Is Mexico A NATO Member? We Explain Why Not

Mexico is the 13th largest country in the world and the 10th most populous. It has the 27th largest armed forces. The North American country is a key ally of the United States, and they share a nearly 2,000-mile-long border. NATO is a military defensive alliance that provides collective security to member states. So, as a major military power in North America, is Mexico a NATO member?

Mexico is not a member of NATO. It is also not a ‘NATO Global Partner’ – which are countries NATO has a close relationship with, but which are not full NATO members. There is no formal relationship between Mexico and NATO.

…but that’s just an overview. To fully understand Mexico’s relationship with NATO, we need to go into a bit more detail.

Is Mexico Part Of NATO?

The first question we need to ask regarding Mexico and NATO if is Mexico is already part the alliance?

Mexico is not part of NATO. The country has never been a member of the alliance and Mexico has never been a candidate to join NATO.

NATO was founded in 1949. Its original objective was to ensure the security of Europe and act as a deterrence against the Soviet Union. Following World War Two, the Western world quickly entered the Cold War against the USSR. As the Soviets occupied Eastern Europe after the war, NATO was designed to ensure the mutual security of Western Europe.

When NATO began there were 12 member states. These were Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

At the time NATO was founded, the Soviet Union was seen as a biggest strategic threat to America and Western Europe. As a result, NATO focused on including European countries as well as the US and Canada – both countries that had deep connections with Europe and had fought in both World Wars. As NATO focused so heavily on Europe, Mexico did not join when it was founded.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO expanded to include a number of countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Today, NATO has 30 member states. However, many of the countries that have joined NATO since the fall of the Soviet Union have been ex-Soviet states or countries that suffered Russian occupation. Therefore, NATO’s focus has remained on European security and especially protecting countries in Eastern Europe from renewed Russian aggression.

Although NATO has expanded extensively since its inception, it has remained a trans-Atlantic alliance focusing on European security. As a result, Mexico was never invited to join and has not been seen as a strategically important addition to the alliance.

Can Mexico Join NATO?

Ok, so we know Mexico isn’t a NATO member, but could Mexico actually join the alliance?

Mexico could join NATO. As a country in North America, NATO would be eligible to become a member of the alliance. However, currently NATO expansion is focused on Europe and Mexico has extensive internal security threats that mean joining NATO is not a priority for Mexico.

NATO is a trans-Atlantic defensive alliance made up of 30 countries. The aim of NATO is to ensure the security of North America and Europe. Countries can join NATO that meet a number of criteria. These include:

  • A European or North American country
  • Functioning democratic political system
  • A market economy
  • Fair treatment of minority populations
  • A commitment to resolve conflicts peacefully
  • An ability and willingness to make a military contribution to NATO operations
  • A commitment to democratic civil-military relations and institutions

As a country in North America, as long as Mexico meets these criteria, it can join NATO.

Although NATO’s focus, traditionally and today, has been on European security, some see Mexico joining the alliance as a way to bolster NATO’s defensive forces in North America. Mexico also has a substantial military, the 27th largest in the world. Mexico could commit significant forces to NATO and would increase the overall strength of the alliance.

Mexico joining NATO would also expand NATO’s article 5 guarantee over the country. Article 5 of the NATO founding treaty commits all nations to come to the defence of any one that is attacked. Although Mexico faces no immediate threats from external forces, many nations seek out NATO membership to improve their security.

Why Isn’t Mexico In NATO?

Ok, so we know Mexico isn’t a NATO member, but that it could actually join the alliance if both Mexico and NATO agreed. So, why isn’t Mexico already a member of NATO? There are several reasons, including:

  • Mexico has been a flawed democracy
  • The country has major internal security threats
  • Mexico focuses on Latin America
  • Mexico doesn’t need a security guarantee
  • Mexico’s natural status
  • The country’s limited military expenditure
  • Lack of political and public support for Mexico’s membership

Let’s take a quick look at each of these…

Mexico Has Been A Flawed Democracy

Mexico is officially a democratic federal republic. The country does hold regular elections and people vote for their leaders and representatives. However, Mexico is in many ways a flawed democracy. The rule of law is not always respected in the country, and political and human rights are not always protected.

In order for a country to be a NATO member it must be a democracy with a strong degree of freedom and fairness. Mexico only became a democracy in the year 2000. Mexico has historically lacked democracy and it’s current flawed democratic system is a major reason why the country is not in NATO.

