difficulty of the route as there is a lot of history that we must overcome, but I think that we have already taken some very significant strides down this very difficult path.
Chavez added, “In my three years on the job, I’ve seen determination on both sides to cooperate, and that determination has been key.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)