Earlier this month, the United States and Mexico agreed to extend a surveillance program allowing the US to fly high-altitude, unarmed drones over Mexican territory for the purpose of gathering information about drug trafficking. Implemented over concerns about Mexican sovereignty, the drone program is a cooperative counter-narcotics initiative put in place to address “the outbreak of drug violence in Mexico that has left more than 34,000 dead in the past four years.”
Answering Mexico’s complaint that it has “borne the brunt of a scourge driven by American guns and drug consumption,” the US moved to have a hand in controlling the drug trade that departs from previous efforts (such as training Mexican police and providing security equipment). The US’s drone program represents an active, military involvement in collecting intelligence and a new method of tackling the drug trade, as the information that the drones gather is shared between American and Mexican agencies.
Since its inception, the drone program has helped capture – as well as kill – roughly twenty high-profile drug traffickers. Despite its effectiveness, it has amassed critics. Detractors note that the drone program lacks transparency because the number of flights that have taken place under its auspices have been kept confidential due to security concerns.
In addition, detractors note that the drone program lacks legality. Though Mexico opened up its airspace to American overflight, the Mexican Constitution prohibits foreign militaries from operating within Mexican territory. In this regard, there have been suggestions that Mexico has allowed the US to overstep its bounds by unlawfully ignoring American wiretapping of drug-traffickers’ telephone lines as well as American law enforcements’ possession of weapons while on Mexican territory.
Overall, the drone program seems to have both positive and negative aspects. Are they legal in nature? Is drug trafficking a political question? Or, because criminality is involved, should the law provide oversight?