The Country Has Major Internal Security Threats

Mexico has serious problem with non-state armed groups. The country has several major drug cartels that battle against the state and have controlled significant territory. There are also left-wing armed groups as well as large criminal gangs in the country that also fight against the Mexican armed forces.

The extent of Mexico’s internal security issues is a big reason why the country is not a NATO member. NATO is unwilling to accept nations that face major internal, and external, security threats.

Mexico Focuses On Latin America

Another reason why Mexico is not in NATO is because of the country’s alignment to Latin America, as opposed to North America and Europe. Mexico is closely economically, politically, and culturally tied to other countries in Central and South America. The country’s security is not closely linked to that of Europe’s and there is little reason for Mexico to join an alliance in which the main objective is the protection of Europe, when one of the country’s main focuses is Latin America.

Mexico Doesn’t Need A Security Guarantee

A major reason why countries join NATO is for the alliances article 5 security guarantee. This means that an attack of any one member is seen as an attack on all. Mexico does not face a major threat of external attack. It is highly unlikely that another country would invade Mexico. Essentially, the country doesn’t need NATO’s defence pact, and this is one reason why it is not a member.

Mexico’s Natural Status

Mexico has a history of neutrality and non-alignment. The country adopted a stance of non-intervention in the 1930s and this has been a core part of the country’s foreign policy since then. A key reason why Mexico is not part of NATO is because it would break with the country’s traditional stance of non-interference in the affairs of other countries and a desire to find peaceful solutions to global issues.

The Countries Limited Military Expenditure

Countries in NATO are expected to spend 2% of their GDP of defence. Currently, Mexico spends around 0.7% of their GDP on their armed forces. This is way below NATO’s requirement. Although not all NATO members meet the 2% expenditure required, Mexico’s defence spending is way below the amount required to be considered for NATO membership.

Lack Of Political And Public Support For Mexico’s Membership

A final reason why Mexico is not a NATO member is that there is no major political or public support in the country for joining the alliance. Most Mexicans are happy with the country’s current foreign policy platform and do not desire for the country to become a member of NATO.

Will Mexico Become A NATO Member?

Right, so we know Mexico isn’t a NATO member, even though it could technically join the alliance. We’ve also looked at the reasons why Mexico isn’t a part of NATO. However, what if Mexico resolved many of these issues or changed it’s stance, will we ever see Mexico become a member of NATO?

It is unlikely that Mexico will become a member of NATO. Although there have been proposals for Mexico to join in order to strengthen the alliances capabilities in North America, currently NATO’s security focus is on Europe. As a result, it is not a priority for Mexico to join NATO.

Mexico has long standing principles that govern its foreign policy. These include promoting the self-determination of peoples, non-interference in other nations and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

In the 1930s, Mexico adopted the Estrada Doctrine which meant Mexico would not breach the sovereignty of other nations. It also enshrined the key tenants of Mexico’s neutral foreign policy. The Estrada Doctrine was strictly adhered to throughout the 20th Century and still remains the foundation of Mexico’s foreign relations.

Although in the 2000s, the Mexican government began to push for more involvement in foreign affairs, Mexico still abides by the core tenants of the Estrada Doctrine. As a result, Mexico is unlikely to join NATO.

NATO membership for Mexico would force the country into a less neutral and more confrontational foreign policy position. It would commit Mexico to the defence of other NATO member states. It would also antagonise Russia, which sees NATO as an offensive alliance against its interests.

Mexico’s long standing foreign policy positions (combined with the reasons why Mexico is not already a member, which we discussed above), are why Mexico will not be joining NATO.

Is Mexico In Any Military Alliances?

As we’ve established, Mexico isn’t in NATO and isn’t likely to join soon, although technically it could become a member of the alliance in the future. This then begs a question, is Mexico in any other military alliances?

Mexico is not a member of any military alliances. Since the 1930s the nation has adopted a policy of non-alignment. Mexico is a member of trade blocs, including NAFTA and the Pacific Alliance, but these are not military or defensive alliances.

As we have discussed, Mexico has had a long-held position of international neutrality, non-interference in the affairs of other nations and a focus on peaceful solutions to global disputes. As a result, the country has not joined any military alliances.

Mexico is a member of NAFTA – the North America Free Trade Agreement. This is a trading bloc made up of Mexico, Canada, and the US. It removes trade barriers on goods and services and allows for the free movement of products and goods between member countries. However, NAFTA membership is not the same as a military alliance and does not commit any member to the defence of any other.

