The United States and the Kingdom of Jordan have never been tied with any formal treaty in the field of defense and security. Despite this, the two countries’ cooperation in the given fields have progressed significantly during the last two decades. Surrounded by Israel, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Jordan has turned into a very important strategic buffer next to Eastern Mediterranean, on the one hand, and to the Persian Gulf, on the other hand. This geographical location makes Jordan vital for political and military plans of U.S. in the Middle East. Formally, U.S. Department of State describes the relations with Jordan as shared commitments to promote regional security and stability. United States supports economic development of Jordan, promotes social, political and economic reforms in that country. United States accepts Jordan’s growing immediate need in security and stability due to regional conflicts, refugee flows and measures against ISIS (a terrorist organization banned in Russia).
After WWI, Emirate of Transjordan led by Abdallah bin al-Hussein, Emir from Hashemite Dynasty, was established on the part of Palestine that earlier belonged to the Turkish Empire and then the mandate was transferred to the British Empire. Britain retained mandatory authority over Transjordan Emirate until it became an independent Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1946. After Israel annexed part of Transjordan’s territory during the first Arab-Israeli war of 1947-1949, the kingdom was renamed into “Jordan.” It is noteworthy that under British rule, the royal Hashemite family in Jordan and Britain have established special relations. Britain guaranteed security of Jordan and ensured military building until 1957.
Along with the British “heritage,” Jordan has internal monarchic system that resembles the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Yet unlike them, Jordan has no large oil and gas resources. Finally, poverty under Hashemite family strategy made Jordan dependent on U.S. economic and military assistance since 1951 and after the political course was changed following The Suez Crisis in 1957.
U.S. assistance to Jordan under USAID programs totaled approximately $17,108 billion by 2016. This amount does not include the financial support to ease the debt burden, food aid in the period from 1999 to 2006 and the financial assistance for mine lifting and anti-terrorist measures, as well as Pentagon’s military assistance.
Initially, the size of U.S. aid differed and made up one or several dozens of millions per year in different periods. The U.S. aid to Jordan increased manifold after 1996 as a peculiar bonus for separate peace with Israel made in 1994 by King of Jordan Hussein bin Talal (1952-1999). In 2003, U.S. aid to Jordan exceeded $1 billion for the first time. After 2013, it exceeded $1 billion on an annual basis. Jordan received $1.01 billion aid, exclusive of military assistance, in 2014, $1.462 billion in 2015, and $1.597 billion in 2016. The assistance planned for 2017 will total at least $1.275 billion, of which $375 million are for budget replenishment of Jordan.
The global crisis of 2008 has increased Jordan’s financial and economic problems. Barack Obama’s Administration had to take emergency measures twice to save Jordan’s financial system. For the first time it was in 2008, when U.S. and Jordan signed a non-compulsory memorandum of understanding (MoU) to provide aid Jordan within 5 years. For the second time, it was in February 2015 when Obama’s Administration and Jordan’s government signed a three-year MoU under which U.S. undertook a commitment to provide $1 billion per year to Jordan in each of U.S. fiscal years for 2015, 2016, and 2017.
Jordan would have to declare bankruptcy, but for the U.S. and IMF aid. Total state debt of Jordan is $35.4 billion or 90% of GDP for 2016. This year, the budget deficit will total 6.5% of GDP. In 2012, IMF provided a $2 billion loan for a period of three years to Jordan. In 2016, IMF and Jordan reached a new three-year agreement on $723 million under Extended Fund Facility.
U.S. renders economic assistance to Jordan in terms of money transfers – some directly to the budget and others for loan services – and for USAID programs in that country. In particular, under USAID programs, a significant part of the U.S. assistance is used to optimize management of the limited water resources of Jordan. Since 2006, the U.S.-funded Millennium Challenge Corporation – MCC embarked on water resources management problems in Jordan. In 2010, MCC approved a $275.1-million grant to Jordan for water projects.
In 2013, Obama’s Administration provided the three loan guarantees for $3.75 billion to Jordan, which helped it borrowing money from international financial markets on more favorable terms.
Since 2012, U.S. has been providing aid to refugees in Jordan having spent $814 million to that end. 20% of that aid is spent on maintenance of refugee camps.
Jordan’s military cooperation with U.S. is the key component of bilateral relations. Before making a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, the U.S. arms supplies in that country were not full-scale. Later, in 1996, Jordan received status of “the Major non-NATO Ally” in the Middle East. At present, the U.S. military aid to Jordan, first, helps it acquire American conventional arms and provide maintenance to them. Since 2011, Jordan has received additional military aid in the amount of $774.6 million from Pentagon mostly under Foreign Military Financing (FMF). The civil war in Syria and Jordan’s involvement in the Inherent Resolve operation against ISIS required an increase in the military aid to Jordan and it was provided directly from the U.S. budget.
