In other periods of history, opponents of a state would assassinate leaders to force changes in policy. The leader was invested with such power that removing him or her from his position would create an opportunity to change a government’s policies and overall posture towards the world. Today, although assassination is still a tool, the focus of opponents of the state – who are mainly identified as terrorists today – is to attack the Rule of Law. The Rule of Law – the primacy of laws over all individuals, including those in power, a principle which prevents authoritarianism, the arbitrary use of power, and anarchy – is perhaps the most valuable and vulnerable asset a state can have. Without it, there can be no democratic discourse or free elections and no free market. Yet the Rule of Law is especially vulnerable as it relies upon a wide range of institutions and conditions – all of are required to achieve the public trust needed: an independent judiciary; a professional police corps; a relative peace; the transparency of laws and law-making; the right of every individual to be given a fair hearing if they are being held by the state; a sense of basic justice within the society. A single rogue cop, a corrupt judge, or an unjust law undermines the Rule of Law – and if it is not well-established, can destroy it.
Reading about Mexico and Pakistan – the two major nations the U.S. Joint Forces Command listed as major nations that could suddenly collapse in the next year – one is confronted again and again with what each has in common: the Rule of Law is being deliberately subverted by major groups within these nations. If either nation is not able to maintain some semblance of the Rule fo Law within it’s borders, they will have effectively collapsed.
In Mexico, the Rule of Law has been undermined for years but is perhaps now finally reaching a tipping point. As Marc Lacey reported in the New York Times:
The cartels bring in billions of dollars more than the Mexican government spends to defeat them, and they spend their wealth to bolster their ranks with an untold number of politicians, judges, prison guards and police officers — so many police officers, in fact, that entire forces in cities across Mexico have been disbanded and rebuilt from scratch.
Steve Fainaru and William Booth reported in the Washington Post that:
The government is attempting to vet and retrain 450,000 officers, most at the state and municipal levels, employing lie detectors, drug tests, psychological profiling and financial reviews to weed out corruption and incompetence. Nearly half of the 56,000 officers vetted so far have failed.
Police corruption is clearly endemic in Mexico. It is for this reason that President Felipe Calderón has tasked the military with taking on the drug cartels – and it is also for this reason that many local police forces are now run by former military officers. But as the Lacey article makes clear, even the military is compromised – both from within by informants paid off by the cartels – and by the army-sized force of former soldiers that works for the cartels:
Although Mexico’s military is regarded as significantly less corrupt than the country’s police forces, defense officials estimate that 100,000 soldiers have quit to join the cartels over the past seven years.
As evidence that Mexico is even more compromised, Lacey reports that:
The reach of the drug kingpins has even the army fearful. Many soldiers cover their faces while on patrol to avoid being identified and singled out by the drug cartels. The army also recently began allowing soldiers to grow their hair longer, because military-style crew cuts were believed to be putting off-duty soldiers at risk.
Sam Quinones writing for Foreign Policy described how thoroughly Mexico had changed in the past decade, recounting anecdotes about the flagrancy of the cartels’ violation of laws. Mayor José Reyes Ferriz of Ciudad Juárez lives across the border in Texas because he is not safe in the town he was elected to govern. The cartels have brought Mexico almost to a breaking point because they have undermined the Rule of Law through large portions of the country. The law is obviously a barrier to their illegal activities. Fainaru and Booth reported a senior advisor to President Calderón explained the motivation behind the desire to use the military to attempt to combat the cartels:
The executions, the decapitations, the confrontations between the drug gangs. There was a perception in society of lawlessness, that there was no state.
This perception is enough to destroy a nation – which is why the Mexican government has taken such drastic measures to combat it. At the same time, the steps taken by President Calderón – using the military – have themselves undermined the Rule of Law. As Monte Alejandro Rubido, a senior public security official explained the tradeoff:
It can be traumatic to have the army in control of public security, but I am convinced that we don’t have a better alternative, even with all the risks that it implies.
It is good that Calderón realizes that there is a tradeoff. His judgment remains that this is the least worst option – and his goal is one that we in America must share – the restoration of the Rule of Law in our neighbor.
Similarly, in Pakistan, the Rule of Law has been undermined by the central government – as former President Musharaff disbanded the Supreme Court, as President Zardari refused to restore Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry for a time and seemed to use the Court for partisan purposes – while at the same time, the Rule of Law is being directly attacked by the religious extremists who have now taken to attacking police academies.
The Rule of Law is a nation’s most valuable asset – and unfortunately it is also most vulnerable. It faces threats from government overreaction, from rogue forces within the government, from unjust laws, from corruption, and from extremists who violently oppose the state itself. Mexico and Pakistan are becoming destabilized because large groups are attacking the Rule of Law – and each government’s own reaction to these groups additionally undermines the Rule of Law.