Monopoly on violence in Mexico

By Lauren Wessel

Among social scientist, Tilly’s theory that “war makes states, and state maker war”, is very dominant in the state making theory in Europe. Tilly defines states as having a monopoly on violence. When one applies this theory outside Europe, it seems as if states do not always have a legitimate monopoly on violence. Can these states be seen as failed states?

In Latin America, there are organized crime groups that control specific territories. In these territories, they have the monopoly on violence, and can thus according to Tilly’s definition of a state be considered “states-within-states”. A lot of these groups are involved in drug trafficking, and their territories are appropriately called “narcostates". For instance, in Mexico, Culiacan, the Sinaloa Cartel is very active. It does not only have a monopoly on violence, but the influence of the cartel goes deep, as the area’s economy is dependent upon the income of the cartel. This is because cartels are able to influence state (and non-state) actors through intimidation or bribery. In some instances, the state has even made deals with cartels about drug-trafficking to ensure that the drug-related violence would not get out of control. Although these cartels do have some influence on a national level, the cartels are not able to exercise the same level of influence as they have locally, nationally. Therefore, Mexico is rather a state with failed cities, in which they do not have a monopoly on violence.

There are several ways to see whether Tilly’s definition of a state applies to Mexico. Either, the Mexican State is still in the state-building process, and has yet to reach its monopoly on violence; on the other hand, Mexico can be seen as a state with failed cities, in which it can only ensure a monopoly on violence indirectly by cooperating with other drug cartels.