On February 18, 2016, President Obama signed an act of defense cooperation of U.S. and Jordan that determined the supposed preferential supplies of U.S. weapons to that country within the following three years. Before that, the American assistance helped supporting the combat efficiency of F-16 falcon fighters operated by Jordan. Repair and acquisition of new engines for F-16 cost $115.1 million. U.S. aid helped buying air-to-air long-range missiles AIM-120 AMRAAM for those F-16 falcon fighters for $131 million.
Here are the novelties Jordan has obtained during the recent years: Javelin 162 anti-tank weapons and 1808 missiles for them for $388 million, AGM 114 Hellfire helicopter launched Fire-and-Forget missiles, mobile short-range missiles and night-vision equipment. Jordan’s fleet in the Red Sea received two 35-meter patrol boats for 480 million.
U.S. supplies also used weapons to Jordan. For instance, Jordan has received two military transport aircraft The Lockheed C-130 Hercules.
With the activation of ISIS, U.S. Congress rendered financial assistance to upgrade security of Jordan’s borders. Pentagon provided $150 million for fortification of the border with Syria. For the same purpose, Jordan’s Rapid Response Force received two lots of UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters ($200 million +$117.2 million). In 2015, Jordan requested another helicopter of the same model for $21 million to monitor the border and fight terrorism.
The counter-terrorism cooperation of Jordan’s security services and CIA, as well as the regional policy of its leaders have made Jordan an important partner of U.S. In autumn of 2014, Jordan joined the U.S.-led coalition to fight ISIS and has been striking ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq since then. Its GCC allies strike the targets only in Syria. In early 2016, after losing an aircraft and a pilot, who was burnt to death in a cage by ISIS militants, Jordan did not reduce its activity unlike UAE and Saudi Arabia that were concerned for security of their pilots.
Since the start of the military operation against ISIS, about 2,300 U.S. troops have been deployed to Jordan “at the request of its government.” They were deployed for an unknown period until better times. In separate cases, special forces of Jordan in cooperation with Americans strike ISIS militants if they approach the borders of the Kingdom.
Jordan is an attractive target for ISIS due to heavy economic situation in the country, government by “betrayers,” close ties with U.S. and relations with Israel. U.S. experts claim that 4,000 citizens of Jordan have fought in Syria and Iraq since 2011. Jordanians yield only to Tunisians by the number of foreign recruits of ISIS.
In 2016, ISIS-related groups in Jordan committed several attacks killing among others American soldiers, Jordanian military and security officers. In December 2016, U.S. Department of State warned that terrorist groups threaten citizens of U.S. traveling to Jordan. All the employees of the U.S. government traveling to Jordan are required to obtain a special permit.
Officially, the government of Jordan denies its technical and material support to Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s government troops. Instead, the government of Jordan does manifest its participation in the international coalition against ISIS. It is a kind of cover. In fact, Jordan renders military assistance to “moderate” rebels like the so-called “Southern Front” operating in the southwest of Syria. Directly in the area bordering Jordan, there are squads having ties with ISIS. In Jordan, they are concerned that if Aleppo falls, the military actions involving Russia with spill over into the south of Syria closer to Jordan’s borders.
Last year, the Kingdom tried to coordinate its activity with Moscow to prevent clashes of armed forces. Since the beginning of 2017, Jordan’s authorities have supported diplomatic efforts of Russia and Turkey to achieve ceasefire and launch peace process.
The inflow of refuges from Syria has affected Jordan dramatically. The Kingdom received at least 655,000 registered Syrian refugees that increased the number of the population by 10%. As of January 2017, about 85,000 Syrian refugees are on the desert territory on the border with Syria known as “the berm.” After the London conference on refugees in February 2016, Jordan provided work permits to 200,000 Syrian refugees, expanded access to education for more than 165,000 Syrian children. In June 2016, after a regular terror attack, Jordan government took advantage of the occasion and closed the border with Syria for refugees. Then Jordan warned Damascus and indirectly Moscow as well saying “any action that will push refugees towards our border with Syria or push fighting to our border will be considered an act of war by Jordan.”
It is logical that Jordan supported the U.S. missile attack on the air base of Syrian forces in Homs. Before that upsurge of tension, on April 5, 2017, Jordan King Abdullah bin Al-Hussein paid an official visit to Washington where he held a meeting with President Donald Trump. Afterwards, sources in Jordan reported that U.S., Britain and Jordan were preparing a joint operation against “terrorists” on the Jordan-Syria border. Earlier, in March 2017, British Prime Minister Theresa May travelled to Amman, the Jordanian capital, and visited headquarters of special forces. Perhaps, the sides discussed prospects of UK involving in the military operations in Syria together with U.S. from the territory of Jordan.
War in Syria or ISIS are current challenges to Jordan’s security policy, while the relations with Israel are a permanent fundamental problem for the Kingdom.
In 1994, Jordan and Israel signed a separate peace treaty. Actually, Jordan recognized the results of the Arab-Israeli wars of 1947-1949 and 1967 when Israel seized the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan. The Kingdom betrayed the principle of the Arab unity towards Jerusalem.
