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Military Personnel

Jordan suspended military conscription in 1992, but decided in 2007 to resume compulsory service at a more limited scale and with the objective of improving the capabilities of the country's labor force. The Jordanian military was an all-volunteer force; enlistment is possible from age 18. There is a reserve obligation until the age of 40. Personnel must serve 20 years to become eligible for retirement benefits. Jordan scrapped conscription after signing a peace treaty with Israel, converting its army to a professional force of around 100,000 troops. Conscription was unpopular with the professional leaders of the army as well; they viewed it as an expensive distraction.

The cabinet agreed 05 March 2007 to seek parliamentary approval of a bill reviving conscription. The proposal would require both men and women to participate in three months of military training -- men at army camps and women at universities. Prime Minister Marouf Al Bakhit said in a speech March 3 that the purpose of this legislation was to "instill the concepts of discipline and good citizenship." As drafted, the legislation would require Jordanians born in 1989 to begin training in 2007. Bakhit said the government considered including women, but excluded females “because of logistical impediments”. The prime minister said “There was a genuine intention to include them in military service and train them in schools and universities, but the idea was postponed for lack of trainers.”

MPs approved a Conscription Law amendment 19 April 2007, which Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit said would help thousands of the nation’s youth receive training necessary for job market needs. Bakhit told a Lower House session that the amended law, which paves the way for the government to resurrect compulsory military service as of July, would also “teach the youth national values and discipline”. “A company will train cadets, who wish to learn a craft and they will be paid pocket money (JD30 a month) during the period of training,” said Bakhit, adding that the company would also help trainees find jobs after graduation. The government earlier this month put advertisements in major local newspapers, calling on citizens born after 1989 to register their names in order to be drafted into military service.

After an Israeli raid on a West Bank border village in 1966, the government passed an emergency conscription act under which physically fit males would be drafted for training and service with regular military units for periods of up to two years. The same law, however, provided the loophole of a fixed fee payable in lieu of service, as well as other exemption provisions. In practice, military units kept their original character, recruiting continued for a time to be more than adequate, and the law became inoperative.

On January 1, 1976, a new National Service Law was issued by royal decree, establishing a service commitment of two years for men called to active duty by the General Directorate of Conscription and Mobilization of the Ministry of Defense. The new law coincided with government plans to modernize the army, which was to be completely mechanized within eighteen months. Moreover, the projected acquisition of sophisticated aircraft and missiles for the air force had brought into sharp focus the need to upgrade the skills and technical abilities of active-duty personnel. The new military service law was an effort to reduce reliance on the less educated bedouin servicemen by incorporating the better educated and skilled city dwellers--most of them Palestinians--to meet personnel needs in an era of modern weaponry.

The new law provided for conscription at the age of eighteen but encouraged students to continue their schooling through university level by a complex system of service postponements. Once an academic degree was received or the student reached the age of twenty-eight, the two-year service commitment had to be fulfilled. Jordanians working abroad also could postpone their military obligation. Exemptions were limited to those who could not pass the required medical examination because of permanent disability, those who were only sons, and the brothers of men who had died while in service in the armed forces. Any male of conscription age was prohibited from being employed unless he had been exempted from service or unless his call-up had been deferred because the armed forces had a temporary sufficiency. The law established an extensive system of veterans' rights, including job seniority, for men who had fulfilled their service commitment.

Of approximately 30,000 Jordanians who reached military age annually, about 20,000 were available for compulsory service, although the actual number called up was limited by the prevailing budgetary situation. The conscription system also assisted in filling gaps that had developed as a result of insufficient recruitment by inducing a greater number of young men to join the regular army. Volunteers for an initial five-year enlistment were paid on an adequate scale instead of the very low wage of conscripts and could aspire to higher positions and training opportunities.

