The Jordanian Nuclear Energy Program: Security Concerns from an American Perspective

Shirin Lotfi
Sep 10, 2018 · 27 min read

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is currently working to develop a domestic nuclear power capability, to which they are entitled under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreement that they signed in 1970. Jordan’s economy is rapidly expanding and their current path of importing energy is costly and unsustainable. While nuclear politics in the Middle East are complicated, and efforts to build nuclear power plants that do not produce weapons are viewed with suspicion by the world, Jordan generally occupies a favorable view among the Western world, following decades of security cooperation with the United States and their signing of the 1994 peace treaty with neighboring Israel. However, Jordan’s bold advances have been led by a strict monarchy that has been criticized for not representing the people. Furthermore, regional conflict has led to an enormous refugee influx which now makes up the majority of the population. Political upheavals in the region has made others worried if the country has enough stability to insure that nuclear infrastructure always remains in trusted hands. My research includes extensive firsthand experience from a semester in Amman, where I surveyed Jordanians, both inside and outside the nuclear profession, regarding their opinions of progressing nuclear energy in the country, taking into account the regional challenges. The rapid change in Jordan’s demographics and in the security situation of it’s neighbors makes it necessary to constantly reexamine this country. Given the overwhelming focus of Western attention towards hostile regimes, such as Iran, and their nuclear ambitions, this research covers an often overlooked area of global nuclear development.


The purpose of this article is to list, clarify, and analyze the concerns of the United States government regarding the development of nuclear energy in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. It is written to be descriptive, and assumes that the reason for a delay in the signing of a bilateral agreement between the United States and Jordan over the Jordanian Nuclear Power Program is explainable by U.S. security concerns. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a moderate Arab friend of the United States and Western Europe. The Kingdom has been a trailblazer in seeking peaceful resolutions to conflicts in the Middle East; this includes, for example the signing of a peace treaty with neighbor Israel in 1994. For several decades, Jordan has made great efforts and sacrifices to remain a friend of the West and Western governments. For example, it was King Hussein of Jordan who, after meeting with presidents Anwar Sadat and Hafez al-Assad in Alexandria, flew to Jerusalem in 1973 to warn the Israelis of an impending Egyptian-Syrian offensive. Jordan’s limited participation in the war (sending only one brigade to assist Syria) is seen by other Arab states as a betrayal, and has had adverse effects on the Kingdom’s foreign relations. The Kingdom has also assisted the United States with combating terrorism through a cooperative relationship between the CIA and Jordan’s General Intelligence Directorate (GID). This action has been criticized by Jordanians who disagree with such a close relationship with the U.S. Jordan has sacrificed closer relations and leverage throughout the Arab world. It is understandable, then, that the Hashemite Kingdom would be upset with any Western efforts to curtail their intended nuclear power program. This paper will present several points of concern and contention for the United States and will explain why the U.S., despite its great relationship with Jordan, would be opposed to the idea of Jordanian nuclear power.

Through the framework of Neorealism (which defines security as the primary concern of states in the self-help, international world) and the using concept of the “Security Dilemma” a term coined by John Hertz. The author asserts that the hypothetical concerns of the United States with regard to the Jordanian Nuclear Power Program are as follows:

1. The Jordanians desire a nuclear weapon, and development of nuclear power is a stepping-stone to this goal. This will further exacerbate the problems of regional security by causing tension with other countries whose response to such a development is unpredictable.

2. Developing civilian nuclear power, will be perceived as tantamount to development of nuclear weapons, whether that is the intention of the Jordanians or not. This will further exacerbate the problems of regional by causing tension with other countries whose response to such a development is unpredictable.

3. The United States fears that the Kingdom will not be able to properly secure the nuclear material, to prevent it from falling into the hands of terrorists.

Why Jordan Seeks Nuclear Power

A case study released by the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission in June of 2010 aptly sums up the reasons why Jordan would like to develop nuclear energy: A growing energy demand, coupled with increasing prices of fossil fuels, compounded by the fact that Jordan is growing increasingly dependent on imported fuel. The last point is of particular concern because of its extraordinary circumstances; Jordan, as of 2010, imports 96% of its fossil fuels. The expense of importation costs the government over 25% of its national budget.Despite the stereotype of the “oil-rich Middle East”, Jordan is quite barren, with one exception: Uranium. There are estimated to be nearly 65,000 to 140,000 tons of Uranium underneath the Jordan soil. At least 65,000 tons of this Uranium was discovered as recently as 2007 and, seeing how the small country has almost no other natural resources, it is not surprising that the Kingdom sees its Uranium reserves as a blessing and an opportunity to move the country towards energy independence.

