"Jordan first": Jordan's inter-Arab relations and foreign policy under King Abdullah II.

JurisdictionUnited States
AuthorRyan, Curtis R.
Date22 June 2004

THE HASHEMITE KINGDOM OF JORDAN has long played a regional foreign policy role that seems to belie its small size and its limited economic and military means. (1) That role in no way diminished even after the succession in the Jordanian monarchy from King Hussein to his son Abdullah in 1999. But with the death of Hussein and the accession to the throne of King Abdullah II, Jordan did nonetheless have a new top foreign policy maker for the first time in 46 years. On 9 June 2004, the Hashemite monarchy celebrated the fifth anniversary of Abdullah's reign. This date marked not only five years of rule for the new regime, but also five particularly tumultuous and violent years in regional politics--from the collapse of the peace process, to the renewed Palestinian Intifada, to U.S. wars against both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Yet throughout these turbulent events, Jordan has continued to play a key role in the prospects for both war and peace in the region. The May 2003 summit in Jordan's capital, Amman, between President George W. Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas underscored the centrality of the Jordanian role in particular in attempts to revive the moribund peace process.

in June 2003, the World Economic Forum held a special summit at Jordan's Dead Sea resort, underscoring the Jordanian regime's determination to court the world's most wealthy and powerful economic actors, while also demonstrating the central role that these economic "powers-that-be" seem to attach to Jordan within Middle East politics. Later that same month, the "Quartet" of officials from the U.S., United Nations, European Union, and Russia again chose to meet in Jordan in an attempt to implement their "Roadmap for Peace." For better or worse, the major powers of the early 21st Century seemed to regard Jordan as geo-politically far more important than its size or resources might otherwise suggest. This paper provides an analysis of Jordanian foreign policy under King Abdullah 11, particularly within inter-Arab and Middle East politics, as the regime has attempted to maneuver between domestic and regional challenges.

Since ascending the throne in 1999, King Abdullah has strengthened Jordan's international ties to major extra-regional powers such as the United States and the European Union, and has further linked the kingdom's fortunes to major international economic institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization. Closer to home, Jordan has maintained its peace treaty with Israel, despite the collapse of the Oslo peace process and the start of the second Palestinian Intifada. In inter-Arab relations, Jordan under King Abdullah has managed to complete the long and difficult process (since the depths of the 1991 Gulf war) of reestablishing relations with each of the Arab Gulf monarchies. The kingdom has developed a close relationship with Washington's other major Arab ally, Egypt, as King Abdullah and Egyptian President Husni Mubarak positioned their respective regimes to be major mediators within Middle East politics.

In the sections that follow, this paper examines Jordan's inter-Arab relations under King Abdullah 11, with an emphasis on the two most problematic and contentious relationships: with Syria and with Iraq. The paper then examines Jordan's newly stabilized inter-Arab and regional relations against the context of renewed crises in the region, as the kingdom has been wedged between violence to the west, between Israelis and Palestinians, and to the east, between the United States and Iraq. Finally, I conclude with a discussion of the domestic implications of Jordan's regional position and its foreign policy choices.


King Hussein had seemed to many in the outside world to be the virtual embodiment of Jordan and its foreign relations. (2) For the most part, King Abdullah's policy views mirror those of his father. He too is moderate and cautious and is determined to maintain close alliances with Jordan's tradition Western allies. Abdullah is even more committed to economic liberalization than his father was, although a major question remains regarding his stance on domestic political liberalization. Interestingly, while Abdullah cannot yet have his late father's experience and clout on the world stage, neither does he suffer from the animosities aroused by King Hussein. Abdullah, unlike the long-serving Hussein, did not come of political age in the most intense days of the global Cold War or even of the regional ideological conflicts of the 1950's and 1960's. (3) This is not to say that Abdullah's personal political socialization was unaffected by regional conflict. To the contrary, Abdullah appears to have been deeply affected by Jordan's difficult experience in the 1990-91 Gulf war, for example. But unlike his father, Abdullah is not influenced by the heady days of the Arab Cold War, nor is he personally affected by the scars of the 1970-71 Jordanian civil war or by the long rivalry between King Hussein and various Arab leaders. (4) As one of Jordan's former foreign ministers put it:

