06/28/14 (written by cmolzahn) — The London-based Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) has released its eighth annual Global Peace Index (GPI), which ranks 162 nations according to their “absence of violence.” In its 2014 issue, released in June 2014, Mexico “slightly deteriorated,” falling from 133 to 138 as compared with 2013, due to an “increase in the number of internal security officers.” According to the index, the most peaceful countries were Iceland, Denmark and Austria; while the least peaceful were South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Syria. Mexico’s global peace index score fell slightly for the sixth year in a row. What stands out in the report regarding Mexico, however, is not the slight measured decline in peacefulness from 2013, but rather the astronomical costs of violence to Mexico’s economy.
According to the GPI, violence containment cost the Mexican economy nearly $173 billion (USD) in 2013, representing 9.4% of the country’s gross domestic product, or $1,430 per person. For further perspective, it represents more than twice Mexico’s foreign debt, according to a report in Forbes magazine. The IEP defines violence containment spending as “the economic activity related to dealing with the consequences or prevention of violence where the violence is directed against people or property.” IEP Executive Vice President Steve Killelea pointed out that, “with an estimated cost of 173 billion dollars, the cost of containing violence in Mexico is the sixth highest in the world.” As reported in Forbes, the cost of containing violence in Mexico surpassed those of Syria, Iraq, and Libya, though it must be noted that Mexico’s economy is 5.6 times larger than that of Iraq, the greatest economy of those three, according to the World Bank. Globally, the IEP estimates that the economic impact of violence reached $9.8 trillion, representing 11.3% of the global GDP. The GPI highlights the case of Mexico to illustrate the link between peace and economic growth at the sub-national level. Mexico is among the countries having seen the greatest decline in peace in recent years, though the violence has been concentrated in certain states, while others have managed to largely escape it. IEP tracked economic growth across Mexico’s 32 states, and found that on average, the most peaceful states in 2003 experienced more than double the rate of economic growth than the least peaceful ones by the end of the decade, in 2011.
The GPI recognizes Mexico’s low levels of external conflict with regards to its regional neighbors (.6% of GDP was allocated to military expenditure as compared with 3.4% for Colombia), though it emphasizes that it scores “extremely low” in measures of internal peace, due to the scale of the military response to the drug conflict, which it characterizes as “unique among Latin American states.” The launch of sustained military operations against drug trafficking organizations since 2006, says the report, “has led to a sharp rise in overall criminality as a result of the cartels’ subsequently branching out onto other activities besides drug-trafficking, such as kidnapping and extortion.” The report cites the military’s involvement as the “spearhead of government efforts against cartels” as the most important consequence of the drug war, the cause of which being a fragmented police force, in which the federal officers are relatively well-trained and well-equipped, while the far more numerous state and municipal police officers are subjected to “significant training and equipment shortages,” and as such are more vulnerable to influence from Mexico’s organized crime groups. The resulting lack of public confidence in the police has led to the emergence of self-defense groups, particularly in Michoacán, where they have had an “uneasy stand-off with the government.”
The report faults the Mexican government for failing to produce significant results in combating corruption in recent years, citing data from the 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, which ranked Mexico 106th of 177 countries, and last among large Latin American countries, with the sole exception of Venezuela. Corruption is far more present at the state and local levels, where it “frequently compromises crime-fighting efforts by these jurisdictions in the absence of strong federal involvement.”
Looking forward, the report found that the greatest barrier to peace in Mexico is the nation’s “weak institutional underpinnings, which dilute the effectiveness of the government’s anti-crime strategy.” This is most evident in situations where federal, state, and local forces must collaborate on public security functions. The GPI does not sound optimistic that this situation will improve in the short-term, given Mexico’s federalist political structure, though does credit the federal government for its promise to reduce the military’s role in public security functions through a European-style gendarmerie, which is meant to gradually replace the military’s role in such operations. Meanwhile, though, the GPI foresees only incremental improvements in security strategy moving forward, which will not fundamentally change what has become the status quo.
Compared with all countries in the study, Mexico finds itself in among the countries that fell most significantly on the GPI from 2008-2013, according to IEP’s positive peace deficit and like country models. The former highlights countries that are outliers in their ranks in both IEP’s Positive Peace Index and Global Peace Index, and that enjoy high levels of peace but lack the “attitudes, institutions and structures that are typically required to sustain such peacefulness”; and the latter takes into account historic levels of violence among countries with similar characteristics. However, looking forward through 2016, Mexico was excluded from this dubious company, as these models do not foresee a high potential for “small to medium deteriorations in peace” during that period.