However, there is more to the issue than just energy independence. The Kingdom would like to use Jordan’s geographical location to their advantage, and become a hub for oil, gas, and electricity networks in the region. Oil and gas may not be in great supply in Jordan, however through nuclear power, electricity would become a newly abundant commodity that Jordan could supply to other countries. The Kingdom views it’s nuclear program as an opportunity to become an electricity exporter; with hopes to sell to Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Palestine. The country also intends to solve its growing water crisis by using a reactor to facilitate the operation of a desalinization plant. It has also been argued that there are numerous environmental benefits to be gained from the adoption of nuclear power. Finally, the development of the industry will have ”Multiplicative effects on local economy via infrastructure upgrades, job creation, provision of services, and education of workforce.” According to the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission, the Jordanian reactors will create 3000 jobs per reactor (construction phase) and up to 1000 permanent jobs (maintenance, operations, security etc.); the majority of which will be Jordanian. The future of Jordan, as Jordan sees it, depends greatly on this reactor program and the numerous benefits that it will net.

Demographic Challenges

Approximately half of Jordan’s population is thought to be of Palestinian origin, with large numbers of Palestinians having fled to the kingdom during the 1948 and 1967 wars with Israel. This mass migration has caused instability within Jordanian society, as social and economic stress built up and culminated in the “Black September” in 1970, where thousands of Palestinians were killed by the Jordanian security forces. In the present day, the number of registered Palestinian refugees and their descendants in Jordan stood at around 1.9 million in 2010, and they are well incorporated into Jordanian society. Over the years many refugees have opted to take Jordanian citizenship, which is available to them, and many Palestinians have also chosen to voluntarily move to the Kingdom, further increasing the size of the community over time. The kingdom has also had to absorb successive waves of refugees from not only Israel but also Lebanon in 1980, and Kuwait and Iraq in 1991.This influx continued in the mid-1990s, when Jordan became home to many Bosnian refugees, in 2003 it gave refuge to many more Iraqis fleeing the conflict there. Since 2011 it has also seen many Syrians seek refuge within its borders. The Syrian refugee camp in Jordan (known as Zaatari camp) is currently the second largest refugee camp in world and population-wise, is Jordan’s fourth largest city. As of July 2016, around 655,404 Syrian refugees have officially resided in the kingdom, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Many of these waves of refugees have assimilated well, bringing not only labor, but also a major surge in both intellectual and physical capital with them; this is particularly true of the Iraqis who arrived after 2003. Jordan is considered one of the five poorest countries in the world in terms of water supply. Although it is one of the largest producers and exporters of phosphate in the world, it suffers from not having sufficient amount of water and energy for it people. With its population having doubled every 20 years since 1960 (OECD), it is vital for Jordan to come up with a better and more efficient source of energy.

The Nuclear Middle East

It is not difficult to see the valid points of the argument from a Jordanian perspective. The U.S., nonetheless, will remain concerned about the pursuit of such technology in a region that has been so unstable. From a U.S. perspective, the nuclear issue in Jordan is but a small part of the larger concern of a nuclear Middle East. Whereas the Jordanian argument in favor of nuclear technology is primarily based on economics, the U.S. counter-argument is based on security. Security of not only the United States but also the security of its interests in the region. What is alarming to the U.S. is not necessarily the pursuit of nuclear power in the Middle East; the alarm comes from the sudden and nearly simultaneous desire for such technology from multiple countries, all contained within one region. It appears that, following the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon; the entire Middle East developed an interest in an energy source that is at least 60 years old. King Abdullah II of Jordan is reported to have said in 2006 “The rules have changed on the nuclear subject throughout the whole region”, which has been interpreted by President of the Ploughshares Association, Joseph Cirincione, as an indication that all Middle Eastern countries would begin to seek nuclear power after the summer of 2006. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, 13 countries in the Middle East expressed “new or revived plans” to develop nuclear power. It is concerning that such a strong interest in this technology would develop so quickly and in so many nations at once. Such a rapid developing interest is indicative of countries that fear for their own national security. More specifically, and more honestly, it appears that these countries are fearful of Iran. If this is the case, then the pursuit of civilian nuclear technology by these countries is in fact an attempt to create, or to create the appearance of, nuclear weapon capabilities. No matter what the intentions of these nations are, be it: seeking civilian nuclear power, seeking civilian nuclear power with a “façade” of deterrence, or seeking a true nuclear weapons capability, the United States will remain concerned.

