The Royal Shakeup in Jordan

In early April, the Jordanian government accused King Abdullah II’s half-brother, Prince Hamzeh, of “destabilizing Jordan’s security.” That weekend, Jordan’s king charged Prince Hamzeh with attempting to stage a coup, supported by several members of his inner circle and foreign backing. The prince, not surprisingly, denied any involvement in the plot, though he did take the opportunity to point out the graft that plagues Jordan’s government.

The United States, meanwhile, is monitoring the situation closely and quickly emphasized its support for the Jordanian king. The State Department’s spokesman recently reiterated Jordan’s importance to the United States, stating that “King Abdullah is a key partner of the United States, and he has our [the United States’] full support.” President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. spoke with King Abdullah to express his support and strong bilateral relations as well.

In all the turmoil and uncertainty, why is Jordan such a close friend to the U.S.?

A Stable Ally

The United States has long considered Jordan to be a close friend and partner through both Republican and Democratic administrations, lauding the Hashemite Kingdom as a bastion of stability in arguably the most volatile region in the world. Jordan was largely free from the political unrest and upheaval that raged through the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring a decade ago. Moreover, Jordan is a long-time key counterterrorism partner, globally supporting U.S. forces and security operations.

Jordan has also been a major partner in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State and served as a “key overland conduit to Iraq” during the Iraq War. Jordan has absorbed over 1 million refugees who fled Syria during the decade-long civil war, according to Jordanian officials.

In the past, Jordan has sided with the Sunni Arab states against Iran. This proves significant to the United States as the Sunni Arab states and the United States have historically enjoyed close relations and each country views Iran as a primary adversary.

Since Jordan and the United States share close ties, recent events and any resulting instability in the Hashemite Kingdom could potentially impact the Biden administration’s approach to the larger Middle East.

Biden Wants Out

For one, Biden is “deprioritizing” the Middle East in favor of concentrating U.S. foreign policy more on the great power rivalries with China and Russia and the myriad domestic problems the U.S. is facing at home. Like the Obama and Trump administrations, despite failing to extricate the United States from the forever wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other commitments which have dominated U.S. Middle East policy, Biden hoped to reduce U.S. focus on and commitments to the Middle East.

To deprioritize the Middle East, the United States needs its key allies in the region onboard. When asked about the United States’ closest allies and friends in the Middle East, most analysts talk about Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and, increasingly less, Turkey. This list should always include Jordan.

Since Jordan is considered by the United States and the West to be one of the consistently stable countries in the region, the U.S. has been able to take this fact for granted. However, the royal shakeup in Jordan could impact the region’s stability. Beyond that, instability resulting from King Abdullah’s latest skirmish with his half-brother could hinder Biden’s plans to downgrade the Middle East’s centrality in U.S. foreign policy.   

The Two-State Solution

The Biden administration has indicated they wish to “re-establish the goal of a negotiated two-state solution as a priority in U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The two-state solution has long remained the only viable solution to this conflict and calls for granting the Palestinians an independent state alongside Israel. This arduous and tedious project, which has thwarted many presidents, will not be possible unless Jordan is involved.

Jordan is a critical player in the United States’ pursuit of a two-state solution. Firstly, Jordan was one of the first Arab states to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, and has maintained relatively friendly relations ever since. Conversely, Jordan is also a “key interlocutor with Palestinians.” Today, Jordan is home to millions of Palestinians who fled to the Hashemite Kingdom after the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967.

As the New York Times recently noted, Jordan “is important to any future peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.” If Jordan were to succumb to chaos and instability, whether due to the recent flare up or another set of events, the prospects of a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians would seem even more remote than they already are.

Conclusion

The recent tussle within the Jordanian royal family seems to have mostly subsided. However, this series of events is a good reminder to the United States just how much a relatively stable country in an otherwise volatile region can easily upset the fragile balance. This is especially true as the Biden administration has plans to focus less on the Middle East and perhaps find a solution to the very complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Uighurs, Allies, and China

Since 2017, China has clamped down on the Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group living in the Xinjiang region of China. Beijing justifies such actions as concerns about terrorism, extremism, and the Uighur independence movement. In what many in the United States and Europe have labeled as genocide, China rejects the notion that that the Uighurs are subject to any human rights abuses.

