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The Mexican Military Approaches the 21st Century: Coping with a New World Order

Authored by LTC Stephen J. Wager. | February 1994

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In speculating about the future of the Mexican military, a clear understanding of that institution's past can prove invaluable. As is the case with most institutions, the role of the military will evolve in some form from the missions it has performed in the past. The history of the army in the 20th century, like that of the nation in general, has centered first and foremost on the Mexican Revolution, which ravaged the country for 10 years (1910-20) and cost the lives of close to two million people. The army played a critical role in both the revolution and its outcome. It forged most of the political institutions that subsequently emerged and that provided Mexico with the relative economic and political stability that the nation has enjoyed since the 1920s.

Ironically, the country's political leaders--most of whom were military in the two decades immediately following the revolution--worked to eliminate the army's direct role in politics as a way of promoting stability. The formation of a dominant official political party in 1929 legitimized a formal role for the military in this sui generis political system. The founding of this predominant party, known today by the initials PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional), began the process of institutionalizing civilian political power.1 The civilianization of power took away the army's direct role in political decisionmaking, and the country's new civilian leaders assigned the military the role of guarantor and protector of the overall system. Since the 1920s, the army hierarchy had begun to inculcate its younger officers with an ideology replete with values such as loyalty, a revolutionary heritage, and patriotism. That unique ideology contributed significantly to the enthusiastic acceptance by army leaders of their new mission, which the military has proudly and jealously guarded to thisday.2

Historical events helped Mexico's new political elite consolidate its preeminent position. As early as 1940, the armed forces had begun to shift all their energies toward the traditional military functions of protecting the national sovereignty from a hostile enemy and preparing for war. In the aftermath of World War II, Mexico elected the first in an unbroken line of civilian presidents and dashed any military hopes of regaining political power. Consequently, the army turned its attention towards civic action and crisis management, where it has remained focused to the present day. As the year 2000 approaches, it is logical to draw on this history when considering the army's future missions, structure, and influence.


1. Samuel P. Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), pp. 255-257 and 318; Alejandra Lajous, Los Origenes del Partido Unico en Mexico, 3d ed. (Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autonoma deMexico, 1985), pp. 25-27; Daniel C. Levy, "Mexico: Sustained Civilian Rule Without Democracy," in Politics in Developing Countries: Comparing Experiences with Democracy, ed. Larry Diamond, Juan J. Linz and Seymour Martin Lipset (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1990), pp. 464-465 and 472-474; and Jorge Alberto Lozoya, El Ejercito Mexicano, 3d ed. (Mexico City: Jornadas 65, 1984), pp. 59-62.

2. See Chapter 3 of Stephen J. Wager, "The Mexican Army, 1940-1982: The Country Comes First" (Ph.D. Dissertation, Stanford University, 1992) for a detailed explanation of the factors that comprise this unique military ideology.