The First Point of Contention

1- The Jordanians desire a nuclear weapon, and development of nuclear power is a stepping-stone to this goal. This will further exacerbate the problems of regional security by causing tension with other countries whose response to such a development is unpredictable.

Some might call the first point unfair, or at least untrusting. They are right about the latter but wrong about the former. It is simply impossible to separate the concept of nuclear power from that of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are the very reason the international world becomes so interested in states that decide to pursue nuclear power. As mentioned above, regional development of nuclear weapons is a frightening prospect. If Jordan developed a nuclear weapon, other states would be compelled to do the same. This has much to do with the “Security Dilemma”, which according to prominent Neorealist Kenneth Waltz ‘s says that, “Having armed for the sake of security, states feel less secure and buy more arms because the means to anyone’s security is a threat to someone else who in turn responds by arming.” In other words, an arms race will occur as each state “corrects” its security. Some might argue that a nuclear arms race in the Middle East might be good for stability and peace. The author does not believe that “deterrence theory” is credible in a multi-polar region like the Middle East. Kenneth Waltz argued in 1979 that multi-polar regions are less stable than bi-polar regions, and regarding nuclear weapons in such a system he said;

“The prospect of a number of states having nuclear weapons that may be ill- controlled and vulnerable is a scary one, not because proliferation would change the system, but because of what lesser powers might do to one another.”

It should be noted that at the time (1979), Waltz also stated that the issue of proliferation in a multi-polar region should be reconsidered, to evaluate whether or not it really would lead to warfare. That is a fair question to consider, since the theory has yet to be tested, although this author believes that the danger of warfare in a multi-polar region like the Middle East (which has very specific problems beyond being just multi-polar) is high enough to avoid wanting to test this theory in reality. A person might also question why the United States would be so concerned about nuclear tension, or nuclear warfare in the Middle East. The Middle East is, after all, far away from North America. The answer stems from the desire to protect U.S. interests in the region, some of which may contribute to the national security of the United States. These interests likely include (but are not limited to) protecting the oil supply and protection of friendly nations. Another component is an economic strategy to restrict oil to China and Russia; if they obtain access to cheaper oil than the U.S, they will become much more economically competitive.

Instead of elaborating on why nuclear warfare in the Middle East is bad (which should be self-evident), or why nuclear deterrence in the Middle East is dangerous and can lead to war (given the instability of the multi-polar system), the author will instead elaborate on why the United States may not completely trust Jordan to never develop a nuclear weapon. The U.S., after all, has historical reasons to not trust other nations to keep to their word that nuclear reactors are for peaceful purposes only. This has been true even of nations that are closely aligned with the United States. The development of nuclear weapons by India through the misuse of the “Atoms for Peace” program is one such example.

“Atoms for Peace” and India

After a 1953 speech, “Atoms for Peace”, given to the U.N. by President Eisenhower, the U.S. began a similarly named program and became actively involved in the spread of nuclear technology. The reasoning behind the “Atoms for Peace” program stems from the realization that the United States could not control the development of nuclear technology by the U.S.S.R. Between 1946 and 1953, the United States had kept their entire nuclear program secret, in addition to controlling the release and export of information, nuclear materials and associated technologies to other countries. This effort at control was unable, however, to prevent the Soviets from developing their own capabilities. The U.S., fearing that the Soviet Union would begin to export its atomic technology to other nations, (and thus become immensely popular with developing nations) changed strategies and began the “Atoms for Peace” program, cutting off opportunities for the spread of Soviet nuclear know-how and the associated Soviet popularity.