This circumstance improved Jordan’s relations with Western government and international financial institutions, which helps Amman rely on foreign support and aid. Jordan and Israel signed a range of bilateral agreements to normalize their economic and cultural relationships. The countries exchanged their ambassadors. Pumping of water from Tiberias Lake to Jordan River was the price for the peace treaty. In December 2013, Jordan, Israel and Palestinian Authority signed a milestone Water Sharing Agreement that included among others development of desalination plant in Aqaba at the head of the Red Sea.
To legitimize Israel in the Middle East, U.S. seeks to involve Jordan into economic relations with it. For instance, since 2011, Jordan has had to buy more natural gas from the open market, since supplies via pipeline from Egypt were interrupted by repeated attacks by terrorist on the gas pipelines on the Sinai Peninsula. In September 2016, NEPCO (National Electric Power Company of Jordan) signed a 15-year contract with Noble Energy Inc., U.S., and Delek Drilling-LP, Israel, to import natural gas from Israel for $10 billion. Under the contract, 28 million cubic meters of gas will be supplied to Jordan to cover approximately 40% of Jordan’s power generation. Supplies from the Leviathan gas field in Israel to Jordan will be launched in 2019 via the pipeline that is currently under construction.
Nevertheless, public in Jordan widely opposed economically favorable contracts with Israel. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a serious challenge to Jordan despite the peace treaty of 1994. The population of Jordan mostly advocates for the rights of Palestinians, since more than half of the citizens of Jordan are descendants of Palestinian refugees. They account for 55%-70% of the total population and are mainly engaged in the private sector since they are not let to the government sector and military service.
Therefore, the government of Jordan took extremely negatively the promise of the then presidential contender Donald Trump to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In early January 2017, the government of Jordan warned that moving the embassy to Jerusalem will become a “red line” for Jordan. The peace treaty of 1994 confirms the rights of Jordan’s Hashemite Kingdom to the historical Islamic sanctuaries of Jerusalem. Since 1924, Jordan monarch has been entrusted to protect Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary).
Amid Islamic revolution, the domestic and regional policy of Jordan was challenged by poverty, corruption, low economic growth and high unemployment rate especially among youth (29.3%) and women (48.8%). Noteworthy that 55% of Jordan’s population are young people below 24. It is a ready tinderbox. Jordan is experiencing a growing migration and brain drain. Unemployment gives birth to extremism.
Formally, Jordan is considered a “constitutional monarchy,” however its Constitution that was amended in 2016 grants the widest ever executive powers to the monarch. For instance, the king appoints the prime minister and can veto or approve its resignation. The king has an exclusive right to appoint the crown prince, the military command, constitutional court judges and all senators and the Cabinet, dismiss both the chambers of the parliament and postpone elections to the lower chamber for two years. The king can use the constitutional mechanism that authorizes him to issue legislative acts when the parliament has no sessions or was dismissed. The king has a right to issue decrees that cannot be vetoed by the parliament. The king commands armed forces, declares war and ratifies treaties. Article 195 of the Criminal Code of Jordan bans insulting dignity of the monarch. Finally, amendments to the Constitution have increased centralization of the power in the hands of the royal family and made the constitutional component of the monarchy obscure.
Such form of government makes political parties in Jordan extremely weak and they have religious rather than civil orientation. There are Islamic parties, such as Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood and the political wing of the local branch of Muslim Brotherhood known as the Islamic Action Front (IAF). Due to the events in Egypt in 2011 – 2013, Jordan government banned local Muslim Brotherhood political parties in the spring of 2015. Ousting Muslim Brotherhood from the political processes may radicalize a certain part of the local population and affect the country’s security.
Human Rights Report for 2016 issued by the U.S. Department of State lists the following problems in the field in Jordan: no right to elect the top leadership, freedom of speech restrictions, mistreatment and torture of detainees by security forces, poor incarceration conditions, violation of the people’s right to privacy, gender inequality, violence towards women and children, minorities, LGBT, trafficking in persons etc. This is the usual set of reasons to impose sanctions. The U.S. has never responded toughly to such violations, as Jordan is its key ally on the border with Israel.
Jordan has a not large industrial base. Economy is largely dependent on aid from abroad, tourism, money transfers from migrants and the service sector. In 2016, Jordan saw about 2% economic growth. The state is the biggest employer and welfare of an estimated 1/2 - 1/3 of the total employed population depends on it.
In 2000, U.S. and Jordan signed an FTA, the first agreement of the type with an Arab country. Besides, by a special decision of the U.S. Congress, goods produced in the industrial zones of Israel, Jordan, Egypt or the West Bank and Gaza Strip are imported to U.S. tax-free. In 2016, 21% of Jordan’s export was to the United States. Meantime, Jordan’s key import partners are Saudi Arabia, China and only then U.S.
U.S. and Jordan have an “open skies” civil aviation agreement, bilateral agreement on investments, a scientific and technical cooperation agreement and a MoU in the field of nuclear energy. Officially, these agreements stimulate economic growth and help “diversifying” economy of Jordan, though it is neither “oil dependent” nor “mono-cultural.” Jordan’s problems are becoming chronical and U.S. is taking advantage of it.
EADaily’s Middle East Bureau