However, estimates predict that more than 1 million Uighurs were detained in Chinese re-education camps. Some former Uighur detainees reported that, during their time in detention, they were forced to learn Mandarin Chinese and to be loyal to the Chinese Communist Party. Others have shared that China is using torture as well as “forced sterilization…and family separations to destroy Uighur identity.” These unspeakable state-sanctioned actions certainly constitute genocide.

The U.S. and Its Allies Act

On March 22, in response to the genocidal conditions that the Uighur ethnic group and others are suffering at the hands of the Chinese government in the Xinjiang province, the United States, in concert some of its closest allies – the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Canada – imposed sanctions on China for its human right violations. What is the significance about the United States and its allies’ recent imposition of sanctions against China? It fits in neatly with what President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. announced as the fundamental features of his administration’s foreign policy..

On February 4, Biden delivered the first foreign policy speech of his new presidency. In this speech, Biden spoke of several themes that would guide his foreign policy, including placing re-establishing diplomacy at the core of U.S. foreign policy, restoring American leadership, repairing U.S. alliances, and returning to multilateralism. The imposition of sanctions on China for its human right abuses against the Uighurs embodies almost every facet of Biden’s vision for his foreign policy.

Diplomacy and American Democratic Values

In his February 4 speech, Biden remarked, “America is back. Diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy.” He further asserted that the United States’ return to diplomacy must be “rooted in American’s most cherished democratic values: defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity.” By announcing the imposition of new sanctions against China for its human rights abuses against the Uighurs, the United States has done exactly what Biden promised: placed diplomacy at the center of U.S. foreign policy.

Imposing sanctions on China for its genocidal treatment of the Uighurs also secures Biden’s pledge that American democratic values are central to U.S. foreign policy. By taking a stand against Beijing for these human right abuses, the United States is making clear not just to China, but to the world, that its foreign policy will be driven by its democratic values, including human rights, and that the United States will call out those who are violating its values.

Coordination with U.S. Allies and A Return to Multilateralism

On February 4, Biden emphatically stated that “America’s alliances are our greatest assets, and leading with diplomacy means standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies and key partners once again.” After several years of angering and alienating America’s allies under the Trump administration’s America First motto, Biden noted the importance of rebuilding relationships with the United States’ key allies to counter global challenges. “We can’t do it alone,” Biden further emphasized, signaling the importance of rebuilding the United States’ alliances in order to recalibrate U.S. foreign policy.

And this is exactly what the Biden administration accomplished when coordinating with the United Kingdom, Canada, and the European Union to impose sanctions on China. Not only did the United States pursue this action through diplomatic channels, but the United States also coordinated with some of its closest allies in order to address a mutual threat to their security and values. By imposing sanctions on China for its genocidal behavior toward the Uighurs, the United States capitalized on what the Biden administration recognizes as its greatest assets – its alliances – and this will only help in his quest of restoring those relationships.

The United States’ imposition of sanctions on China in concert with some of its closest, like-minded allies also indicates how important multilateralism is to the Biden administration’s foreign policy. Though the United States did not work directly through an international organization, like the United Nations, the Biden administration pursued a course of diplomacy through the imposition of sanctions, using a well-deliberated and well-orchestrated action in concert with its closest allies instead of acting impulsively, ineffectively, or unliterally. This action was the epitome of multilateral cooperation.

Conclusion

The horrendous treatment of the Uighurs in the Xinjiang province at the hands of the Chinse government is undoubtedly a massive violation of the Uighurs’ human rights. By imposing sanctions on the Chinese government in coordination with the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Canada, the Biden administration is fulfilling its promises of returning diplomacy and American values at the center of U.S. foreign policy, restoring American leadership, recalibrating its strained relationships with its closest allies, and resuming its commitment to multilateralism.

