March 21, 2011

Security Through Partnership: Fighting Transnational Cartels in the Western Hemisphere

The most dangerous threat to the United States and its allies in the Western Hemisphere is the growth of powerful transnational criminal organizations in Mexico and Central America, according to the authors of Security Through Partnership: Fighting Transnational Cartels in the Western Hemisphere. In this policy brief, authors Bob Killebrew and Matthew Irvine write that increased regional cooperation – which has been a topic of President Obama’s Latin America tour – is needed to combat the growing violence and instability in the Western Hemisphere.

“Transnational cartel networks cannot be defeated in just one area, one border or one country. These organizations conduct activities throughout the region and therefore are able to adapt quickly to new security measures taken to counter them,” write authors Killebrew and Irvine. “A reinvigorated partnership between the United States and Colombia, Mexico and the nations of Central America is the most effective means to attack this transnational threat and promote the rule of law and justice throughout the region.”

Killebrew and Irvine recommend that the United States and its regional partners:

  • Prioritize attacking cartels. While mitigating the effects of illegal drugs is an important policy issue in the concerned countries, the United States and its regional partners should target the cartel networks throughout the region as the primary threat.
  • Work regionally. The United States and its partners stand the best chance of securing the region against the most dangerous cartels by deploying a regional security strategy, rather than directing efforts to just one area, one border or one country.

In addition, the United States should:

  • Help others lead. Successful efforts against transnational criminal organizations need not originate in Washington. The United States should encourage bilateral or multilateral partnerships in the region that may not include direct U.S. sponsorship or control, but focus on shared goals.
  • Revitalize its partnership with Colombia. The United States should anchor its regional efforts in a new relationship with Colombia based on a shared interest in countering transnational criminal networks and bolstering the rule of law.


  • USA (Ret.)

  • Robert Killebrew