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Jordanian National Security and the Future of Middle East Stability

Jordanian National Security and the Future of Middle East Stability - Cover

Authored by Dr. W. Andrew Terrill.

December 2007

104 Pages

Brief Synopsis

The United States and Jordan have maintained a valuable mutually-supportive relationship for decades as a result of shared interests in a moderate, prosperous, and stable Middle East. In this monograph, the author highlights Jordan’s ongoing value as a U.S. ally and considers ways that the U.S.-Jordanian alliance might be used to contain and minimize problems of concern to both countries. Although Jordan is not a large country, it is an important geographical crossroads within the Middle East and has been deeply involved in many of the most important events in the region’s modern history. In recent years, the importance of the U.S.-Jordanian relationship has increased, and Jordan has emerged as a vital U.S. ally in the efforts to stabilize Iraq and also resist violent extremism and terrorism throughout the region.

Amman’s traditional role in helping to train friendly Arab military, police, and intelligence forces to its own high standards is a particularly helpful way in which Jordan can enhance efforts to achieve regional security. The United States needs to support efforts to continue and expand this role. Additionally, Jordan maintains a key interest in Palestinian/Israeli issues and has made ongoing efforts to play a constructive role in this setting. Helping Jordan survive, prosper, and modernize correspondingly has become an urgent priority for the United States in its quest for a secure Middle East.


One of the most important and longstanding strategic relationships for the United States within the Arab World has been with Jordan. The value of this relationship has increased significantly since 2003 as the result of ongoing U.S. difficulties in Iraq and the wider Middle East. Jordan’s longstanding ties with the West, ongoing counterterrorism efforts, and moderate policies toward Iraq and Israel suggest that it may become a central target of violent extremism in coming years. Moreover, Jordan’s strategic location within the Middle East (bordering Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and the Palestinian West Bank territory) make it an especially attractive target for any revolutionary group with region-wide aspirations.

Jordan strongly advised the United States against its 2003 invasion of Iraq but has, nevertheless, sought to find ways to help stabilize Iraqi society after Saddam Hussein’s ouster from power. Amman has made these efforts (including a program to train Iraqi police) in partnership with the United States. Jordan’s fortunes have often been linked to events in Iraq, its larger and more populous neighbor, and the current instability in that country is of special concern to Amman. The best possible Iraqi outcome for Jordan would be the eventual emergence of a stable, pro-Western, pro-Jordanian state, which effectively integrates Iraq’s Sunni Arabs into the emerging political system. The realization of this goal does not appear likely for the foreseeable future, but the Jordanians can be expected to support any reasonable efforts to contain and minimize Iraqi internal warfare which impacts on them through such issues as refugee flow from Iraq and increases in cross border terrorism and crime. Currently, there are at least 750,000 Iraqi refugees in Jordan.

Ongoing setbacks in Iraq’s political reconciliation process suggest that stability there may remain problematic for some time, and that professional terrorists tempered in the crucible of Iraqi fighting may prove a region-wide menace. The Jordanians are concerned about this process and have defined terrorism as the greatest threat that their country is facing. They have also intensified efforts at fighting terrorists including Iraq-based radicals such as the now deceased Jordanian criminal turned al Qaeda leader, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who was hunted down and killed by U.S. military forces with the aid of Jordanian intelligence. Jordan is also seeking to battle terrorism outside of its own borders and can be an important U.S. ally in containing and resisting radicalism throughout large parts of the region. In this regard, the Jordanian monarchy has often depended upon its highly professional military and intelligence services to help protect the government from both internal and external adversaries. The Jordanian government has for decades encouraged friendly Arab countries to send officers and soldiers to take advantage of training opportunities in Jordan. The new U.S.-funded King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center builds on this tradition, and is an important tool in the struggle against terrorist extremism.

The Jordanians remain deeply suspicious of Iran and view the post-2003 expansion of Iranian political influence with great concern. Iranian influence in Iraq is a particularly troublesome concern. The Jordanians are also opposed to the development of an Iranian nuclear weapons option, but publicly oppose an Israeli or U.S. military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Amman assumes that the Tehran leadership is rational and deterrable, and the Jordanians are willing to make that judgment despite the fact that an Israeli-Iranian nuclear exchange could have catastrophic consequences for Jordan. The Jordanian leadership also continues to stress that its primary regional concern is finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation through ongoing interaction with both parties. Jordan has worked closely with Palestinian Authority President Mohammad Abbas, but remains deeply suspicious and watchful regarding the activities of the Hamas organization which it views as inclined to unproductive meddling in Jordanian politics.

The value of the U.S.-Jordanian relationship can also be expected to grow in importance as the United States moves to withdraw eventually from Iraq. Under these circumstances, Jordan will continue to seek ways to address any cross border problems resulting from the ongoing conflict in Iraq. Likewise, Jordan will continue to use its excellent intelligence and military services to wage an unrelenting war on al Qaeda and help train friendly Arab forces to do the same. The United States must, therefore, continuously seek to aid Jordan in coping with terrorism and other dangers as part of a Middle East policy that aids moderation and hopes to provide the region with a viable future.

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