By Eric L. Olson, 12/17/2012

Today Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto announced his government’s much anticipated security strategy to a nation exhausted and traumatized by six years of devastating violence and skyrocketing crime.  In his statement he committed to heed the mandate of Mexican citizens in the last election calling for a country at peace and based on “respect and protection of human rights.”

Speaking before the National Public Security Council, made up of state governors and key members of the security cabinet, as well as Congressional and civic leaders, President Peña Nieto laid out a six point plan to the nation on television and radio.  He promised better government planning that would result in a reduction in violence and clear measurable results.  He also committed to increase crime prevention programs and social investments to give young people alternatives to crime; to protect human rights; and improved inter-governmental coordination among federal agencies and between federal, state and municipal governments.  He vowed to continue institutional strengthening and reforms such as establishing a professional career path for police, and the formation of a Gendarmerie of 10,000 to focus on areas of the country where local and state authorities have been overcome by criminal activity.  Finally he committed himself to ensuring that government programs were continuously evaluated for effectiveness and adjustments made based on these evaluations.

In addition to the six points, President Peña Nieto emphasized the need for a “State” security policy that goes beyond the partisanship and political gamesmanship that have hampered security reforms and initiatives in the past.  He called on all political parties to work together in an integrated fashion to support a common national policy on security that transcends the political divisions that have undermined reforms in the past.

While the President’s six key points are laudable, the details associated with these priorities are subject to a great deal of debate and speculation.  The much anticipated Gendarmerie is still somewhat of a mystery since it is unclear who will make up the new force and how they will fit into the overall security structure of the country.  Likewise, how the government intends to reduce violence remains unclear.

Two other interesting points emerge for the United States.  No specific mention was made of international security cooperation nor of the threats posed by drug trafficking or transnational organized crime.  These are clearly priorities for the United States and their absence will raise concerns in some quarters.  Yet, the it also reflects the fact that for Mexico the problems of violence, crime and insecurity go well beyond the narrow albeit important issue of drug trafficking and transnational crime and are really rooted in local criminal activity that tends to be more violent – such as kidnapping, extortion, and violent auto-theft.

Finally, while the announcement of this plan is an important first step for the Peña Nieto government, there are many details still to be filled in and worked out.  Rather than a strategy, the six-point plan is, for now, a series of aspirations and governmental actions that, if fully implemented, can contribute to improved security for Mexico but which will also require greater focus and strategizing to effectively reduce the harms and violence the country has experienced during the past six years.

Eric L. Olson is the Associate Director of the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.