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Mexico: Organization of National Defense
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Armed Forces > Organization of National Defense


The organization of the Mexican armed forces at the cabinet level is distinct from that of many other Latin American nations. Instead of a single ministry consolidating the command of the army, navy, and air force, two government ministries are directly responsible for national defense: the Secretariat of National Defense and the Secretariat of the Navy. The head of each of these secretariats is a military officer who holds cabinet rank and has regular, direct access to the president of the republic, who is the supreme commander of the armed forces.

After President Carlos Salinas de Gortari took office in 1988, five cabinet-level councils were created within the offices of the president to oversee principal policy areas. One of these is the National Security Council, which includes representatives of the secretariats of government, foreign relations, national defense, and the navy, as well as the attorney general's office. Narcotics control is one of the topics dealt with in the council.

The secretary of national defense (General Enrique Cervantes Aguirre as of 1996) is selected by the president from the ranks of active army general officers. The secretary normally serves for six years, the same term as the president's. Similarly, the secretary of the navy (Admiral José Ramón Lorenzo Franco in 1996) is chosen from the ranks of active admirals. Operating through the General Staff, the secretary of national defense commands army and air force units, the army zonal commands, and logistics and administrative directorates. Under the secretary of the navy are the chief of naval operations, the chief of naval staff, and the naval zones that control operational forces.

The army is by far the largest service branch. Of some 175,000 active armed forces personnel in 1996, 130,000 were in the army, 8,000 in the air force, and 37,000 in the navy. The army total at any one time included about 60,000 conscripts. No conscripts were assigned to the air force or navy. A "reserve" force of 300,000 is claimed, although this number is a manpower pool rather than an existing trained force.

The size of the armed forces is modest considering Mexico's size and importance. Mexico has the smallest number of military personnel per capita of any country of Latin America. According to the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), Latin America as a whole had 3.5 soldiers per 1,000 population in 1991. The corresponding figure for Mexico was 1.9 soldiers per 1,000 population. In spite of the steady increase in the armed forces -- they have roughly doubled in size since the mid-1970s -- the number of soldiers per capita has remained remarkably steady because of the parallel increase in population.

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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Section 190 of 213


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