Jordan is quite an anomaly in the chaos that has seemingly blanketed the Middle East. Standing out as a stable and peaceful country, Jordan has not only upheld the survival of its territory and citizens, but it has extended its renowned hospitality to the citizens of Syria. This is most clearly illustrated by the taking in of refugees, 624,854 according to UNHCR or twice this number according to Jordanian officials.
However, despite Jordan’s political and humanitarian successes, the country faces serious circumstances in regard to scarce natural and economic assets. Unlike its surrounding neighbours, Jordan has scant resources and the country as a whole suffers from a shortage of water and energy means. The reality of these circumstances can be conceptualized as placing Jordan in a precarious position of teetering between a responsibility to provide for millions of refugees and its own citizens, while only possessing a very finite set of resources.
Thus, there is a sense of urgency to Jordan’s situation. Without the benefit of natural resources and economic stability, the country is tasked with finding a solution to the crises associated with its current reality, which also include high unemployment, inflation and poverty. It should be said then, under the current circumstances Jordan should not only seek to gain political weight, but also economic leverage.
Rewinding back to November 2nd, 2014, King Abdullah II delivered the Speech from the Throne. Here the highlight was the fundamental role of the Jordanian Armed Forces, which is widely known as the Arab Army. This subtle, but powerful decree of the Jordanian Armed Forces representing the Arab Army reinforces the notion that Jordan’s responsibility goes beyond just protecting Jordan’s borders. As stated in the speech, the Jordanian Army has always been on call to protect the Arab nations’ interest if necessary. What this gives credence to is the idea that not only does Jordan have a responsibility to its own territory, but also to the rest of the Arab countries in need of assistance.
No Fly ZoneSyria is a country in need of assistance. Lying to Jordan’s North, Syria can be characterized as a country that has been largely overtaken by civil war and the violent extremist group that calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). As a result of the situation, hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled to Jordan, seeking asylum.
Reflecting on the personal experience I have gained working with the UN on the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan, I can say adamantly that none of the current initiatives undertaken by the international community will solve the refugee crisis in the near future. For this reason, Jordan should seek to tackle the crisis of the influx of diaspora itself. Should Jordan not, the country risks facing enormous burdens, potentially bringing it one step closer to becoming a fragile state.
Stemming from this then, Jordan has the opportunity to consider integrating and deeming the Southern parts of Syria, namely Daraa, a buffer zone. However, making an impenetrable buffer zone needs to be done in such a way that avoids embroiling Jordanian Armed Forces in direct contact with other military factions in the area. This is because the tribal and public oft-quoted consensus in the country, dictates that any sort of boots on the ground is unacceptable and Jordanians are adamant about not losing their people in this war.
Subsequently, the answer lies in recruiting defected Syrian Armed Forces officers and soldiers who claimed refugee status in Jordan at the beginning of the Arab Spring. While it is yet to be known if 2000 individuals would be able to protect the border, it is argued here nonetheless that these individuals would be placed under the Jordanian Army’s command and deployed to Daraa.
With Daraa as a buffer and no fly zone, protected from the South by the defected Syrian forces personnel abreast the recruitment of other competent refugees, the territory has the potential to become secure and stable under the supervision of Jordan. This buffer zone would allow future influxes of refugees to come to Daraa, as opposed to Jordan. Eventually, the UN could become a backer of the initiative, encouraging international humanitarian operations and other NGOs to deploy missions and render assistance in Syria as opposed to Jordan. On the long run, the area can be protected with the Blue Helmets and most importantly, Syrian refugees in Jordan would have the choice to return to a protected area of their country. As the territory prospers, the area would inadvertently begin to expand further, revitalizing the movement of refugees into Syria.
While this solution will irk the Al-Assad regime as being a clear infringement of their territory, the defence to this proposal is the fact that the regime lost its legitimacy when bloodletting became its dominate strategy. So while retaliation can be expected from the regime, it will not be an easy mission to carry out due to the no fly zone in the area, effectively inhibiting aerial vengeance. Therefore, one of the only hitches to this strategy is, aside from the ebb and flow of exchange of fire among terrorists or pro-Al Assad military personnel against the buffer zone and refugees, the buffer zone could attract the millions of Syrians in Syria who are seeking protection. The risk is that these individuals could reallocate en masse.
Number of RefugeesWhile the proposal above may prove to alleviate Jordan of the onus to care for hundreds of thousands of refugees, Jordan’s resource scarcity requires a separate response, but premised along the same lines. Lying just East of Jordan’s border is Iraq, a country that enjoys gas and oil reserves, as well as a Sunni population living a subordinated existence under the current circumstances in the Western side of the country dictated by both the government and threat from ISIS. Geographically speaking, this Sunni population lies close to the Jordan-Iraqi border in the Al Anbar Governorate.
Previous public discourse has stated the Sunni Bedouins in the area should be brought under Jordan’s protection. With the Sunni population as the driving force, Jordan should seek to integrate the Western territory and the subsequent resources. This can be done through the same means as proposed for Syria, enlist the native inhabitants and offer the Arab Army’s protection for the area. More specifically, both Syrian and Iraqi Sunni tribes can act as the “first line of defense” for the area. This effectively arms local tribes to combat ISIS and offers opportunity to Syrian individuals, all while avoiding placing Jordanian boots on the ground.
In exchange for the promise to protect the jilted Sunni population from the current Iraqi government, Jordan can seek free access to gas and oil reserves located in the specific Sunni area. An approach that will adjust the macroeconomic imbalance in the country by alleviating the energy bill which accounts for 40% of the country’s budget.
With scares resources, but a robust geographical location Jordan has many ways to thrive. The mere fact of Jordan being able to survive as a country throughout the turmoil that characterized the region due to the Arab Spring, lends credence to the notion that economic challenges should not be Jordan’s ultimate demise. Jordan’s resiliency and creativity should be harnessed to tackle the economic circumstances in the country. Not to mention, the proposed courses of action for Jordan will arguably help to improve the political and humanitarian circumstances of the region.
However, perhaps most significantly, the proposed strategic actionable options can be conceived as means of avoiding the collapse of segments of Syrian and Iraqi populations.

Sohaib Gabsis is an M.A. candidate at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs and currently sits on the G78 Board of Directors. He holds a B.A. in Human Right and a B.A. Honours in French and English literature. Previously, Sohaib worked with the UN – International Labour Organization on the Syrian refugees crisis in Amman, and later worked on the ILO-IPEC programme.
Featured Photo by Sohaib Gabsis

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