Peter Lavoy from the Arms Control Association has stated “Atoms for Peace produced many of the most important elements of today’s nuclear nonproliferation regime” These elements, however, were not strong enough to stop some countries from using the “Atoms for Peace” program as way to develop nuclear weapons. India’s weapon program, for example, benefitted tremendously from the “Atoms for Peace” program. Their nuclear energy chief, Homi Bhabha, continued to insist that their desire for nuclear technology was strictly limited to their desire for a reliable source of electricity. With the detonation of an Indian atomic weapon in 1974, it became evident that the optimism of the “Atoms for Peace” program was not weighed against the possible danger of Indian desires for nuclear weapons.

Israel’s nuclear ambiguity

Israel, as well, proved frustrating to the United States. In 1963, former President of Israel Shimon Peres, in a response to a question from President John F. Kennedy stated, “Israel will not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East.” Whether or not Israel kept its word is debatable. They are widely believed to have been the first Middle East country to develop nuclear weapons, most likely during the mid 1950s. Their policy of deliberate ambiguity with regards to their nuclear weaponry is, in part, a way to avoid “officially” violating this agreement. Charles Ferguson II from the Council on Foreign Relations also points out that Israel “has done the calculation that if it removes its ambiguity it may stimulate other states to acquire nuclear-weapon capabilities. Israel can claim that its ambiguity and decision to not acknowledge its possession of nuclear weapons is still in line with having never “introduced” the weapons to the Middle East. The author asserts, however, that the possession of nuclear weapons by Israel constitutes a violation of what Shimon Peres had stated earlier, and even placing that disappointment aside, the widespread opinion among most Middle Eastern nations remains that much of the regional tension in the Middle East stems from the issue of Israel’s “nuclear ambiguity”. Some of these problems are self-evident. For example, it makes it very difficult for the United States to insist that Arab countries not develop nuclear weapons, while turning a blind eye to the Israeli nuclear arsenal. The “ambiguity” of the Israeli nuclear weapons might also serve as a motivator for countries in the Middle East to develop their own weapons. Joseph Cirincione believes that the development of nuclear weapons by Israel in the 1950’s and 1960’s led to the development of other weapon programs in other countries of the Middle East as a response. For example, Syria and Iraq, countries that had fought against Israel in 1948 and 1963, began to develop nuclear programs, which were ultimately eliminated by Israeli fighter jets (Operations Orchard and Opera). With Israel and India (both allies to the U.S.) developing nuclear weapons while insisting that they would not are perfect examples of why the U.S. would remain so concerned about the civilian reactor programs being established throughout the Middle East. Although Jordan may have an entirely peaceful intent with its nuclear program, history has taught the United States to be vigilant and wary of changes in the direction of nuclear programs.

The Second Point of Contention

2. Developing civilian nuclear Power, will be perceived as tantamount to development of nuclear weapons, whether that is the intention of the Jordanians or not. This will further exacerbate the problems of regional by causing tension with other countries whose response to such a development is unpredictable.

The real tragedy of the situation is that the Jordanian government has clear and justifiable reasons to desire nuclear power. The Kingdom is, in the author’s opinion, being very honest in its intentions with regards to nuclear power. With regards to national security, however, intention means nothing compared to perception. The second point of contention stems from the potential problem that Jordan’s neighbors might interpret Jordan’s nuclear program as a step towards nuclear weapons. This point ultimately has root in the Security Dilemma, much as the previous point of contention did. Although in this case, Jordan is not actually developing a nuclear weapon, its neighboring states may believe that the Jordanians are, and may take action to correct the adversely affected security situation. Much of the concern outlined below could be applied to the first point of contention above, as the idea here is to illustrate that while Jordan may not be developing a nuclear weapon, other countries might assume that it is and will treat it as such.

Threat Perceptions: Iran

With nuclear technology, it is always in the best interest of neighboring countries to recognize that the development of such technology could be used to gain nuclear weapons. National security is not about being optimistic; it is about being self-interested and pragmatic. The second focus of debate in regards to Jordanian nuclear power should the perceptions of Jordan’s neighbors. Although other neighboring states should be considered as well, Iranian threat perceptions deserve special focus since it appears that their nuclear ambitions are the primary cause for the current escalation of interest in nuclear technology. If Jordan appears to possess the ability to produce nuclear weapons, whether they do or not, then how would the Iranians respond? Does Iran have a reason to be suspicious of Jordan’s program? One reason for suspicion stems from Jordan’s own views of threat perceptions. According to a 1995 publication by the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan, the five perceived threats to Jordan are: Israel, The Palestinian Problem, Intra-Arab Politics and Inter-Arab Divisions, Economic Vulnerability, and Extremism and Radicalism. What is important about these 6 threats listed here is that in 1995 Iran was absent from the list. With this in mind, it is important to consider how Jordan will appear to a country like Iran today, now that Jordan is developing nuclear technology. Consider this sequence of events:

1) Jordan, for a long time, has been aware of Israeli nuclear technology, and perceived Israel as a threat, yet chose not to pursue nuclear technology.

