In recent statements, King Abdullah II of Jordan has indicated that he plans to form an Arab front to protect the region and affirmed that Jordan would be one of the first countries to support a "NATO for the Middle East." The king has also held talks with various Arab leaders in recent days. This demonstrates that Jordan is trying to rebuild its regional role for a variety of reasons, particularly due to mutual interests with other Arab countries and impact from its regional context, which has witnessed rapid changes that prompted Jordan to take these steps.
An Active Role
There has recently been a marked increase in Jordan’s diplomatic activity in the region, particularly the Arab world. This is a result of Jordan’s efforts to develop its regional standing and to try to establish itself as a key actor in regional dynamics. The most important of these efforts can be summarized as follows:
1. Jordanian talks with Egypt and Bahrain: King Abdullah II held talks on 19 June 2022 with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the King of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, in Sharm el-Sheikh. These talks dealt with relations between the three countries, potential areas for cooperation, and strategies for strengthening coordination on various issues of mutual interest. The talks also addressed recent international and regional developments and the challenges that the region faces. After the meeting, the three leaders affirmed the importance of stepping up efforts to deal with food security challenges, rising prices, and energy costs, which are the result of international circumstances. The leaders also emphasized the need to strengthen inter-Arab cooperation.
2. Affirming the importance of relations with Saudi Arabia: King Abdullah II of Jordan also welcomed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, who made an official visit to Jordan on 22 June 2022. The Jordanian king and Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah II held official talks with the Saudi Crown Prince, in which they discussed opportunities for cooperation between the two countries in several areas and how to bolster this cooperation in order to achieve their mutual interests. The two sides also discussed many pressing regional and Arab issues, including the Palestinian question, the crisis in Yemen, and the situation in Syria. They also discussed Lebanon, Iraq, and the Iranian nuclear question, as well as how to counter extremism and terrorism in the region.
3. King of Jordan visits UAE: The King of Jordan made a trip to the UAE on 23 June 2022 for a single-day visit in which he met with High Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the president of the UAE. They held talks on strengthening bilateral relations as well as on potential areas for cooperation in political, economic, investment, and development spheres, and discussed current regional and international developments. This visit built upon other intensive regional activity by King Abdullah II, in coordination with other Arab leaders, to address recent developments.
4. Calls to establish an "Arab NATO" to protect the region: In an interview on the US channel CNBC aired on 24 June 2022, the king of Jordan said that steps were being taken to establish an Arab front to protect the region. He said that Jordan would be one of the first to support a "NATO for the Middle East" and added that his talks with other leaders in the region were focused on protecting regional security and promoting inter-Arab cooperation.
5. Following developments in Palestine: The king of Jordan also welcomed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on 26 June 2022 to discuss recent developments in Israel following the dissolution of the Knesset, and its implications for achieving peace, as well as new developments in the region. King Abdullah II told Abbas that Jordan is in constant communication with the US and is working to get the Palestinian issue at the top of US President Joe Biden’s agenda for his trip to the region next month. He added that Jordan would do everything in its power to defend the rights of its Palestinian brothers and would reaffirm the importance of the Palestinian question during the joint summit in Jeddah. He emphasized that, for Jordan, "nothing was more important that the Palestinian issue".
For decades, Jordan has tried to follow a largely cautious foreign policy in the region and the international arena, given the many delicate issues and challenges in both contexts. Since the state of Jordan was founded, it has enjoyed a special status that has enabled it form mutually beneficial relations with other Arab regimes. Jordan’s leaders could not hide from the changes happening in the Arab world, since they obviously also affected Jordan. However, Jordan’s growing regional involvement has been spurred by several key factors, including the following:
1. Arab cooperation prior to the Jeddah summit: One of the main factors driving Jordan’s current activity in the region and Arab diplomatic activity more generally is directly related to an upcoming summit that will be held in Jeddah during the middle of next month. This summit will include US President Joe Biden and leaders of GCC countries as well as Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq. This has made it necessary to develop a joint Arab vision on the issues that will be raised during the summit. The current activity therefore aims to rally efforts to develop Arab positions prior to the summit.
2. Jordan’s growing security fears: The issue of Iran has been a topic of particular interest during the king of Jordan’s talks with Arab leaders. The Jordanian and Saudi leaders affirmed the need to support international efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and ensuring that its nuclear program is directed towards peaceful uses only. They also pointed to the need to strengthen the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency. At the same time, there are growing fears on Jordan’s part regarding the increase in the activity of Iranian-backed militias at its border with Syria, including a rise in drug smuggling operations by these militias, and the return of the ISIS threat. These are all sources of concern for Jordan regarding security threats escalating nearby and help explain Jordan’s call to form an "Arab NATO." These military and security questions are a key factor shaping Jordanian foreign policy under King Abdullah II.
3. Efforts to alleviate the domestic economic crisis: Economic issues have also been an important driver determining Jordanian foreign policy in recent decades, especially in light of the water and food security crises in the country. The economic crisis has worsened in recent years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which dealt a significant blow to the Jordanian economy. Unemployment rates reached 22.8 percent in the first quarter of 2022, while the country’s trade deficit in the first third of 2022 rose by 22.3 percent to 3.118 trillion dinars, compared to 2.549 trillion dinars at the same time last year. This has made foreign investment more important for Jordan, especially with regard to the Gulf, which is a key market for Jordanian workers, and which has been one of Jordan’s most important allies in dealing with these economic crises.
4. Creating a central role for Jordan: One of the main objectives of King Abdullah II’s current activities, and of his foreign policy in general, is to strengthen Jordan’s standing as an important actor in the region. These intensive talks are one strategy to ensure a continued role for Jordan in the region and to ensure its various economic and geopolitical interests are protected. In order to achieve this, Jordan has drawn upon its geographic position, which renders it a key player in various crises such as the Palestinian issue and the Syrian crisis.
5. Strengthening relations with leading international powers: Relations with international powers have been an important issue in Jordanian foreign policy for decades. This is due to various factors including security and economic considerations. Strengthening ties with international powers makes it possible for Jordan to secure its own interests in a region plagued with crises, as well as to obtain economic benefits from these ties, especially with the US and the UK. These two powers are the most important international allies for Jordan. Jordan’s recent moves aim to restore the country’s standing in the region in order to bolster Amman’s status in the eyes of international powers as an important player that can be relied upon for various regional issues.
6. Supporting inter-Arab initiatives: Jordan’s recent activities cannot be considered separately from Amman’s attempts in the past several years to support a joint Arab action system, and to revive previous projects and blocs to further the country’s regional interests. This resulted in Jordan creating a framework for coordination with Iraq and Egypt. In August 2020, Jordan hosted to a trilateral summit with Egypt and Iraq focused on the "New Levant" as framework for economic integration between the three countries.
There is no doubt that Jordan’s support for this initiative and other proposals for inter-Arab cooperation such as an "Arab NATO" will serve Jordanian interests on several fronts. With Jordan heading the initiative, the country’s regional policies will gather momentum while also offering Jordan more foreign policy choices. It will be able to pursue economic and security interests that can be achieved through strengthening coordination with other Arab countries.
In conclusion, Jordan has been increasingly engaged in initiatives with other Arab countries at the regional level through holding bilateral and multilateral talks and through inviting other countries to form military and security alliances and blocs. This has been a defining feature of Jordanian foreign policy in recent years. Jordan hopes to play a role in increasing inter-Arab cooperation to confront various challenges and shifts taking place in the region. This will allow Jordan to become more active at the regional level and to tackle the various challenges it is facing, both at the regional level and regarding its own domestic economic difficulties.