The Liberal World Order and the U.S. Alliance System: A Very Short History

After the Second World War ended in 1945, much of the world lay in ruins. After enduring a war that spanned nearly the entire globe, the loss of roughly 75 million people, and that cost trillions of dollars in damage, world leaders formed a system of international organizations and agreements to foster cooperation in the post-war world – the liberal international order. The liberal world order, which has governed much of international relations for more than 70 years, works to propagate democracy, market economies, the rule of law, and human rights.

As part of the liberal world order, the United States built a system of alliances in Europe and Asia, which have formed “the backbone of the liberal international order for more than 70 years.” The primary purpose of the alliance system was to maintain the balance of power on those continents against the United States’ Cold War rival, the Soviet Union. These efforts resulted in a series of formal treaty alliances based on collective defense.

U.S. Alliances in Europe

The European continent was nearly devastated after the Second World War. The United States, realizing that communism could potentially spill over into Europe, was instrumental in helping its Western European allies rebuild, particularly through the implementation of the Marshall Plan and the establishment of the Truman Doctrine. In this vein, in 1949, the United States, along with ten Western European countries and Canada, founded the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO. This multilateral alliance was created to counter and combat the Soviet Union’s desire to spread communism throughout Europe and, to this day, serves as the center of European security.

The NATO alliance has endured quite a bit in its existence. NATO experienced “the transformation of the European security system from East-West confrontation to a Western-centric post-Cold War, during which NATO conducted its first shooting war in the Balkans [in the 1990s].” After that, NATO participated in the wars in Afghanistan and Libya, a conflict in Somalia, among other involvements, and increased its membership total nearly two-fold.

While several countries joined NATO between the early 1950s and late 1990s, much of NATO’s expansion took place in 1999 and 2004, when ten former Soviet satellite states joined the alliance. Since the revolutions of 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the desire of Central and Eastern European countries to join NATO increased dramatically.

While there were and remain some divisions between the NATO member states on expanding membership to these countries, NATO continued to expand. The idea behind this expansion was that membership would promote peace and stability in Europe, particularly among those in Central and Eastern Europe. Today, there are 30 NATO members states. Future expansion is constantly debated within the alliance and is the primary cause of tensions between the alliance and Russia. NATO recently announced that the alliance will be shifting its focus to the rise of China as well.

U.S. Alliances in Asia

Much like Europe, Asia was also ravaged by the Second World War. As a result, the United States established alliances with key partners in the region. In what is referred to as the hub-and-spokes system, the United States, through its bilateral alliances in Asia, had the same goal of countering the Soviet Union and its desire to spread communism.

For one, in 1952, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia signed a mutual defense treaty. Interestingly, New Zealand is no longer included in the formal treaty due to U.S. concerns over its nuclear policies in the 1980s. However, the United States and New Zealand remain close friends, just not formal allies. Australia is often referred to as one of the United States’ closest allies in Asia.

Moreover, the United States and Japan evolved from mortal enemies in the Second World War to close allies through the signing of the Treaty of Japan in 1951. Japan remains the United States’ closest ally in Asia. The United States also signed a mutual defense treaty with South Korea after the end of the Korean War in 1953, with a pledge that both sides would defend one another in the event of an attack.

The United States also has defense treaties with the Philippines and Thailand. The Philippines, formerly a U.S. territory after the United States defeated Spain in the Spanish American War in 1898, signed a treaty in 1951. The United States and Thailand were both signatories of the 1954 Manila Pact of the former Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). Though the group disbanded in 1977, the Manila Pact outlines the U.S. security commitments to Thailand.

The United States and Taiwan were also formal allies when the U.S. signed a defense treaty with the Republic of China. This changed, however, when the United States officially recognized the People’s Republic of China as the sole government in 1979. Consequently, there are no security guarantees. Yet, the United States sells arms to Taiwan, much to China’s consternation. While the United States no longer has formal alliances with Taiwan and New Zealand, it still maintains alliances with Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand with a renewed focus on the rise of China.

Conclusion

After the Second World War, with much of the world in ruins, world leaders established the liberal world order. A major part of this order was the United States’ alliance system, designed to maintain the balance of power in Europe and Asia and counter the Soviet Union, its primary adversary. Over the past seven decades, these alliances have formed the backbone of the liberal world order and stand strong today.