2) Now there has been a change in the paradigm; Iran is now seeking nuclear technology and Iraq is no longer containing them.

3) Jordan is now pursuing nuclear technology in what appears to be a response to Iranian nuclear ambitions.

To an outside observer, and possibly to the Iranians as well, it appears that Jordan considers Iranian nuclear capability as a threat that warrants the development of their own nuclear deterrence. Furthermore, by developing nuclear technology in response to Iran, but never in response to Israel, the Jordanians have implicitly sided with Israel against Iran.

The sudden appearance of Jordanian nuclear deterrence against Iran, whether real or imagined, might motivate Iran to take action to improve its own (now compromised) security situation. The question was, “How would the Iranians respond? ” The answer is difficult to guess, which is exactly the cause for concern. The Iranian regime may use its proxy organizations to influence the Jordanians or, worse yet, the Iranians may point their nuclear capabilities towards Jordan. Those are, in all likelihood, exaggerations of what the true Iranian reaction might be, but they illustrate a point that pinning the world’s hopes on Iran to not react aggressively is a dangerous game with serious consequences.

Threat Perceptions: Israel

Israel is another country that, as expected, is responding negatively to the Jordanian nuclear program. Israel is also geographically much closer to Jordan (they share 238 km) and therefore more likely to be concerned with the Jordanian nuclear program than Iran might be. Any nuclear accident, like a Cherynobyl or a Fukushima, would immediately affect not only Israeli citizens, but people in the entire densely populated region. Israel’s current response to the Jordanian program is indicative of its fears. The Israelis have voiced their disapproval of the Jordanian reactor program, and allegedly have sought to dissuade other countries from selling such technology to Jordan. Jordan responded to such surreptitious actions with a statement from the King that said “There are many such reactors in the world and a lot more coming, so [the Israelis must] go mind their own business.” The Israelis at one point made a statement to a French energy minister (without consulting Jordan) that stated their interest in working together with Jordan on the reactor program. Israeli Infrastructure Minister Landau is reported to have said “Nuclear energy can be an area of regional cooperation with the objective of promoting peace,”. This sounds like an attempt at bridge building and fostering cooperation to meet mutual goals, but at the end of their statement, Israel made a passing reference that “…any reactor built in Israeli would certainly comply with International Standards”. The author interprets such a statement as meaning that Israel would like the Jordanian reactor built on Israeli soil. The Jordanians responded with a statement of their own reflecting their belief that the issue of Palestine needs to be addressed before any cooperation on a nuclear reactor could occur. Although they have a peace treaty (signed in1994), relations between Jordan and Israel have reached an all-time low since the signing of said peace treaty. King Abdullah recently mentioned that relations between the two countries have been in decline; “Obviously, there was the golden period of the wonderful relationship between my father and Prime Minister Rabin….it’s been a steady decline since then.”

As previously mentioned, even after the signing of the 1994 peace treaty, Jordan continued to view Israel as a threat. Just like the hypothetical example above of the Iranian response to the Jordanian nuclear program, there should be concern about the possible future Israeli responses. Given past Israeli operations resulting in the destruction of reactors in Syria and Iraq, it is unlikely that Jordan would seriously invest money and time into building something if they did not have an assurance that it would not be destroyed by Israel. In order for Israel to accept a Jordanian nuclear program, it is certain that they will be direct monitoring and very high-level agreements regarding security. To suggest that Israel would outright attack Jordan without warning is hyperbole. Both countries have a deep interest in avoiding direct conflict, as the economic, social, and political costs would be tremendous.

For the reasons stated above, the United States needs to remain vigilant and aware of the fact that the Jordanian nuclear program is a concern for Israel. This should not be construed, however, as the U.S. choosing to support Israel over Jordan. The author asserts that, whether or not Israel or Jordan are strategic assets individually, their cooperation and peace between them is definitely of strategic value to the United States, and the United States will likely invest substantial efforts to ensure this.

