In the view of Mexico’s government, coordination in the national security strategy is an end in itself, independent from the goals they are pursuing and from the policies they are implementing. But that is not necessarily a positive thing, writes Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope.
The word shows up in all the conversations of federal government officials. What is the difference between this administration’s security strategy and that of the previous government? Coordination. What is the central idea of the operation in Michoacan? Coordination. What is the purpose of the meetings with governors? Coordination. The president makes a show of the term in every security discourse, as does the Interior Ministry (SEGOB) and the National Security Commission.
These are not mere declarations. In a preliminary version of the National Public Security Program, the first objective is: “Establish effective coordination for the design, implementation and evaluation of the state’s policies in regards to security.” That is to say, in the government’s view, coordination is an end in itself, independent from the goals they are pursuing and the policies they are working to implement.
Well, so what? Isn’t coordination preferable to disorder? Isn’t it desirable that all government institutions march to the same beat and in the same direction? Not necessarily.
- 1. If the policies adopted are inadequate, coordination will just serve to heighten the error. If, for example, all of the bodies and dependencies work together to place roadblocks in the highways, when there is evidence that roadblocks are not effective, the result is a massive wasting of resources. It is better if some put them in place and some do not.
- 2. Just like in the market, competition between state institutions can be positive. If there is an incentive to be better than one’s neighbor, it is more likely that tactical innovations or institutional experimentation will occur. Coordination, on the other hand, can lead to uniformity and decreased learning: if everyone does the same thing, it is very difficult to figure out what works and what does not.
- 3. In some circumstances, a lack of coordination can serve as a barrier to corruption. If information and authority are disseminated in a complex system, it becomes less useful to bribe or intimidate any individual government official. For this same reason, it is not necessarily a bad idea that institutions with a long tradition of corrupt practices should be constantly subject to the suspicion and scrutiny of other institutions (note: I have written extensively on this subject here).
- 4. Coordination (at least, in the way the government has chosen to understand it) can serve to limit transparency and government accountability. For example, in order to maintain a cordial climate with state governments, the national government has avoided presenting comparative figures in the last two sessions of the National Public Security Council. That is to say, in the name of coordination, nobody is made to account for what they do or do not do (at least, not publicly).
Does all of the above mean that there is no value in interagency or intergovernmental coordination, that information should never be shared, that each dependency should just keep doing whatever they get the urge to? No, not that either. In some circumstances and for certain objectives, coordinated efforts can be extraordinarily effective. But that is the key point: we are talking about an instrument that can be useful or useless, depending on the goals being pursued.
To put coordination on a pedestal, turn it into a public policy objective, is a monumental mistake. It is a clear demonstration of a lack of clarity about what one wants. Even worse, it shows a radically simplistic view of the insecurity problem: for those idolizers of coordination, the problem of crime and violence is one of political operations and controlling agreements. They appear to be saying that our problems do not come from our institutional fragility, or from the disastrous situation with the police, the attorney general’s offices or the prisons, but rather, from a provisional fact: Calderon didn’t do a good job controlling the meetings and he didn’t speak nicely to the governors.
In a recent article, Mexican academic and writer Jesus Silva-Herzog Marquez wrote the following:
The government of Peña Nieto is the government of the political operators. Negotiators without a map, managers without a plan, delegates without instructions. Negotiate anything, as long as you negotiate, seems to be the orders. Turn in anything, deliver anything, but sign it. Don’t lose your time reading the contract, because the important thing is not the agreement, but rather, to agree. It doesn’t matter if the agreement is a death blow to the government’s “project.” To govern is to compromise.
Substitute negotiate, agree and compromise for coordinate and there you have a short summary of the security policy of the current administration. The instructions are to coordinate. Why? It doesn’t matter, the important thing is that everyone is smiling in the photo. Without ideas, without a budget, without a project, but yes, well-coordinated.
From fear, I tell you.
Note 1: If you prod them a little, government officials respond that coordination is intended to “offer better results” or is even for “constructing a peaceful Mexico.” As you seen, conceptual clarity is a priority.
Note 2: All of the opinions expressed in this article are strictly personal and do not necessarily represent the institutional positions of the IMCO.
*Translated and reprinted with permission from Plata o Plomo, Alejandro Hope’s blog on the politics and economics of drugs and crime published by Animal Politico. Read the Spanish original here. Hope is also a member of InSight Crime’s Board of Directors.