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Mexico: National Security
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security


Mexico's external security environment is peaceful. Mexico has no foreign adversaries and little ambition to impose itself upon other nations. It repudiates the use of force to settle disputes and rejects interference by one nation in the affairs of another. It sees no regional security problems justifying military alliances.

The traditional Mexican definition of national security has constrained the role played by the armed forces. The military is essentially passive in matters of external defense. It has been relegated to internal missions of guaranteeing domestic political stability, contributing to the antinarcotics campaign, and carrying out development-oriented civic-action programs in fulfillment of its duties as the "servant of the people." Since the end of World War II, a succession of civilian presidents has divested the military establishment of political power. The ruling civilian elite that guides national security policy focuses on maintaining social order and overcoming local uprisings.

Because of these limited national security goals, Mexico long maintained a military establishment that was relatively small for a regional power. The picture began to change in the late 1970s, however. The discovery and exploitation of new petroleum reserves gave Mexico added stature as a world energy supplier. Violence in Central America brought tens of thousands of refugees, mainly Guatemalans, to Mexico. This influx of refugees was part of a regional upheaval that Mexico feared might spread northward to Mexican soil. Given the situation, the nation's armed forces, which until the 1970s were one of the most poorly paid and ill-equipped in the Western Hemisphere, took on new significance.

As a result, Mexico launched an ambitious military modernization program with the goals of increasing the size of the armed forces, improving education and training, and upgrading military equipment. The plan had to be scaled back because of a serious international financial crisis and domestic economic distress in the 1980s, but important changes were realized. The number of armed services personnel doubled in less than two decades, reaching 175,000 in 1996. In addition to keeping independent regiments and battalions in garrisons throughout the country, the army formed an armored brigade, bringing its combat forces to six brigades. There was also an elite Presidential Guard brigade. The army also enlarged its inventory of armored vehicles, although it still had no tanks. The air force expanded by adding a jet fighter squadron, in addition to less sophisticated planes, and armed helicopters that have been used in counterinsurgency operations. The navy acquired modern patrol vessels to provide increased protection of offshore oil installations and the country's fishery resources.

Violence in nearby Central American countries slackened in the early 1990s. A 1994 peasant rebellion in the southernmost state of Chiapas, however, demonstrated the potential for revolutionary activity by people not sharing in the country's economic and social progress. Although the lightly armed insurgents inflicted relatively few casualties, troop units were heavily deployed in the area. The possibility that localized uprisings could become more widespread underscores the need for modern, well-trained armed forces to ensure the country's stability.

Last Updated: June 1996

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Mexico was first published in 1996. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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