Drug-related violence has become a very serious problem in Mexico, leading to more than 30,000 deaths in the country between December 2006 and December 2010. Violent drug-trafficking organizations (VDTOs) produce, transship, and deliver into the United States tens of billions of dollars worth of narcotics annually. The activities of VDTOs are not confined to drug trafficking, but extend to numerous other criminal enterprises, including human trafficking, weapon trafficking, kidnapping, money laundering, extortion, bribery, and racketeering. Then, there is the violence: Recent incidents have included assassinations of politicians and judges, attacks on rival organizations, attacks on the police and other security forces, attacks on associated civilians (i.e., the families of members of competing groups or of government officials), and seemingly random violence against innocent bystanders.

The full scope and details of the challenges posed by VDTOs are not well understood, and optimal strategies to combat these organizations have not been identified. To contribute to the body of knowledge in this area, this monograph offers an assessment of the contemporary security situation in Mexico through the lens of existing RAND research on related issues. Specifically, we considered three strands of existing research: work on urban instability and unrest, the historical study of insurgency, and research on defense-sector reform.