“Monopoly of Force Does Not Always Explain Peace: Illicit Network Evolution Does”

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Nathan Jones writes in Small Wars Journal about the evolution of the Mexican drug war:

There has been a dominant narrative in the study of Mexican drug trafficking which argues that violence goes down when one dominant trafficking organization monopolizes a locale.  This has been used to explain the reductions in violence in Tijuana and now Ciudad Juarez.  There is just one problem with the explanation, it isn’t empirically valid.  In both cities the deeply entrenched local “cartels” continue to operate, though in a more low-profile fashion, while the Sinaloa cartel has entered both cities and has been proclaimed by government officials in the US and Mexico as dominant.  The dominance of the Sinaloa cartel has been credited with the relative drops in violence.  There is another explanation that better fits reality.

In violent conflicts with the state and rival drug traffickers, the most violent cells of larger networks (those that focus on kidnapping and extortion) are more likely to be killed or captured because they draw state and rival trafficker attention.  As they are wiped out, the remaining cells focus on trafficking, money laundering and maintaining a “low profile.”  Key to maintaining a low profile is reducing violence with other organizations to avoid state attention.  This requires some level of negotiation with rivals or a tacit “live and let live” policy.  While we have little direct evidence of these negotiations save for statements from arrested traffickers, we have the low levels of violence and the continued presence of multiple trafficking groups in shared territories as circumstantial evidence that the monopoly of violence explanation does not explain these relative peace periods.

Recent articles, including one in Proceso by Victor Clark, have demonstrated the continued presence and operation of the Arellano Felix Organization in Tijuana.  Clark points out that the AFO operates in a very different fashion following its internecine conflict with El Teo a violent lieutenant who splintered from the AFO in 2008.  Following his arrest and the arrest of his top cell leaders in early 2010, violence in the city has declined, particularly as measured by kidnap rates.  This is despite the fact that the Sinaloa cartel established an important presence in Tijuana by annexing cells from the AFO in the same period.  Many argued the Sinaloa cartel was dominant by 2010 and that the AFO was either “a shadow of its former self” or even that it was on the verge of collapse.  Yet its leadership was never captured (Fernando Sanchez Arellano AKA El Ingeniero) and cell leaders such as El Ruedas continued to be arrested, all of which stated that the AFO had regenerated and is far stronger than observers thought.    What has changed for the AFO has been the business model and procedures.  Former enforcer cell leaders have transitioned to low profile trafficking.  In the words of Clark they are now more “entrepreneurial.”

Solving for the equilibrium:

This process suggests that there may be multiple processes at play, which will create a less violent equilibrium in Mexican trafficking.  First, state institutional security capacity is increasing and is likely to continue its increase in Mexico with increased spending, democratic/rule of law norms, and training from the United States via the “new Merida Initiative” which now emphasizes capacity building over military equipment. Second, trafficking networks are experiencing changes in their internal composition.  Territorial and extortion based-cells are being removed by state and rival traffickers while trafficking cells survive.  Local state actors such as former Tijuana Police Chief Leyzaola (current chief of Juarez) are also targeting the most violent actors in these networks, as was the case with the El Teo faction in Tijuana.  These are not rational decisions made by monolithic actors, but structurally determined strategies from illicit networks whose capabilities, skills and predispositions change based on which members and cells in their illicit networks are arrested or killed.  Thus, the illicit network evolutionary process favors traffickers over extorters; which in turn allows for peaceful coexistence in cities like Tijuana.

 Read the whole thing.
Eapen Thampy

Digg it |  reddit |  del.icio.us |  Fark

7 Responses to ““Monopoly of Force Does Not Always Explain Peace: Illicit Network Evolution Does””

  1. #1 |  Fred Bush | 

    Was it you that was dissing Mark Kleiman, or one of your co-bloggers? Anyway, this is his preferred approach to dealing with the drug situation: focus law enforcement attention on the most violent organization until it is crushed (concentrate all fire on that super star destroyer!), then move on to the next most violent, etc., until the remaining cartels rein in the violence themselves out of self-interest.

  2. #2 |  Bob | 


    But don’t worry, the US will find a way to bring the violence back.

  3. #3 |  Eapen Thampy | 

    I don’t believe I’ve made a comment on any such argument by Kleiman

  4. #4 |  Fred Bush | 

    Here’s the piece I was thinking of, and indeed it was not one of your posts; I should’ve spent the extra ten seconds to use the search feature! Doh.


  5. #5 |  SJE | 

    The analysis suggests that targetting drug use and distribution promotes violence, because the most violent win when violence is not the most important predictor of prosecution. Conversely, if the police target violence and the worst aspects of criminal behavior, criminal organizations will become less violent. Thus, legalizing drugs does not promote violence.

  6. #6 |  Alison Myrden | 

    Well said Eapen my friend….

    If we legalize and regulate these substances the criminal element will not fight over them like they have been.

    Great article again Eapen!

    Thank U.

    Alison Myrden
    Federal Medical Marijuana Exemptee in Canada
    Retired Law Enforcement Officer
    Speaker for LEAP
    Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

  7. #7 |  Kent | 

    Supposedly we back the Sinaloans, from the Stratfor files…

    “In another email from June 2010, MX1 suggested that the U.S. and Mexican “governments will allow controlled drug trades,” alleging that the “the major routes and methods for bulk shipping into the US have already been negotiated with U.S. authorities,” and that large shipments of drugs belonging to the Sinaloa Cartel “are OK with the Americans.”