Congress Introduces Bill to Significantly Increase U.S. Military Aid to Jordan

Middle East and North Africa

“We must seek ways to bolster our economic and military relationships with our allies in the Middle East, including our partner in Jordan,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) when she introduced the United States-Jordan Defense Cooperation Act of 2014 (H.R. 5648) in mid-September. The proposed legislation seeks to increase U.S. military aid to Jordan from its current $411 million to $1 billion per year. Additionally, the bill aims to support Jordan by streamlining U.S. arms sales, assisting Jordan’s response to the Syria crisis and urging the renewal of the bilateral Memorandum of Understanding. 

If Congress approves H.R. 5648, Jordan would become the third largest recipient of U.S. military assistance to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) per year behind only Israel and Egypt. In the past five years, Israel received about $3 billion and Egypt received about $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid per year. By comparison, Jordan received an average of over $417 million in U.S. military assistance per year for the same time period. Should the Ros-Lehtinen bill pass, it would increase U.S. military aid to “not less than $1 billion” per year from FY 2015 to FY 2019. As a result, these countries would likely account for the overwhelming amount of all U.S. military aid to MENA per year for the foreseeable future.

The bill’s proposed privileged status for U.S. arms sales also puts Jordan in an elite group of close U.S. defense and security partners that only NATO members and few others enjoy. Unlike most countries in MENA, proposed U.S. arms sales to Jordan would be exempt from congressional review unless the sale was valued at $100 million or more. Congressional review is currently required for all MENA countries except Israel when the sale is valued at $50 million or more. When the administration is required to provide such congressional review, the country of 6.5 million people would also be eligible for expedited review.

The United States and Jordan have enjoyed a close relationship since the early 1990’s when Jordan signed a peace agreement with Israel. Since then, the country has been a key ally in the Middle East for advancing U.S. foreign policy and national interests such as the Arab-Israel Peace Process, the global war on terror, Operation Iraqi Freedom and today the Syrian Conflict.

Over the past decade, Jordan has provided the United States with intelligence, access to bases, and soldiers for military or special operations in the region. Jordan’s strategic position as a neighbor to Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria, plus King Abdullah II’s desire to maintain a strong military, have led to close American and Jordanian military engagement. While Jordan’s military is recognized as well-trained and disciplined, it has less personnel and weaponry than its wealthier neighbors, making it more reliant on foreign assistance to address military vulnerabilities.

In 1996 Jordan was designated a Major Non-NATO Ally, making it eligible to receive excess U.S. defense articles, training and loans of equipment for cooperative research and development. According to a May 2014 Congressional Research Service report on Jordan, “U.S. military assistance is primarily directed toward enabling the Jordanian military to procure and maintain conventional weapons systems.” Through Foreign Military Financing grants and Overseas Contingency Operations funds Jordan purchased over $1 billion worth of U.S. arms and equipment from FY 2010 to FY 2012.

Beyond U.S. military aid, Jordan closely works with American military personnel via the U.S.-Jordanian Joint Military Commission, which has functioned since 1974. The two militaries participate in ‘Eager Lion,’ an annual exercise hosted by Jordan that trains soldiers for disaster relief, strategic communication and rescue operations, among other scenarios. Jordan also maintains the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center (KASOTC), which the U.S. partially funded, including nearly $100 million in FY2005 and is used to train Special Forces from around the world.

As Congress seeks to significantly enhance U.S. military aid to Jordan, however, there are a host of concerns and questions about citizen support for King Abdullah II and the government’s stability. Corruption remains rampant in Jordan, and citizens have become increasingly disenchanted with the government’s ability to administer the country. The government recently amended its Anti-Terrorism Law to include a broad definition of terrorism to detain people who criticize the government, speak against Jordan’s relations with a foreign government or “sow discord.” The country’s press law also facilitates censorship of independent media, and in many cases holds websites accountable for comments left on its content. These issues have frequently resulted in large-scale protests, primarily in the capital of Amman, but demonstrations have not reached the level of Jordan’s neighbors.

With such a huge potential increase in U.S. security assistance, it would be important to show that U.S. aid is also sufficiently aimed at helping improve lives for the Jordanian people and not ignoring the above corruption and human rights problems. The Jordanian economy remains one of the smallest in the Middle East. The country also has a serious dearth of natural resources; it is among the world’s poorest countries in terms of water resources and lacks the oil or natural gas of its neighbors. Unemployment hovers around 14 percent and youth unemployment exceeds 29 percent. Meanwhile, an influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees from its neighbors has put increasing strain on already scarce resources and opportunities.

There is little question that Jordan will remain among the United States’ closest allies in the region for the foreseeable future. However, it is important to fully evaluate the ramifications of this bill’s significant aid increase to ensure that problems like those seen with Egypt do not arise. The United States should carefully consider the above concerns and questions as well as many other potential ones before making such commitments.