Drug-related violence has become a very serious problem in Mexico, leading to more than 30,000 deaths in the country between December 2006 and December 2010. Violent drug-trafficking organizations (VDTOs) produce, transship, and deliver into the United States tens of billions of dollars worth of narcotics annually.

The activities of VDTOs are not confined to drug trafficking, but extend to numerous other criminal enterprises, including human trafficking, weapon trafficking, kidnapping, money laundering, extortion, bribery, and racketeering. Then, there is the violence: Recent incidents have included assassinations of politicians and judges, attacks on rival organizations, attacks on the police and other security forces, attacks on associated civilians (i.e., the families of members of competing groups or of government officials), and seemingly random violence against innocent bystanders.

The full scope and details of the challenges posed by VDTOs are not well understood, and optimal strategies to combat these organizations have not been identified. To contribute to the body of knowledge in this area, this monograph offers an assessment of the contemporary security situation in Mexico through the lens of existing RAND research on related issues. Specifically, RAND considered three strands of existing research: work on urban instability and unrest, the historical study of insurgency, and research on defense-sector reform. RAND extracted assessment scorecards from each of these strands of research and combined them into a single assessment tool, which RAND then applied to Mexico as part of an expert elicitation exercise (described in detail in Chapters Two and Three).

Although none of the previous studies considered Mexico specifically, all three contribute interesting insights regarding Mexico’s security situation. The goal of the current study was not to break significant new ground in understanding the dynamics of drug violence in Mexico or to offer a qualitative assessment of these dynamics, but rather to provide an empirically based platform for identifying key areas that merit further investigation.

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