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The Vee Oh Cee

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The Vee Oh Cee


I cannot watch the news. It only takes minimal exposure before I want to curl up in a ball on the floor. For instance, I keep hearing that Mexico is on the Verge of Collapse, and also that it is a Failed State. This is scary stuff. I’m not sure what happens when a country that has survived for a thousand years collapses. What is left behind?

I admit that it makes me anxious, and more so since I recently watched a harrowing special about the Dust Bowl on the History Channel. Was I to understand that having the earth denuded of it’s topsoil, drought, livestock keeling over dead, a historic depression, 25% unemployment, and plagues of freaking millipedes had not put America on the Verge-of-Collapse, but Mexico is permanently perched there? This means that somehow the country that I’ve chosen to live in has to be a third world hell worse off than Dust Bowl Oklahoma. My anxiety has turned to skepticism.

It turns out that The Fund for Peace has a grading system called the Index of Failed States. When a state is failing, it doesn’t mean that there will be some kind of supernova as it collapses in on itself, as I vaguely thought. It’s less like a star burning out and more like failing math in your sophomore year. Instead of A-F, it goes from Green (sustainable) to Red (Alert). In between are Cream (Moderate) and Yellow (Warning), and believe me, the whole world lives somewhere in the cream and yellow zone, including America and Mexico. It’s clear that you can’t be rock and roll and be in the Green…only countries like Luxembourg and Sweden are green. And Canada.

It didn’t require much of a time investment before I began to feel like I’d been had by the the Talking Heads and their catastrophe rhetoric. Again. If you don’t straighten up, says the Fund for Peace, you’re going to fail. Just like my parents used to say! But in the hands of newcasters with hour after hour to fill, it becomes something very different.

Believe me when I tell you that I’m content to leave politics to the people that give a damn. If it doesn’t involve rhinestone appliques or reality television, I’m not interested. When I am forced to listen to the news, I usually feel only a vague sense of horror, like a teenager hopelessly eavesdropping while grown-ups ruin her life. So I didn’t set out to become an expert on this kind of stuff, and in fact, I haven’t.

But I can report that the Verge of Collapse turns out to be a very wide place, a regular esplanade, if you will. I have learned that the standards for being a Failed State are low, and almost any accounting error or severe storm will qualify you. A government only has to come up short in one of many varied criteria, and economy is one of those, so to my surprise, the USA is in fact sharing the Verge of Collapse with her neighbor to the South! Also crowded onto the Verge are Argentina, Venezuela and Israel, and of course, Russia and China.

Thanks to the Internet, God bless it, even if the Fund for Peace gives you a passing grade, it’s pretty easy to find someone who thinks you’re a Failed State. As an example, I thought that England would be safe, serenely hunkered down somewhere with a gin rickey watching the sun set on those of us who were roosted on The VOC, but nope, Britain is in danger of bankruptcy, which certainly gets you an F. New England, too, because the Atlantic Codfish is, you guessed it, on the Verge of Collapse.

The exception is Canada. I mentioned my findings to the ladies who lunch, noting that Canada seemed to be safe from the VOC. “Oh, we’ve been bankrupt for years.” our Canadian bff drawled. “The healthcare system, you know.” I can’t find anything to substantiate her position though, and she’s the same woman that thinks W was an excellent king.

I’m pleased to report that Mexico can be a Failed State and on the Verge of Collapse and still be a damn fine place to live. Drug wars are bad and so is flu, but this sunny nation has never been free of violence or illness or poverty or even millipedes, and people have always fallen in love and settled in Mexico in spite of it. I don’t know what drives the relentless barrage of media that addresses only one aspect of this country of contrasts. It seems like bullying, petty and mean. The fact is, bad in Mexico exists, and it can be pretty bad… but, what the hell, Mexico’s good is so much better.

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More on Mexico as Failing State

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More on Mexico as Failing State


Having looked further into the matter, it appears that the Mexico failed state media narrative was spawned by a November 25, 2008 report issued by the United States Joint Forces Command Center for Joint Futures, The Joint Operating Environment (JOE).

