The Political Role of the Military: An International Handbook

By Constantine P. Danopoulos; Cynthia Watson | Go to book overview
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Roderic Camp

An analysis of the political role of the military in Mexico is valuable for what it reveals about the military's withdrawal from politics and about the maintenance of civilian supremacy over the military. The qualities that characterize the military's role in Mexican society have evolved from its historical experience, from institutional patterns ingrained within the military, from structural characteristics of the political system, and from linkages between the military and civilian leadership.

Civil-military relations are necessarily founded on the historical context. Two essential variables emerge from the historical experience of a society as it relates to the military's self-image and role. First, military officers are a product of that larger society, and the values and attitudes that govern society are embedded in their formation, too. Likewise, the civilian population's view of the military and its peripheral roles stems in part from perceptions of its historic role. Second, the historic role of the military and its involvement in internal political affairs determined civil-military patterns, creating structural relationships affecting institutional behavior.

When Mexico became independent from Spain in the 1820s, independence brought with it a political vacuum. Various groups who had received privileges under the Spanish crown in New Spain sought to maintain their favored status. Among these groups, the military played a prominent role. Mexico's political development floundered throughout the nineteenth century because of a lack of consensus about what type of political model was most appropriate to Mexico; what role various interests, such as the Catholic Church or military, should play in their society; what strategies should be fostered to promote economic development; and which social groups should govern.

The descendants of the colonial militia, the basis of the army in early nineteenth-century Mexico, quickly exercised political power, either directly or in association with civilian leaders. Mexico's political weakness prompted external


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