These kinds of threat perception and response paradigms can be repeated with any and all of Jordan’s neighbors, who will have to interpret and respond to Jordanian nuclear technology (and regional nuclear technology) in their own way. Even if Iran or Israel does not view a nuclear Jordan as a threat to their national security, the fact that Jordan has adopted nuclear power is a motivator for other countries in the Middle East to do the same. The regional development of nuclear technology is, after all, the real concern the U.S. has. Nuclear weapons in a multi-polar situation are, as mentioned before “scary”. Outside observers are left to wonder whether every country in the Middle East is hedging against Iran, hedging against Israel, hedging against each other, simply seeking energy security, or a combination of all of the above. Jordan is simply a piece of the puzzle of the larger U.S. concern of a nuclear Middle East.

The Third Point of Contention

3. The United States fears that the Kingdom will not be able to properly secure the nuclear material, to prevent it from falling into terrorist hands.

Material Safety

A final concern for the United States stems from the issue of the security of the nuclear materials used for the reactors. The recent instability in the Middle East is not likely to make other countries feel confident about the security of nuclear material (including waste) in the Middle East, though casting Jordan in the same light as Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya is very unfair to the Hashemite Kingdom. Western governments remain concerned about the safety and security of nuclear materials from dismantled weapons in countries around the world. From a Neorealist perspective, the United States should prefer to limit the amount of nuclear material in the hands of other countries because it cannot guarantee that the material will remain safe. As of December 2013, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq certainly lack the required stability to develop any sort of nuclear program. Nuclear material used for reactors, and the waste that is created as a result, is exceedingly dangerous if it falls into the hands of terrorists or criminals. The U.S. does not necessarily trust other nations to provide the same level of security that the United States does for its nuclear materials. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen probably best explained this point of view when spoke about Pakistani nuclear weapons during a 2008 speech. The Admiral said:

“To the best of my ability to understand it — and that is with some ability — the weapons there are secure. And that even in the change of government, the controls of those weapons haven’t changed. That said, they are their weapons. They’re not my weapons. And there are limits to what I know. Certainly at a worst-case scenario with respect to Pakistan, I worry a great deal about those weapons falling into the hands of terrorists and either being proliferated or potentially used. And so, control of those, stability, stable control of those weapons is a key concern. And I think certainly the Pakistani leadership that I’ve spoken with on both the military and civilian side understand that.”

Although the Admiral is speaking about nuclear weapons (including components necessary to cause a fission reaction, as well as ballistic missile components), it is fair to say that the primary concern is the protection of nuclear material. U.S leaders, and indeed the leaders of other countries, have consistently reinforced the notion that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is well guarded and safe, but the Admiral is correct in recognizing that having nuclear materials and components under the control of others will always be a cause for at least some concern. This same logic can be applied in the future to Jordan, where the Kingdom will be responsible for the safety of its nuclear materials and the U.S. will not have control over the protection. The idea of theft from a nuclear storage facility might sound like paranoid concern, but this kind of concern is reinforced by historical evidence that indicates that theft of such material from allegedly secure locations has happened before. Quoted from the “Securing the Bomb 2010” report:

“There have been over 18 documented cases of theft or loss of plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU), the essential ingredients of nuclear weapons. Peace activists have broken into a Belgian base where U.S. nuclear weapons are reportedly stored; two teams of armed men attacked a site in South Africa where hundreds of kilograms of HEU are stored; and Russian officials have confirmed that terrorist teams have carried out reconnaissance at Russian nuclear weapon storage facilities.”

This also recently happened when six people were arrested for stealing radioactive material in Mexico that could have been used with a bomb to disperse nuclear material over a wide area. There is no reason to assume that Jordan would not provide adequate security for its nuclear materials, but it is not unreasonable for the issue to be a concern for the United States.

Internal Political Challenges

Given the large-scale, “Arab Spring” revolutions throughout the region, many political analysts have worried over Jordan’s political stability. Jordan is still very much a monarchy, with the power wielded by King Abdullah II and the country developing according to his design. The regional yearning for democracy and greater citizen participation in the fate of the country has led to calls for reform. There were incidents of protests against the autocracy and the King has been receptive to calls for more. Over the last two years, many pundits have predicted large-scale problems or full-scale revolutions. The Jordanian government and intelligence services have responded very heavy-handedly to attempts to cause chaos, and it is likely that many citizens would not want to replicate what they have seen unfold in Syria and Egypt. Jordanians are pragmatic…. The United States is very invested in the social stability of Jordan, maintaining a large military base and many troops who could respond. Overall, many believe that Jordan will still remain stable enough to host a nuclear site.

