Worst Case Scenarios: Failed States

In its JOE 2008 report the U. S. military’s Joint Operations Command singled out two countries as of particular concern in its worst-case scenarios. One of the countries should be no surprise: Pakistan. The other? Mexico:

In terms of worst-case scenarios for the Joint Force and indeed the world, two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico. Some forms of collapse in Pakistan would carry with it the likelihood of a sustained violent and bloody civil and sectarian war, an even bigger haven for violent extremists, and the question of what would happen to its nuclear weapons. That “perfect storm” of uncertainty alone might require the engagement of U.S. and coalition forces into a situation of immense complexity and danger with no guarantee they could gain control of the weapons and with the real possibility that a nuclear weapon might be used.

The Mexican possibility may seem less likely, but the government, its politicians, police, and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels. How that internal conflict turns out over the next several years will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state. Any descent by the Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone.

As if to underscore this possibility here’s a cheery note about the situation in Juárez:

The Mexican army has sent an estimated 2,000 troops to Juárez as part of a rotation even as the death toll surpassed 35 so far this year.


Soldiers who arrived in Juárez on Monday are part of a regular rotation of troops sent to different parts of Mexico, the Norte newspaper reported. Last year, more 1,600 people were slain in Juárez.

Juárez is a city of 1.5 million people and lies just across the border from El Paso, Texas. That’s about the same size as Philadelphia. In 2007 Philadelphia had 394 homicides.

Have a nice day.

FILED UNDER: Uncategorized, , , , , , ,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. George says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong but we’re talking about 35 deaths in Juarez in 13 days. That’s about three per day. The Philadelphia figure works out to about one death per day.

  2. George says:

    One more point. Philadelphia has one of the U.S.’s highest murder rates and you picked Philadelphia’s worst year (the rate had dropped significantly since). So you are comparing the worst of the U.S. (including past and present) to one city in Mexico (worst/best status unknown) and the present murder rate in that Mexican city is triple that of the past worst city and year in the U.S.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Yes, George, that was my point. I’m trying to put the murder rate into some perspective for American readers. The murder rate in Juárez is significantly higher than it is in a U. S. city of comparable size that has a high (for the U. S.) murder rate.

  4. PD Shaw says:

    The New Orleans murder rate is around 71 per 100,000. That would work out to be about 1,065 murders in a city the size of Juárez. It’s true that the National Guard was patroling New Orleans last year when I visited. But if the murder rate in the Big Easy was 50% higher, I’m not sure we’d call it a failed state. (Partly because I think the murder rate is still below highs in the 80s and early 90s)

  5. tom p says:

    I have friends in Mexico. I used to go there on a regular basis (life does not allow that any more) and have other friends who still do. It is worse than this. It goes beyond murder, it is also kidnapping. When I was going down on a regular basis, the rule was “Don’t stop in a border town.” because you might get ripped off. Now it is “Don’t stop within a 100 miles of the border because you might get kidnapped for ransom”.

    This is not a small thing. From the NYT… a series of articles including this.

    Which leads to real repercussions on this side of the border.

    I just had a couple of buddie’s come back from SOB and I was worried the whole time they were there.

    Do you really think we can keep these problems SOB? Get real.

  6. Brett says:

    That’s the worrying thing about what’s going on down there. It’s not just the gangs slaughtering each other (and in Juarez, for a long time it was the murder of young women), it’s a whole branch of things including extortion, kidnapping (which now reaches into the highest levels of the society), robbery in sight of police, and so forth. I’m not too worried about this spreading too much here into the US, because a large part of why they can get away with it in Mexico is because of the gigantic corruption of La Policia, the fact that they are as well-armed as the police and frequently army units they are fighting, and the fact that certain areas are basically “owned” in Mexico by the cartels (the entire state of Sinaloa, for one).

    You know what I thought was cool about that report? The chart on Page 11, showing how strategic analysts over the years would have looked at the situations they faced, and inadvertently showing how difficult it was to predict future threats.

  7. Mauther says:

    I think the use of explosives, rpgs, and belt fed automatic weapons should be factored into any comparison. Its sounds harsh, but the murders in NOLA and Phillie are largely criminal on criminal (although the poor living in the vicinity catch the spillover), in Juarez the police are at the criminals mercy. Military was sent in not because the police wouldn’t confront the criminals, the police tried and failed. The governments loss on the monopoly of coercive power is the benchmark for a failed state.

  8. Franklin says:

    My opinion is that ending the War on Drugs would pretty much immediately end this threat. Regulation is the answer to the classes of drugs that are currently illicit.

  9. James M. says:

    Franklin wrote: My opinion is that ending the War on Drugs would pretty much immediately end this threat. Regulation is the answer to the classes of drugs that are currently illicit.

    Not so. It has been shown even when legalized drugs still are an issue with cartels. No matter what you do they still find a way to pervert the system and make money. If legalization was the answer then I think most people would agree do it today! But it is always more complicated then the simplistic answer of legalization. Not to mention when you legalize narcotics you have the issues that plague a society after such a decision look at Amsterdam and San Francisco, not the sugar coated facts the real facts, and you tell me we won’t be opening Pandora’s Box!

  10. Drew says:

    When I read Mr. Schuler’s comments I had two thoughts. And then Mauther and Franklin hit each one.

    James M – You are no doubt correct that drug legalization would have many undesirable collateral effects. However, I strongly suspect that the current array and magnitude of undesirable collateral effects from the War on Drugs far outweigh those you envision.

  11. Drizzle says:

    I was just in Juarez Saturday, with a group of about 40 hashers (EPH3, for those of you who know what that is-google it if you don’t). We were the only non-natives in the section of the city closest to the Santa Fe bridge (the walking bridge just west of the massive free car bridge you see on TV).

    Vendors were bananas for our business, bar owners were polite, mostly (a buck a bottle for cases of Corona), and we saw several Hummers and F150s loaded with Mexican military armed with HK G3 clones and FN/FAL rifles cruising around. I wouldn’t have wanted to go after dark (and the line to walk back into the US was crazy long, like 2 hours), but we didn’t feel threatened. A local I was with (I’m from St Paul) asked me to keep an eye out for Suburbans with tinted glass; I think he was only about half joking…