Jordan and the U.K. are set to renew security cooperation with a new three-year phase of U.K. support to the Public Security Directorate (PSD) and the Gendarmerie. The support is likely to exceed £10 million. Based on prior programming and the U.K.’s priorities for the region, support areas will likely include counterterrorism, public order management, and core policing. When the U.K. has chosen its preferred implementing organization, it will bring its proposals to the Government of Jordan to agree on a shared design. As part of this design process, it is crucial to carry out a national security assessment as an evidence base for adequately balancing the support lines given to the Jordanian security sector.
However, even prior to a national security assessment, considering Jordan’s dire economic situation, the first question in a must be whether U.K. support to the Jordanian security sector is a strategic choice. Popular concerns among Jordanians focus overwhelmingly on the economy. The recent Arab Barometer V reflects that over two-thirds of Jordanians consider the economy the most significant national challenge. The uptick in demonstrations protesting the situation since February reflects a growing antagonism. By contrast, terrorism is only a priority for 2 percent. Conversely, Jordanians are very satisfied with their police. Ninety percent of Jordanian has a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of trust in the police—second only to the army and superior to all other government and non-government institutions.
However, placing U.K. security support in the context of its entire portfolio assistance to Jordan shows it to be reasonable and proportionate. According to the most recent calculations from 2018 to 2019, U.K. support to Jordan totaled £58.6 million, with approximately £28 million comprising direct economic support. Direct economic support increases to around £50 million if education, employment, and humanitarian projects with an economic character are factored in the category’s calculation. The crucial link between security, stability, and opportunities for economic growth also favors the principle of U.K. support to Jordan’s security sector.
Overall, the extent of U.K. support to the Jordanian security sector is not disproportionate, a fact that leads to the question of its optimal composition. Counterterrorism—and, more broadly, critical incident management—appears likely to be an important theme in the coming programming. This week, the attack at Jerash (an important tourist attraction) may or may not reveal a terrorist character, but will certainly renew focus on the subject. Prior to this, by far the most impactful recent terrorist attacks on Jordanian soil was the Karak incident of December 18, 2016. The perception of poor inter-agency coordination and the impression that gunmen were running amok left a lasting impression on the international security sector reform community in Jordan.
However, the unfolding details from Jerash and the memory of Karak should not be allowed to overstate the relative terrorist impact on Jordan. Since 2016, Jordan has suffered fewer domestic fatalities from terrorism than the U.K. The Global Terrorism Index Report 2018 ranks the impact of terrorism in Jordan at eighty-eighth globally, lower than that of the U.S. (twentieth), U.K. (twenty-eighth) and Germany (thirty-ninth). Despite neighboring Iraq (first) and Syria (fourth), Jordan comes in at fifteenth of 20 in the MENA region. Although security service members value U.K. support to the Jordanian counterterrorism effort, they also note that the Jordanian services—and especially the General Intelligence Directorate (GID)—are already performing effectively.
There undoubtedly remains an evolving threat from terrorism in Jordan. While these threats should remain a consideration for U.K. support, they should not eclipse the security challenges that are emerging forcefully from the economic situation. Economic hardship and tough reforms are going to continue to generate public order events, which are growing in frequency and acrimony. The Ramtha protests in August, in response to legislation tightening control of irregular border trade, stand out as a case of violence against state property and the appearance of firearms in the protest. Meanwhile, protests in Amman are notable for their increasing participant numbers, the level of tension, and the involvement of the middle class.
The PSD and Gendarmerie have been notably calm, considered, and self-controlled in public order situations, making them somewhat unusual in the region. However, the increased demand on public order policing and the rising political temperature makes the police’s challenge of balancing the security of life and property with the protection of the right to demonstrate more acute. As such, U.K. support is particularly required to provide ongoing training, mentoring—and importantly—coordination between agencies in this area. Best practice public order management starts with targeted planning and what is sometimes labeled ‘intelligence’ or ‘analysis’—meaning gathering and analyzing information relating to forthcoming public order events on the national, regional, and local scale. Omar Rafie, formerly a PSD brigadier and now a consultant for international SSR projects in the region, contends that planning must be terminologically disassociated from more classical intelligence work, which is the strict mandate of the GID and other specialized units. With this conceptual shift and capacity building, units charged with public order will profit from better information to remain calm and in control.
The security challenges emerging in the wide field of core policing issues are more difficult to judge and would benefit from the national security assessment. Nonetheless, the PSD’s crime figures of 2014-2018 suggests some particular lines of exploration. In general, total crime (or at least total reported crime) has been decreasing in absolute and population-adjusted terms. For instance, the number of homicide-type crimes has almost halved, but significant increases were reported in sexual abuse (34 percent) and drug trafficking (346 percent). This indicates the potential benefit of U.K. support in the prevention, investigation, and bringing to trial of these crimes.
Beyond public order management, counterterrorism, and core policing, there is another opportunity for the U.K. to support Jordanian security that would constitute controversial but valuable programming: anti-corruption. Fury toward corruption is a major part of the wider Jordanian malaise and a driver of the demonstrations. The Arab Barometer V reports that 87 percent of Jordanians think that there is corruption in all government institutions, a figure which has consistently grown since 2010. Over half (55 percent) also think that the government is doing nothing to deal with it. Such a sense of improbity must make swallowing difficult economic reforms much harder.
In February, 91 Jordanian public (and not so public) figures signed an exceptionally reproving public letter to the king criticizing how the country is governed and emphasizing the risk posed by corruption to the security of the country. Whether this vitriolic letter is a vehicle of party-political ambition or a sincere strike at corruption, it is a sign of the high political charge corruption has acquired. Conducting anti-corruption programs can be a sensitive task for international players. Still, the amperage of its political charge in Jordan today is the measure of the stabilization and security gains to be made in tackling it. The detection and investigation of corruption are not usually considered a security matter, but there is a case to be made that it is becoming one in Jordan, and it should become a consideration for U.K. security assistance in addition to public order, counterterrorism, and core policing. The Jordanian police, who are particularly well trusted among government institutions, are well placed to be part of a strategic move against corruption.
Jordan’s greatest security challenges stem from internal factors, and all relate in one way or another to its economic plight. Economic forecasts for the country are not optimistic. For the U.K.’s support to be most effective in helping Jordan stay secure, it should respond to the security implications of the economic crisis.
Alex Walsh is an independent researcher specializing in police and security reform in the Middle East and North Africa. Follow him on Twitter at @Mercurichrome.