Managing Security Today
Given the increased danger to persons, property, and civil order posed by Mexican drug cartels, some have asked whether these cartels can be categorized as terrorist organizations. While a legal argument might be crafted for designating the drug cartels as such, the failure of the international community to provide a universal definition of the term coupled with the negative connotations associated with America’s war on the terrorist network al-Qa’eda discourages such a move.
If Mexican drug cartels are labeled by American officials as “terrorists,” many would immediately assume that the correct rule of law that the United States might employ would be the law of war and not domestic or international criminal law. While this assumption is certainly not correct, confusion often consumes rational argument. This factor would put unnecessary strains on any bilateral relationships that America is building with Mexico.
The United States should continue to employ descriptive labels that concentrate on the criminal activities of the Mexican drug cartels. To avoid the inevitable confusion and political firestorm sure to follow, if the label of “terrorism” is applied to the cartels, it should originate from the Mexican government.
Jeffrey F. Addicott, Labeling Mexican Cartels as Terrorist Organizations, Managing Security Today, Jan. 2012, at 23.