The Backing of Britain

Jordan can count on the backing of Britain when facing the challenges and opportunities posed by a complex and rapidly evolving region. 

By UK Ambassador Edward Oakden

From the Great Arab Revolt a century ago—when British Forces fought alongside the Hashemite Army of Sharif Hussein, with the help and support of the region’s local Bedouin tribes—to the establishment of the Emirate of Transjordan under British Mandate in 1921 and the independent Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1946, our two countries and our two peoples have stood resolutely alongside each other.

His Late Majesty King Hussein was crowned one month to the day before our own Queen was crowned in Westminster Abbey. And over the 18 years of His Majesty King Abdullah’s reign, we have continued to stand firmly side-by-side, including as partners in the Global Coalition against Daesh.

By virtue of both our shared history and our shared values, there is no country in this region with which the UK feels instinctively closer. This is a relationship every bit as important for our future as it has been for our past. Unresolved conflict and tension fuels instability not only in this region, but for the whole international order on which global security and prosperity depend, including on British streets. As we negotiate our withdrawal from the EU, we best defend our values, our interests and our way of life by working together with Jordan and other international partners to uphold the international rules-based system.

So, during her visit to Jordan late last year—her second in seven months—Prime Minister Theresa May made a new, ambitious and optimistic offer of partnership to support and strengthen Jordan’s resilience for the long-term; an offer which the UK’s International Development Secretary, Penny Mordaunt, strongly reaffirmed when she visited Jordan earlier this month.

As the UK envisages it, this partnership will, first of all, support Jordan’s security, helping defend and protect Jordan’s borders and people from external aggression. Our commitment to Jordan’s security will remain at the heart of our partnership. Second, it will take the UK’s and Jordan’s work together in seeking to resolve the ongoing violence and political tension across the region. Our respective foreign ministers will be meeting later this month to discuss this. We must aim not just to contain current conflicts, but to resolve them actively. And third, our partnership will support the Government of Jordan in delivering the social and economic reforms that will address many of the underlying causes of these tensions and create transformative opportunities for Jordanians.

Jordan enjoys enormous international admiration and respect for the country’s compassion, generosity and humanity towards the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who have sought refuge here; and the UK has contributed more than most in helping Jordan to provide this compassionate response: specifically over JD500 million, both for vital health and education facilities for those displaced by the fighting and to address the pressing needs of Jordanian host communities. We will continue to play a full role in supporting Jordan in this respect.

But ultimately only a lasting political solution in Syria will allow the refugees to return home. Sooner or later, if the fighting is to come to a sustained end, the international community will need to unite behind a single UN-led process in Geneva that will bring a genuine transition to a more democratic, inclusive, non-sectarian and legitimate government that can unite the country and protect the rights of all Syrians. We are pragmatic as to what this transition might look like. It is clearly for the Syrian people to choose. But having been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his countrymen, women and children, it seems beyond imagining that Bashar Al Assad could claim such legitimacy.

Although this month’s attack on Douma was only one of many appalling atrocities perpetrated in Syria over the last seven years, the blatant use of chemical weapons was not only barbaric and utterly reprehensible, but set it in a class apart. The military strikes conducted by the United States, UK and France earlier this month were therefore intended to signal clearly that the international community will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons, nor allow their use to become normalized, as the Assad regime’s repeated recourse to such weapons seemed to be trying to do. Consistent with the US missile strikes almost exactly a year ago following the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons at Khan Shaikhoun, our objective was to prevent and deter more humanitarian catastrophes being caused by further chemical weapons attacks in the future, in Syria and beyond.

Accordingly, the strikes hit a specific and limited set of targets closely linked to the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons attacks: in the UK’s case, a military facility 15 miles west of Homs, where the Syrian regime was storing chemical weapon in breach both of its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and of its commitment in August 2013 to dismantle its chemical weapons program. The strikes expressly sought to avoid either escalation or civilian casualties. This was not about interfering in the civil war. Nor was it about regime change. The strikes do not change one iota our commitment to resolving the conflict at large. This returns us to the necessity of a political solution.

