One of the what-ifs that the Albanese government should be asking itself is; what would it mean if America invaded Mexico in 2025? If the leading Republican presidential candidates are to be taken at their word this is not a foolish question. Could anything have a greater impact on the foundations of Australia’s foreign and strategic policies?
Former US Defence Secretary Mark Esper claims Donald Trump asked him to draw up battle plans for attacking Mexico. Apparently Trump is still “asking policy advisers for a range of military options aimed at taking on Mexican drug cartels”. The Trump camp are apparently attracted to the Wage War On Transnational Drug Cartels policy document written by Ken Cuccinelli, a former Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security under Trump.
Trump now has plenty of company among Republicans. Senators Tom Cotton, Lindsey Graham, John Kennedy and J.D. Vance have all voiced support for U.S. military operations in Mexico. At the first Republican primary debate Ron DeSantis declared he would send special forces into Mexico to combat drug cartels “on day one” of his presidency. Republicans have already introduced legislation into the House to authorise military action against Mexico.
Although the presidential election is still a long way off, current polling has Trump equal with or just shading Joe Biden. DeSantis remains the second Republican in the polls.The prospect of a Republican presidency is real and should be troubling the Albanese government. The US Electoral College system means that a shift in a few tens of thousands of votes from the previous election could mean a radical shift in America’s foreign policy.
Opioid addiction in America is a complex and multifaceted crisis. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency enough of the synthetic opioid fentanyl was seized in 2022 to kill all 330 million residents of the US. Of the 106,000 Americans who died from an overdose in 2021 fentanyl accounted for two thirds.
Smuggling from Mexico is challenging American immigration, police, and health authorities. The scale of the drug trade continues to grow and attempts to stop the smugglers have been unsuccessful. While the couriers are overwhelmingly American citizens, the fentanyl is manufactured by the Sinaloa and Jalisco Mexican drug cartels. Policymakers in America are frustrated by the apparent intractability of the problem; and with the inability of the Mexican government to deal with the cartels and the escalating violence. This has led to calls for radical action on the part of the US.
Australia’s deepening integration with the American military has been justified repetitively on the proposition that America is the champion of sovereignty and international law. America’s relentless efforts to galvanise its allies in support of Ukraine against Russia and to resist Chinese aggression have been framed around defending a rules-based international order that upholds the principles of sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity that are the foundation of the UN Charter.
Perhaps as President Trump or DeSantis might try to justify a military intervention into Mexico on the basis that the Mexicans are unable to pacify and eliminate the drug cartels, and this presents a clear and present security threat to Americans. It would be a difficult case to make as the International Criminal Court’s statutes determine that the crime of aggression involves the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State and which by its character, gravity and scale, is inconsistent with or violates the Charter of the United Nations. Perhaps a Republican administration wouldn’t even bother to make a case in international law. They’ve shown no indication of doing so to date.
It goes without saying that an attack on the Mexican drug cartels would be resisted by Mexico and would severely damage America’s relations with its largest trading partner. But it would have wider consequences. Military resources would be drawn away from the Asia-Pacific and Ukraine and the conflict might end in a cordon sanitaire, a semi-permanent militarised zone along their mutual border. America would be distracted from international affairs by the conflict. The implications for America’s force posture and the global balance of forces would be significant.
Among America’s allies there would be disarray and confusion. Maintaining the fiction that following America is about international law, and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, would become a very difficult story to sell to their citizens. Nations that have greatly strengthened military cooperation with the United States, like Japan, South Korea, and Australia, would need to worry about the level of commitment and the priorities of a Republican Administration that had invaded Mexico. Confidence in America’s leadership would be eroded.
The developing nations would be troubled by the invasion of a democratic state. Any credibility America had in the global south would be gone and opportunities would open up for China and Russia to build anti-American coalitions in Africa and Latin America. Moreover, an attack on Mexico by America could be the last nail in the coffin of the UN and the Security Council. The international order might never recover.
Of course when confronted with the realities of office a Republican president might retreat from these bellicose threats and claim they were merely opening gambits for negotiating with Mexico. All of America’s allies are probably hoping so. But as it stands, the leading Republicans, and much of their base, are supportive of military action against Mexico. If this were to occur, the already cooling support for Ukraine would probably collapse. Republican sentiment is already turning against involvement in Ukraine. The Europeans must be deeply concerned.
Australian governments have gambled heavily on the alliance with America. Curiously however, little attention has been given in the media or public discourse to the significant risks to the alliance, and to AUKUS, posed by the American election.
The Americans have colonised Northern Australia, occupied Australian military bases and ports, established resupply and armaments industries in country, and infiltrated policy and intelligence institutions. Now they might turn inward. The Prime Minister and Defence Minister must be holding their collective breaths and hoping the bottom doesn’t fall out of Australia’s foreign and defence policies.