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Jordan Foreign Policy

Updated on August 30, 2020
Emma Brisbane profile image

Easton is a psychology and criminology double major at the University of Denver

Jordan’s foreign policy in the past 5 years has shown elements of the realist, liberalist, and constructivist approaches to foreign policy. While the liberalist approach has helped advance Jordan in terms of resource deals and humanitarian efforts, the country has also used realist methods to preserve their own self-interests over that of their allies. The primary focus, however, of Jordan’s foreign policy in recent years has centered around combatting the Islamic State under the constructivist perspective. By employing all three of these perspectives, Jordan has enriched its foreign relations both in the Middle East and abroad.

Much of Jordan’s foreign policy is based in the liberalist perspective since liberalists believe that self-interests can be managed to lead to cooperation and possibly peace. This can be seen in Jordan’s acceptance of Syrian refugees in recent years. Since 2011, the influx of Syrian refugees has placed tremendous strain on Jordan’s government and local economies. Due to Jordan’s low population, it has one of the highest per capita refugee rates in the world (“Jordan: Background and US Relations, 2019). This can also be seen in Jordan’s acceptance and naturalization of Palestinian refugees after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Jordan has even lobbied the United National Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) on the behalf of their refugee populations for more funding for core education, healthcare, and food security services (Al-Khalidi, 2018). Despite the burden that accepting hundreds of thousands of refugees has had on their economy, Jordan still opened its borders and accepted the plight of the displaced Syrians and Palestinians for the sole purpose of helping thy neighbor and creating potential peace in the otherwise volatile region.

Liberalists also ascribe to the idea that individuals are rational and form states that are capable of cooperating to create a just society. To abridge the anarchy of the international system, liberalists believe in an interdependence among actors to focus on absolute interests. This can be seen in the Jordanian foreign policy since Jordan has overlooked past conflicts, such as land disputes with Israel, to create the Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian Water Deal. Jordan is among the most water-poor nations in the world and ranks among the top 10 countries with the lowest rate of renewable freshwater per capita. The large influx of Syrian refugees has heighted water demand which was already intense before “the arrival of 657,433 registered Syrian refugees in the last five years” (“Jordan: Background and US Relations,” 2019).To amend this shortage, Jordan has relied on the reciprocity principle with its neighbors to achieve absolute gains for all states involved.

On December 9, 2013, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority signed a regional water agreement called the Memorandum of Understanding on the Red-Dead Sea Conveyance Project, to create a Red-Dead Canal, a multibillion-dollar project to address the declining water levels in the Dead Sea. Per this agreement, “half of the water pumped from the Red Sea is to be desalinated in a plant to be constructed in Aqaba, Jordan.” Some of this water is to be used in southern Jordan while the rest is to be sold in Israel for use in the Negev Desert.” In return, “Israel is to sell fresh water from the Sea of Galilee to northern Jordan and sell the Palestinian Authority discounted fresh water produced by existing Israeli desalination plant on the Mediterranean. The other half of the water pumped from the Red Sea is to be channeled to the Dead Sea.” In July 2017, the White House announced that U.S. International Negotiations Representative Greenblatt had successful supported the water deal and that Israel had agreed to sell the Palestinian Authority 32 million cubic meters of fresh water, bridging the gap between the two states (“Jordan: Background and US Relations,” 2019).

Jordan’s history of land conflicts turning into avenues for peaceful water deals and an open borders policy towards refugees both follow liberalist views on international relations. The liberal policy has helped promote Jordan’s access to clean water as relations have improved between neighboring states. Thousands of refugees have also been naturalized into Jordanian society based on liberalist theories that will hopefully one day bring prolonged peace to the Middle East

Regardless of these steps towards cooperation, the plight for peace still has a long way to go. On March 15, 2011 disaster struck the Middle East when attacks in Damascus led to the break out of a civil war in Syria. Jordan, a bordering state, worried that the Syria’s civil war might turn into another Afghanistan situation due to a rising Islamist militancy in Syria. Jordan was also carrying the burden of accepting Syrian refugees, to the point that the Zaatari refugee camp had become the fourth largest “city” in Jordan (Al-Khalidi, 2018).Despite these concerns and burdens, the Jordanian government insisted its neutrality in the Syrian war.

The Syrian President Assad was paranoid that Jordan was indeed interfering in Syrian affairs despite their claimed neutrality. Most of his claims were based on Jordan’s routine military drills that took place near the Syrian border, even though the exercises were planned before the Syrian war began. While US forces were present for these joint-military drills, both opposition and pro-regime Jordanian groups condemned US deployment on their soil and refused to serve as a “Launchpad” for any Western attack on Syria (Abumelhim et al., 2015).

