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The War Next Door

Narcoterrorism, Legal Challenges, and Lessons Learned from the Mexican Military’s Engagement in the War on Drugs

Sean F. O'Brien


This paper argues that some cartel violence against civilians constitutes an act of terrorism under Mexican law. However, Mexico avoids labeling it as such because it may cost the government legitimacy and invite foreign interference. This paper also demonstrates that Mexico has maintained the use of military force against cartels despite a constitutional foundation that forbids military policing. Finally, having established the Mexican Drug War as a case of use of military force against a terrorist threat, this paper argues that the Mexican military strategy of targeting cartel leadership has failed due to three main factors.


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