Before 1992 conscription was enforced selectively. Voluntary applications to perform military service were usually sufficient to achieve the requisite number of recruits. However, young men possessing certain special skills could be conscripted, as there was a shortage of technically qualified recruits among the voluntary applicants. The possibility of enforcing selective conscription was believed to be the main reason for passing the 1976 Conscription Law. Most of the conscripts were Palestinians whom the army could not induce to volunteer.

Because such heavy reliance was placed on the military to safeguard the monarchy, the composition and attitudes of armed forces personnel have been of vital importance to Hussein. Recruitment policies and promotion of senior personnel were subject to the approval of the king. During the early years of the Hashimite regime, a traditional system of recruitment was followed that grew out of British practices associated with the formation and maintenance of the Arab Legion. The legion was officered, trained, and financed by Britain. The enlisted personnel were all locally recruited villagers and tribesmen. Most British officers detached to serve with the legion were contract employees of the Transjordanian government; others were simply seconded from the British army.

Initial public reaction to the Arab Legion was indifferent or at times even hostile, and recruiting was difficult. The military establishment, however, soon developed high standards of organization, discipline, and training. Tribal uprisings and raiding practices were suppressed, and criminal activity by restive tribal elements diminished. Civic assistance activities enhanced the legion's public image, and it evolved into a proud and respected professional force. Its well-trained regulars gained a reputation for firm and effective action, as well as for discipline and justice in dealing with the civilian population. As a result, recruiting became easy, with the further incentive of generous pay scales in the enlisted ranks in relation to other Middle Eastern armies.

The flow of volunteers made it possible to impose a system of selection that strengthened confidence in the army as a stabilizing factor in defense of the monarchy. As Glubb later wrote, "The character and antecedents of every recruit were checked by the police before his acceptance. Then again, in the Arab Legion, a confidential report was submitted on every officer and man every year." This careful screening to exclude potential subversives and those of doubtful loyalty was expensive and time-consuming. But support of a monarchy was at stake, and the background investigation of even the lowest recruit was an important detail in the process. The long-term success of the effort was evident in the devotion the armed forces demonstrated to Hussein through three decades of conflict with Israel, internecine Arab strife, and repeated assassination attempts.

The system produced good soldiers, as the legion's record of performance amply demonstrated, and this tradition has persisted. Jordanian troops have proved to be tough and resilient fighters. Men of bedouin origin, long accustomed to living in a harsh physical environment and enduring Spartan conditions, showed a particular affinity for and pride in military service. For many years, the system of carefully selected volunteers resulted in an army in which the bedouin element constituted the vast majority, particularly in infantry and armored units. According to Glubb's account, nearly all of the legion's troops before and during World War II were recruited from the bedouins of southern Transjordan. After the war, enlistment of bedouins of northern Transjordan as well as residents of the West Bank was also encouraged.

Following the dissolution of the National Guard in 1965, many of its Palestinian members were accepted into the Jordan Arab Army after careful security screening. Palestinians formed about 40 percent of the armed forces. The Palestinian component fell to 15 percent during the 1970s, when the country was wracked by internal turbulence (highlighted by the assassination of the prime minister in 1971 and the coup attempt financed by Palestinian bribes in 1972). As many as 5,000 Palestinians were estimated to have succumbed to PLO pressure to defect during the 1970-71 civil war, but approximately 20,000 remained loyal to the king and the armed forces. Although no official statistics were available, observers believed that the proportion of Palestinians in the armed forces had risen to between 30 percent and 40 percent by 1986. Observers expected this percentage would probably continue to rise as a result of conscription and as doubts over Palestinian loyalty further subsided. Although education standards among the bedouins had risen sharply, there continued to be a premium in the late 1980s on the educational and technical attainments that Palestinian recruits could more readily offer.

Families of traditional background still dominated among senior military officers. The principal tribes were well represented, but a balance was deliberately maintained so that no one group enjoyed a prevailing influence. A significant portion of lower echelon officer positions, excluding first-line combat units, were held by Palestinians. In the upper reaches of the officer corps, however, Palestinians still constituted well under 10 percent.

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