Here is the specific language from the report which seems to have set off the narrative:

C. Weak and Failing states
Weak and failing states will remain a condition of the global environment over the next quarter of a century. Such countries will continue to present strategic and operational planners serious challenges, with human suffering on a scale so large that it almost invariably spreads throughout the region, and in some cases possesses the potential to project trouble throughout the globalized world.

Yet, there is no clear pattern for the economic and political troubles that beset these states. In some cases, disastrous leadership has wrecked political and economic stability. In others, wars among tribal groups with few cultural, linguistic, or even racial ties have imploded states. This was the case in Africa and the Middle East, where in the nineteenth century the European powers divided frontiers between their colonies on the basis of economic, political, or strategic necessity and paid scant attention to existing linguistic, racial, or cultural patterns of the tribal societies. These dysfunctional borders have exacerbated nearly every conflict in which our forces have been involved in these regions.

Many, if not the majority, of weak and failing states will center in Sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. A current list of such states much resembles the lists of such states drawn up a generation ago, suggesting a chronic condition, which, despite considerable aid, provides little hope for solution. There have been a number of nations that have escaped poverty — their successes resulting from intelligent leadership and a willingness to embrace integration into the global system. To date, the remaining weak and failing nations have chosen other paths.

There is one dynamic in the literature of weak and failing states that has received relatively little attention, namely the phenomenon of “rapid collapse.” For the most part, weak and failing states represent chronic, long-term problems that allow for management over sustained periods. The collapse of a state usually comes as a surprise, has a rapid onset, and poses acute problems. The collapse of Yugoslavia into a chaotic tangle of warring nationalities in 1990 suggests how suddenly and catastrophically state collapse can happen—in this case, a state which had hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics at Sarajevo, and which then quickly became the epicenter of the ensuing civil war.

In terms of worst-case scenarios for the Joint Force and indeed the world, two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico.

Some forms of collapse in Pakistan would carry with it the likelihood of a sustained violent and bloody civil and sectarian war, an even bigger haven for violent extremists, and the question of what would happen to its nuclear weapons. That “perfect storm” of uncertainty alone might require the engagement of U.S. and coalition forces into a situation of immense complexity and danger with no guarantee they could gain control of the weapons and with the real possibility that a nuclear weapon might be used.

The Mexican possibility may seem less likely, but the government, its politicians, police, and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels. How that internal conflict turns out over the next several years will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state. Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone.

This, despite the fact that the report projects Mexico to have the world’s tenth highest per capita income and the world’s sixth largest GDP by the year 2030, larger than that projected for Brazil, with about 80 million more inhabitants than Mexico and often cited as an emerging global economic power.

Keep in mind that the very beginning of the JOE, even before the the title, includes this disclaimer:

About this Study
The Joint Operating Environment is intended to inform joint concept development and experimentation throughout the Department of Defense. It provides a perspective on future trends, shocks, contexts, and implications for future joint force commanders and other leaders and professionals in the national security field. This document is speculative in nature and does not suppose to predict what will happen in the next twenty-five years. Rather, it is intended to serve as a starting point for discussions about the future security environment at the operational level of war. Inquiries about the Joint Operating Environment should be directed to USJFCOM Public Affairs, 1562 Mitscher Avenue, Suite 200, Norfolk, VA 23551-2488, (757) 836-6555. [emphasis added]

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Mexico As “Failed State” Media Narrative

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Mexico As “Failed State” Media Narrative


Remember the, “Mexico is at risk for failing as a state” narrative which echoed through the USA media a few weeks back?

The Brookings Institution, last year, produced The Index of State Weakness in the Developing World , which “ranks and assesses 141 developing nations according to their relative performance in four critical spheres: economic, political, security and social welfare.” The index was derived through aggregating information in a number of reports produced by academic and governmental organizations.

So, where does Mexico rank, with number 1, Somolia, being most at risk, and 141, the Slovak Republic, being most stable? Mexico comes in at 120th, ahead of Columbia at 47th most likely to fail, Brazil at 99th, and Argentina at 115th to cite just a few. So why are we not seeing media reports of Columbia as a failing state?

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