The price of failure to resolve conflict is nowhere more apparent than with the Middle East Peace Process. Reflecting His Majesty the King’s role as Guardian of the Muslim and Christian Holy Places in Jerusalem, and with over 2 million Palestinian refugees living in the country, no one understands better than Jordan the vital importance of getting the peace process back on track. This issue cannot just be managed over time. In the search for a just and lasting settlement, the UK remains absolutely committed to doing all we can in supporting both sides to achieve a peace deal which must be based on a two-state solution, with a viable and sovereign Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel.

In the critical month ahead, the UK has been clear that while we properly mark the creation of the State of Israel, so we must also address the suffering of Palestinians affected and dislodged by Israel’s birth. And just as we urge countries to stand up against threats to Israel, and are clear that incitement to violence and denial of Israel’s right to exist must stop, so those actions of the Israeli government which create an obstacle to peace – including illegal settlement construction – must also stop. We have been appalled by the deaths and injuries on the Israel/Gaza border. There is an urgent need to establish the facts of what happened, including why such a volume of live ammunition was used and what role Hamas played. There should be no repeat, with all sides committing to peaceful protest, restraint and international law.

But resolving regional conflict and bolstering Jordan’s security alone will not bring long-term stability. That requires creating economic prosperity, and above all fulfilling jobs, which give hope and self-respect to Jordan’s young people.  Jordan has the vision. As the Government of Jordan has made clear, the priority now is to get on with implementing it. In support, the international community needs to broaden its assistance from supporting Jordan’s response to an acute and urgent refugee crisis to helping also with a much longer-term development challenge – and opportunity.

The obstacles would have challenged any country: a population which grew from two million in the 1980s to ten million today, with over 40 percent under the age of 15; soaring international energy prices earlier this decade; and the regional crisis cutting off Jordan’s principal export markets. All these put a huge strain on the economy. Tough choices have rightly had to be made.

The UK will do all we can to help, focusing on implementing Vision 2025 and the strategies which derive from it, including the National Economic Growth Plan and the National Human Resources Development Strategy, drawing on the full capability of our government and private sector, and built on the principle that Jordan will deliver the political, social and economic reforms set out in that vision. So, a step-change in our support for Jordan’s economic, social and political resilience, improving education and empowering the private sector to create jobs and opportunities for people across the country. In addition, we hope that this month’s international conference in Brussels will bring a new and added focus on supporting a reformed public healthcare system in Jordan, bringing improved, effective healthcare outcomes based on clinical need; and with vulnerability a key criterion.

This builds on the concept we put in place at the London Conference two years ago.  The Jordan Compact agreed there not only provided significant humanitarian assistance, but also pioneered a new approach harnessing the private sector and concessional financing to create jobs for refugees and Jordanians alike, and so boost Jordan’s economy.

We aim to use our international relationships and our position in multilateral financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank to leverage the largest possible global financial backing for the implementation of Vision 2025. We would like to mobilize partnerships between British and Jordanian businesses, focusing on our shared expertise in services, as well as work to deliver an ambitious post-Brexit trade deal between our two countries.

During her visit, the Prime Minister committed a further nearly JD100 million to support Jordan’s economic resilience – including nearly JD60 million in investment grants, support for critical infrastructure projects, essential skills training and support to improve the quality of education, which we see as fundamental to progress in other areas. Over time, we also aim to support the reform of government, the growth of private sector investment and the creation of safety nets to ensure that no-one loses out from these reforms. In the year we celebrate the centenary of women gaining the vote in Britain, we place great emphasis, in Jordan as well as globally, on the importance of women’s role in society and economic growth, and we will continue to strongly support the implementation of Jordan’s National Action Plan to implement the UN Security Council Resolution on the central role of women in boosting international peace and security.

In parallel, we will argue the case more generally for greater rights and openness, while being realistic at this difficult time about the speed at which lasting change can happen; and the necessary balance between stability and progress. At the heart of Vision 2025 are the principles which His Majesty and the Government of Jordan have repeatedly set out: tolerance for different views, active citizenship, equal access to justice, fighting corruption and deepening democracy. Our partnership is not about reinventing those principles, but supporting them. These are reforms made in Jordan, by Jordan and for Jordan. And the UK wants them to succeed.

Through all this, Jordan can be sure of one thing above all: Britain will remain a partner, which Jordan can depend on—with you every step of the way.

Edward Oakden is Britain’s Ambassador to Jordan.