Insider Threats

Burning in the memory of the world is the legacy of A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist who shared “materials related to uranium enrichment” with North Korea, Libya, and Iran. Even with the most stringent security checks in place, the fact will always remain that an internal source could spread information and materials to others. The U.S. will not have direct control over the vetting of the backgrounds of the employees at Jordanian facilities, and thus will always be concerned of an insider sharing materials or secrets. In the “Securing the Bomb 2010” report, Pakistan and Russia are both targeted as being proliferation risks not only because of issues over the security of the material, but also because of the possibility that a person on the inside will share information. Although the United States will not be in directly involved in the vetting process, there is the likelihood of cooperation between U.S. Intelligence agencies and the Jordanian General Intelligence Directorate on this issue. According to a 2010 Congressional Research Service Report, there have been many joint CIA-GID counterterrorism efforts. GID cooperation with the CIA, according to the report, has been largely unacknowledged. The cooperation between these two agencies on the vetting of workers at nuclear sites could assuage some U.S. fears about insider threats.


The previously established points of contentions are as follows:

1. The Jordanians desire a nuclear weapon, and development of nuclear power is a stepping-stone to this goal. This will further exacerbate the problems of regional security by causing tension with other countries whose response to such a development is unpredictable.

2. Developing civilian nuclear Power, will be perceived as tantamount to development of nuclear weapons, whether that is the intention of the Jordanians or not. This will further exacerbate the problems of regional by causing tension with other countries whose response to such a development is unpredictable.

3. The United States fears that the Kingdom will not be able to properly secure the nuclear material, to prevent it from falling into terrorist hands. With Israeli and Indian clandestine development of nuclear weapons, (India using “Atoms for Peace”, the Israeli development following Peres’ statement that Israeli would not introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East), as well as the concerns of how Jordan’s neighbors might perceive the Jordanian nuclear program, and the possibility that the nuclear material might not be properly secured (or that someone from the inside might provide information and materials to a third party), the United States has reasonable concerns about the Jordanian project that need to be addressed.

Unfortunately, many of these concerns cannot be mitigated even if Jordan employed the best security measures and the most transparent nuclear program in the history of the world. The U.S. will still never know for sure whether or not Jordan plans to develop a nuclear weapon in the future. Also, the U.S. will not ever truly know how Jordan’s neighbors plan to react to it. Finally, the U.S. will never be fully involved in the protection of Jordan’s nuclear materials, and will therefore always be troubled by their existence. Applying Neorealism, where the concept of security of the state is a primary concern, it is not hard to see how these three points of contention could negatively affect either U.S. security or the security of U.S. interests. Neorealism, indeed all-political theories, are not be-all end-all answers to the international system. What is missing from this paper are the many examples of cooperation and friendship between the Kingdom of Jordan and the United States that have mutually benefited both. This paper takes into account a U.S. perspective grounded in Neorealism. In Neorealism, there is a lack of trust between states, usually expressed as the “Security Dilemma” or “Prisoners Dilemma”, and this might explain why the three listed concerns are all obsessed with security and are all distrusting. There are other theories, however, that might offer different answers. The author recognizes that by examining the issues through only one theory, she has left out other concerns that may have been brought forward under a different theory. For example, there was no mention of the environmental hazards of nuclear power in this paper. If examined from another theory, there may have been more optimism and more trust. There are, no doubt, papers (and opinions) that examine the issue from other theories and different frameworks, that can help contribute to a more rounded viewpoint. There are also, papers (one written by my colleague) from the Jordanian perspective that will be of use to those who wish to better understand how the Jordanian’s view this issue. While this author firmly believes in the viability and truth of Neorealism, she also recognizes that only by assessing all viewpoints and theories, and understanding that there will always be points of contention between theories and between states, can we move forward on the issue.


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Shirin Lotfi

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I write about the Law, Politics, and Foreign Policy of current and emerging Technology.