The major issue that isn't noticed in our relations with other Arab countries was, well, King Hussein was an ambitious man. He inherited the philosophy of the Arab revolt, the ancestry of the Prophet Muhammad, and his grandfather's vision he shared of uniting the Arabs with Jordanian leadership and with the Hashemite family. King Abdullah does not claim to be king of all the Arabs. Just the king of Jordan. So these people--Syria, Palestinians, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia are not as edgy as they were with King Hussein. They are not threatened by Abdullah. There was always that anger that Abdullah I, and then King Hussein, was jumping ahead of himself. Especially with the Saudis. They feared what the ambitions might be. (5) Almost immediately after becoming king, Abdullah made clear his interest and indeed aptitude for foreign policy, by embarking on a series of trips to key capitals to shore up international support for his regime and for Jordan. Underscoring his central concern with Jordan's economic development, Abdullah had within the first six months of his reign visited the leaders of each of the Group of Seven (G-7) states--the world's seven most industrialized and most wealthy countries. Perhaps more surprisingly, however, the young king also toured the Arab Gulf states and even made a point of visiting Libya and Syria--states that had often had tenuous relations with Jordan under King Hussein.

Despite Jordan's importance to war and peace in the region, from Palestine to the Persian Gulf, the literature on the kingdom's foreign policy remains sparse. A few works, however, have delved deeply into the economic underpinnings of Jordanian policy, into the social construction of Jordanian identity itself, and into the contested nature of that identity--and hence of policy--in the Jordanian public sphere. (6) Jordan's foreign policy is certainly also influenced strongly by its geographic position and its relative weakness vis-a-vis its neighbors. The Kingdom is clearly economically, politically, and militarily weaker than any of its neighbors and this has given rise to a politics of vulnerability, manifested in a cautious and conservative approach to foreign policy making. (7) As Bassel Salloukh has argued, Jordanian foreign policy under King Hussein was based in large part on concerns for regime legitimacy, consolidation, and survival. (8)

These overriding concerns with regime survival have not vanished with the succession in the monarchy to King Abdullah II. Indeed, paramount among all considerations, I argue, is the political economy of Hashemite regime security in understanding Jordan's changing foreign relations under King Abdullah. Jordan's economy is deeply indebted and entirely dependent on foreign aid from key external benefactors, especially the United States. (9) There is even a certain redundancy of pressures built into the global political economy since for Jordan and so many other countries the major sources of economic aid (the U.S., European Union, and Japan) happen also to have the majority of votes within powerful global economic institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The redundancy issue continues even to the world of private banking or corporate foreign investment, since most global banks and indeed most of the world's foreign investment capital is also concentrated in the U.S., Western Europe, and Japan. In short, small indebted countries like Jordan tend to be inherently constrained in their foreign policy decision-making. Jordan, to be blunt, cannot afford to alienate its creditors and its sources of foreign aid.

Yet at the same time Jordan's economy, like all economies, still runs on oil. Hence an additional economic concern is the kingdom's oil supply source. In the context of the 2003 U.S. war on Iraq, however, the economic pressures were contradictory, since all of Jordan's oil came from Iraq, while the kingdom's dependency on U.S. and even British foreign aid was also clear. But for Jordan the oil issue was not just a matter of being entirely dependent on a single country as a source; rather, it also turned on the lucrative nature of the specific Jordanian-Iraqi oil deal. Iraq provided Jordan with 100 percent of its oil supply, to be sure. But just as importantly, half that supply was provided for free, while the other half was provided at severely reduced prices (usually half price). For Jordan, the question then became not only one of alternative suppliers, but also one of whether any other supplier would provide the kingdom with this kind of concessionary deal--and the kingdom's budget is not set to accommodate any other kind of arrangement.

For these reasons the kingdom is intent on preserving its economic links to global powers, and also on...

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