Luke Pinneo/U.S. Coast Guard

U.S. News


It’s Time to Privatize the War on Drugs

ISIS killed roughly 9,000 people at the height of its power in 2014. Mexican cartels are on track to kill over 30,000 this year. Despite 20 years’ effort by the United States and Mexico, the cartels have grown stronger, more international, and more violent. In Mexico, cartel corruption has compromised mayors, the armed forces, and — according to drug kingpin “El Chapo” — even outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto.

U.S. policy has failed to stop or even slow the drug cartels. In the interest of the public, the U.S. should look to the private. The United States should provide Mexico with financial assistance for the explicit purpose of hiring American private security contractors (PSCs) to defeat the Mexican cartels.

PSCs can do what the Mexican government cannot: be incorrupt, be aggressive and take the fight to the cartels. In the 21st century, PSCs excel. After six years of failure to stop Boko Haram, Nigeria turned to STTEP International, a private military company, and in just six months it recaptured territory the size of Belgium and put the terrorists on the run. PSCs hired by shipping companies ended the Somali pirate threat. PSCs, like Triple Canopy, boast stunning success rates in VIP and convoy protection in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s not just that PSCs work — it’s that they often work cheaper and with less public exposure than national forces. An independent market sets the price of a contract rather than a bloated bureaucracy. More importantly, media reports on their activities are few despite operations in nearly every active war zone today. They can do the ugly work that needs to be done and not fall victim to an overly-sensitive media.

There are far reaching economic benefits as well. PSCs provide high-paying jobs for tens of thousands of civilians. PSCs offer veterans opportunities to exercise the comparative advantage of their soldiering expertise. A successful completion of the “Mexican contract” would make the U.S. industry more robust, experienced, and more valuable to a growing international market.

PSCs can help Mexico restore its monopoly on the legitimate use of force, the basic building block for every stable society. Officials and citizens alike need to see that it is in their interest to cooperate with the government rather than the cartels. Violence, in short, works.

Critics argue that humanitarian and governance issues must be addressed to ensure lasting stability. Yet without a monopoly on the use of force first, the state is vulnerable to alternative centers of power. This is a mistake paid for in the blood of innocents. When Mexico regains this critical monopoly, issues of governance, rule of law, and economic opportunity can follow. Luckily, these are services that PSCs already provide to the United Nations.

The greatest concern, then, is that of Mexican legitimacy. After all, why should Mexicans trust their government if it has to hire gringo outsiders in the first place? Engaging PSCs in Mexico is not a short-term solution, and neither is the issue of state legitimacy. By taking the long-term approach and utilizing lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, PSCs can solidify the Mexican government’s authority and restore what public faith has already been lost.

It’s time to put the cartel’s backs against the wall. Only through the overwhelming application of violence can Mexico restore peace and prosperity to its citizens. This requires soldiers, but the public would not suffer American boots on the ground. In the private sector, the United States can have its cake and eat it too.

We should engage the private sector to defeat Mexico’s cartels. We can save American lives before more are lost. We have the opportunity to pull a critical ally back from the brink of collapse. The private sector has the means and ability to lead us from the dark work of today to a brighter tomorrow.