In 2011, Mexico was one of the founding members of the Pacific Alliance. This is Latin American trading bloc made up of Chili, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. The aim of the Pacific Alliance is to better integrate the major economies of Latin America and improve trade, business links and economic ties between the countries. Like NAFTA, the Pacific Alliance is not a military alliance.

Although Mexico is not the member of a military alliance, many believe the United States would likely assist Mexico if it was attacked by an outside power. This is due to Mexico’s strategic importance to the security of the United States. America would not let Mexico be occupied by a hostile power and so would likely intervene to ensure the independence of the country.

Importantly, although it’s likely the US would help Mexico if attacked, there is no official defensive alliance between the US and Mexico and neither has a formal commitment to assist the other in a war.

Should Mexico Join NATO?

There are some barriers, on both the Mexican and NATO side, before the country can join the alliance, however, let’s put these aside for a minute and think about whether Mexico should actually join NATO?

Mexico should not join NATO. As NATO’s security focus is on Europe, and Mexico faces major internal security threats, including from drug cartels and left-wing armed groups, it would not be advantageous to either to have Mexico as a NATO member.

In 2018, Mexico saw nearly 40,000 deaths from armed violence. The country has a long-standing and extensive issues with armed groups. Drug cartels have controlled significant parts of the country and the Mexican armed forces have struggled to contain the threat. Mexico’s’ instability, and it’s need to focus on it’s internal security, is a major reason why it should not join NATO.

Another reason why Mexico should not join NATO is because it would not be advantageous to either party. Mexico does not need the mutual defence guarantee NATO provides as it faces not major external threats. Mexico also does not need to increase its military expenditure to meet NATO’s demands nor does it have a significant strategic interest in protecting Europe.

NATO does not need Mexico as a member. Although the country would add additional forces to the alliance, the Mexican armed forces are not specialised in the areas NATO needs and focus mainly on internal security and battling armed groups within the country. Essentially, Mexico should not join NATO because neither party needs the other.

How Strong Would NATO Be If Mexico Joined?

Although it is unlikely that Mexico will become a NATO member, if Mexico did join would it add significantly to the alliance’s strength? How strong would NATO actually be if Mexico joined?

If Mexico joined NATO, it would increase NATO’s strength by around 6%. Mexico would add over 200,000 frontline soldiers and 80,000 reservists to NATO. Mexico would also add 83 combat aircraft However, Mexico has no main battle tanks and few warships, adding little to NATO’s strength in these areas.

Below is a table showing NATO’s strength with and without Mexico as a member:

CountryNumber of Active-Duty SoldiersNumber of ReservistsNumber of Main Battle TanksNumber of Combat AircraftNumber of Warships
NATO With Mexico3,477,7602,188,35014,9716,154508

All data from Wikipedia.

As we can see, Mexico would add to NATO’s force, but it would not be a major increase in the alliance’s strength. By adding Mexico’s 216,000 frontline troops to NATO’s, it increases the number of soldiers NATO can deploy by only 6%. Mexico’s additional 81,000 reservists add only 3.8% to NATO’s total number of reserve troops.

Mexico has no main battle tanks in their military. This means if Mexico joined NATO its armoured strength would not be increased.

With 83 combat aircraft, Mexico has a significant air force. However, if the country joined NATO, it would only increase the number of combat jets in the alliance by 1.3%. This would not add majorly to NATO’s strength in the air.

Mexico has a tiny navy. If Mexico joined NATO, it would essentially add no additional strength to NATO’s power at sea.

When Did Mexico Join NATO?

Finally, some people may get it wrong and think Mexico is already a member of NATO, some have asked when Mexico joined the alliance?

Mexico has never joined NATO. There is no date in history when Mexico became a member of NATO, and the country is not partnered with the alliance. Mexico has never applied to join NATO.

NATO was founded in 1949. It originally had 12 members across Europe and North America. By 2022, NATO has grown to include 30 countries.

Over the past seven decades since its establishment, Mexico has never been a member of NATO. There was no time Mexico joined NATO and the country has never been part of the alliance. Mexico is not a NATO ‘Global Partner’ – non-member countries that work with NATO. There has been no time in history when Mexico joined NATO and then left.

Global Affairs Explained

Global Affairs Explained is an ongoing project aiming to provide concise guides to world events. Focusing on international relations, history, and geo-politics, Global Affairs Explained uses original research and data to answer questions often not covered by traditional media.

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