Jordan’s resilience to remain neutral during the Syrian civil war falls under the realist perspective of foreign policy because claiming neutrality was the best avenue for Jordan’s own self-interests.

The realist perspective views the concept of “security” as the state first protecting itself from foreign and domestic enemies because there is an anarchic international system. Because there is no central authority to protect their interests, the state can only rely on itself for protection. Jordan recognized that despite its alliance with the US and other Western states, its best interest would be to refrain from attacking such a close and dangerous neighbor. This preservation of their own interest over that of their allies, exemplifies how Jordan’s foreign policy implemented elements from the realist perspective.

While the liberalist and realist perspectives have, both contributed to Jordan’s foreign relations, the most prevalent aspect of Jordan’s foreign policy in the past five years have centered around combatting the Islamic State under the constructivist perspective. Jordan’s fight against the Islamic State falls under the constructivist perspective of foreign policy because Jordan identifies the Islamic State and its norms as “evil” and outside of Islamic law. The two states have divergent relations in regards to what the Quran and Sharia law dictate. The Islamic state believes that there needs to be an established caliphate as a single political and religious authority figure. Jordan, however, has a constitutional monarchy even though most of its population consists of practicing Muslims. Jordanians perceive the Islamic States’ religious ideology as being too radical and their means of expression too horrific.

In September 2014, Jordan became one of only four Arab states to order air strikes on Islamic State militants in Syria. During this time, Jordan joined the United States-led “war on terror” due to the Islamic States’ repeated terrorist attacks both abroad and domestic. The Islamic State employed horrific acts of violence such as suicide bombings, beheadings, and plane hijackings to express their ideology of “Radical Islam.” In February 2015, members of the Islamic State publically declared their group’s values when they published a video showing a captured Jordan pilot being burned alive. In response, Jordan increased its air strike campaign and began executing ISIS prisoners (“Jordan Profile- Timeline,” 2018).

While ISIS has existed since 2013, it was not until the group’s occupation of Mosul that they grabbed national headlines as a new terrorist group. This public portrayal as a “threat” led the group to engage in discourse with the Jordanian public due to its ideal geographic location between Iraq and Syria. On June 2, 2014, shortly after the fall of Mosul, a press release from ISIS to the people of Jordan was sent as a call to action for the oppressed Muslims specifically in Ma’an, Jordan. The letter sought to establish a sense of unity between ISIS members and the people of Jordan using a religious basis rather than a national one. One way they achieved this was by criticizing the Jordanian government by writing “for tens of years you have ruled Muslims outside of Sharia (Abumelhim et al., 2015).” This statement delegitimizes the Jordanian government as well as insinuates that the Jordanian identity does not place value on Islam, a religion that most of the population ascribes to.

ISIS’s attempt at discourse with the Jordanian public did incite more support for the Islamic State amongst individuals, however Jordan as a state denounced ISIS and allied with the United States to stop the mass killings the terrorist group was preforming in the name of Islam. Due to the divergent ideologies, norms, and values, ISIS became identified as an evil threat to not only Jordan but to Islam itself. ISIS’s failed attempt at discourse also strengthened the country’s resolve to end the terrorist group before they could further incite unrest within the Jordanian population. This negative identity of ISIS has caused Jordan to further align itself with the United States regarding the war on terror.

The liberal, realist, and constructivist perspectives on foreign policy have all helped shape Jordan’s foreign policy in the last 5 years. Without all three of these perspectives working in tandem, the modern state of Jordan would not be where it is today. From refugees and water deals, to declared neutrality, and joining war on terror, Jordan’s foreign policy has helped improve the state both domestically and abroad.

Works Cited

Abumelhim, Mohammad, and Abdel-Rahman Abu-Melhim. “The Sociological Impact of ISIS's Press Release to Jordan: A Critical Discourse Analysis.” Research Gate, vol. 13, no. 1, July 2015, pp. 45–52.

Al-Khalidi, Suleiman. “Jordan says Palestinian refugees at risk with U.N. agency in crisis.” Reuter, Reuters, Inc., 8 August 2018.

Curtis, Ryan R. “Jordanian Foreign Policy and The Arab Spring.” Middle East Policy,vol. 11, no. 1, 2014, pp. 144–153.

“Jordan Profile- Timeline.” BBC News, BBC, 5 June 2018.

“Jordan: Background and US Relations.” Congressional Research Service, 9 Apr. 2019.


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