A regional NATO would need rivals to put differences aside
Jordan’s Rapid Deployment Force has served alongside the NATO Response Force for many years. In the Balkans, Afghanistan and most recently in Libya, it has engaged in counterterror and peacekeeping operations. NATO similarly provides training and logistical support to Jordan across the board, supporting its border security and providing equipment during the pandemic. As a reliable partner, Jordan provides the security club with an important foothold in a troubled region. However, under-resourced and dependent on aid, Jordan’s role comes at great cost and with no real prospects of joining NATO. As Amman’s security concerns mount, with an increasingly regionally disengaged US, it is unsurprising that its king called for a “Middle East NATO” last week to face asymmetric threats.
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg last month lauded NATO’s cooperation with Jordan “because you have always been a source for stability in the region… You’re an old friend, a good friend, a highly valued friend of this alliance.” His remarks related to Amman’s disproportionately large role in global peacekeeping. Since the US declared Jordan a major non-NATO ally in 1996, it has been part of the NATO Mediterranean Dialogue, has deployed its forces alongside NATO and has hosted joint military exercises.
The 2018 NATO-Jordan Defense Capacity Building Project was made in recognition of these efforts, providing crisis management capacities and resources to help Jordan develop its armed forces. Though these efforts have been welcome, it is clear to policymakers in Amman that more is required.
Jordan’s long-standing cooperation with the West — essential for the continuity of the young state — has at times been controversial. Absorbing the fallout from the Palestinian crisis for decades, Jordan’s own development and security has been affected as a result. In recent times, it has provided a sanctuary to the region’s displaced. Almost 150,000 Iraqis and some 650,000 Syrians have been absorbed by a country with a population of about 10 million. But the spillover from the conflicts in these countries has not only been humanitarian, with the resulting terrorism meaning that Jordan has been fighting extremism for decades and has been a key partner in the anti-Daesh coalition.
Maintaining relations with both the US and Russia, alongside its Arab neighbors, Jordan has sought to cooperate to solve regional challenges. Increasingly, however, with US and Gulf support waning, Amman has been under great strain. King Abdullah has now visited Washington twice in a bid to reaffirm US support for his country. However, given how far recent clashes in Jerusalem, the unresolved Syrian crisis and the looming stress on food security seem from the Biden administration, Jordan is right to look toward regional forums for cooperation.
A moribund Arab League does not offer the kind of support that Jordan and its neighbors require. The Hashemite Arab Federation, a short-lived union between Jordan and Iraq, lasted under a year in the late 1950s. NATO, though keen to have a competent military ally in the region, will never provide the security umbrella that Jordan needs. The Gulf states and Egypt are in a similar predicament.
NATO, though keen to have a competent military ally in the Middle East, will never provide the security umbrella that Jordan needs.
Zaid M. Belbagi
Faced with the reality of Iranian hegemonic ambitions on their borders and a recalcitrant US, Amman requires an alliance to guarantee its security. Russia fails to offer the same depth of relations and international leadership that the US has and relations with China are restricted to trade. Going forward, in an increasingly insecure region, whose natural resources do not hold the same geopolitical significance as they once did, cooperation is not only necessary, but vital.
Jordan retains cold but functional relations with Iran and Israel. It also kept in contact with Syria’s regime while allowing anti-Assad rebels and operations to use Jordanian territory. When Jordan refers to the necessity of building an alliance of like-minded nations, it is unclear what form such a grouping would take. Stating, “I’d like to see more countries in the area come into that mix,” King Abdullah’s plans may indeed, like NATO, include erstwhile foes and rivals coming together for their collective regional security.
For an alliance of such a nature to truly work, it would need to be all-encompassing, in the spirit of last year’s Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership, which brought together Iran and Saudi Arabia. As the king cited Iranian destabilization and the lingering Israel-Palestine crisis as disruptive last week, it is clear that no Middle Eastern coalition will be possible while the region’s main fault lines remain. Germany and France and Turkey and Greece are historical enemies, but they have stood as one within NATO.
• Zaid M. Belbagi is a political commentator and an adviser to private clients between London and the GCC.