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Chapter 5. National Security


Mosaic of a walled city entitled Castron Mephaon, from the Umm ar Rasas pavement in a Byzantine church, c. 780

IN ASSESSING THE DIMENSIONS of national security in Jordan, it is essential to recall that for centuries conflicts and rivalries of differing political and religious ideologies have generated tension and crisis in this region. Since achieving sovereignty in 1946, Jordan has experienced such destabilizing traumas as the assassination of the country's first king and subsequently of two prime ministers, five Arab-Israeli wars, a vicious civil war with Palestinian (see Glossary) guerrillas, and repeated assassination attempts targeting King Hussein ibn Talal ibn Abdullah ibn Hussein Al Hashimi.

Jordan not only has survived in this volatile climate but also as of 1989, the thirty-sixth year of Hussein's reign, it had achieved a degree of stability in its domestic situation and in its relations with its neighbors. The king's position has been strongly reinforced by the allegiance of the Jordan Arab Army, the former Arab Legion. A highly motivated, disciplined force with impressive firepower and mobility despite its compact scale, the Jordan Arab Army has been regarded as the most competent of any Arab army in the Middle East. In contrast to the Syrian, Iraqi, or Israeli armies, however, Jordanian troops have not been tested by exposure to major conflict for many years.

Jordan's international security situation in 1989 seemed less precarious than it had been at almost any time in the past. Relations with surrounding states were on a relatively solid footing. The border facing Israeli-held territories was peaceful. Jordan had succeeded in suppressing attacks from its land that might bring Israeli retaliation, except for isolated incursions into Israeli-held territory by extremist elements of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Although differences remained between Jordan and various Palestinian leaders over the approaches to Arab-Israeli peace negotiations, Jordan's relations with the dominant Yasir Arafat wing of the PLO were less strained than with Syrian-supported extremists such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. Disruptive actions by Palestinian militants in Jordan were curbed quickly by the security forces. Worries that the uprising (intifadah) among Palestinians under Israeli occupation might spill over to the Palestinian population of Jordan had not materialized. Unrest arising from the deteriorating economic situation in 1989 had been directed against the prime minister rather than the institutions of the monarchy.

Jordan's military posture was based primarily on the possibility of conflict with Israel, although on its own Jordan would be unable to counter a full-scale Israeli attack. The country's borders also were exposed to a long-term threat from a potentially hostile Syria. Jordan retained sufficient capability to give an aggressively inclined neighbor pause, but it did not have the resources to keep pace with the buildup of modern arms by nearby countries of the Middle East. As of 1989, however, most observers considered the prospect of armed conflict between Jordan and Israel, Syria, or other states in the region as remote.

Jordan has had a tradition of military cooperation with Britain and the United States, and its organizational pattern, the outlook of its military leaders, training concepts, and weapons arsenal have reflected these links. The United States Congress had prevented the executive branch from providing Jordan with certain advanced ground and air weapons in the late 1980s. Forced to shift to other sources of equipment, Jordan turned to France as the principal supplier of combat aircraft and to the Soviet Union for an array of air defense missile systems. Even with heavy reliance on financial backing from other Arab countries, notably Saudi Arabia, defense imposed a heavy burden on the nation's frail economy. By the late 1980s, Jordan's deepening domestic economic plight had combined with the tapering off of Arab aid to place severe pressure on the military budget.

Backed by a traditionally loyal military and the efficient forces of public order, Hussein's throne appeared to be secure. Nonetheless, in an era of rapidly evolving weapons technology, a constant effort would be necessary to maintain the credibility of national security institutions as the guarantors of Jordan's domestic stability, its territorial integrity, and its role as a moderating factor in Middle East peace efforts.

Data as of December 1989

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