The Challenge of Violent Drug-Trafficking Organizations

An Assessment of Mexican Security Based on Existing RAND Research on Urban Unrest, Insurgency, and Defense-Sector Reform

by Christopher Paul, Agnes Gereben Schaefer, Colin P. Clarke

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Abstract

Violent drug-trafficking organizations (VDTOs) in Mexico produce, transship, and deliver into the United States tens of billions of dollars worth of narcotics annually, but their activities are not limited to drug trafficking. VDTOs have also engaged in human trafficking, weapon trafficking, kidnapping, money laundering, extortion, bribery, racketeering, and assassinations. In an effort to clarify the scope and details of the challenges posed by VDTOs, a RAND team conducted a Delphi expert elicitation exercise, the results of which offer an assessment of the contemporary security situation in Mexico through the lens of existing RAND research on related issues. The exercise centered around three strands of prior RAND research on urban instability and unrest, historical insurgencies, and defense-sector reform. Although this prior research was not designed specifically for the study of Mexico, all three areas offer applicable insights. Assessment scorecards from these projects were used to obtain input from the expert panel and to guide the resulting discussion. The goal was not to break significant new ground in understanding the dynamics of drug violence in Mexico or to offer a qualitative assessment of these dynamics, but rather to provide an empirically based platform for identifying key areas that merit further investigation.

The research described in this report was conducted within the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Commun

This report is part of the RAND Corporation monograph series. RAND monographs present major research findings that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND monographs undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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