The Impact of National Patterns on Foreign Policy in Syria and Jordan

Term Paper 2010 19 Pages

Politics - Political Systems - General and Comparisons



1. Introduction

2. The Impact of Subset National Patterns on Syria's and Jordan's Contemporary Foreign Policy
2.1 The Political System
2.1.1 Categorization of Political Systems in the Middle East
2.1.2 Syria
2.1.3 Jordan
2.2 The Economy
2.2.1 Economic Features of the Middle East
2.2.2 Syria
2.2.3 Jordan
2.3 The (Civil) Society
2.3.1 Syria
2.3.2 Jordan

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliography

1. Introduction

The foreign policy of many states in the Middle East recently shows a tendency towards Western orientation. Since the monarchies of the region, like the Gulf monarchies or Jordan, have more in common with Western states than with radical Arab states, their foreign policy relations have always been more Western-orientated than those of other states in the Middle East (Milton-Edwards/Hinchcliffe 2009: 107). However, even some of the non-monarchical states, such as Syria, now pursue a policy of openness to the rest of the world. This leads to a similar Western-orientation in Syria and Jordan. Nevertheless, Syria is a presidential republic and Jordan a monarchy. The states of Syria and Jordan share some characteristics, especially on the economical level, but they also differ in many others, for instance in the structure of the political system. A more significant distinction is the outcome those national characteristics produce at the foreign policy level.

During the Cold War, the Syrian foreign policy favored the Soviet Union; both countries had maintained strong ties with each other, primarily because of the socialist character of the Syrian state and the therein lying common interests with the Soviet Union. Syria received most of the Soviet Union's military aid during the 1980's (Goodarzi 2009: 2f). With the breakdown of the Soviet Union, Syria's trade shifted significantly towards the West (Hinnebusch 2003: 204). The collapse of the East Bloc did not only alter the Syrian exports, but also its foreign policy. Now, Syria had to balance between its own national and Arab interests. Additionally, it had to meet Western expectations. Ultimately, Syria needed a new protection against U.S. policies (Ibid.: 200-204).

Jordanian foreign policy had always been Western-orientated, and it still is. As it is a monarchy, it has, like the Gulf monarchies, more in common with the Western states than with radical Arab states (Milton-Edwards/Hinchcliffe 2009: 107). In fact,

“the Jordanian establishment has always been more Western-leaning than its people, a tendency based on a realisation that the survival of the state depended on an ability to survive during an era in which superpower rivalry in the Middle East was an inescapable condition and when economic independence was out of the question.” (Ibid.: 117)

The Jordanian ruling family, the Hashemites, apparently knew that they needed foreign aid and support to survive. This has not changed, and the fact that the current king, King Abdullah II, tried to balance between Western and Arab interests is only due to the critical economic situation. His attitude reflects an effort not to alienate its own people as well as the Arab world as a whole. This resulted in the strengthening of relations with major extra-regional actors (such as the U.S. and the EU), regional states (especially the Gulf monarchies) while also maintaining the unpopular peace treaty with Israel (cf. Ryan 2004: 44).

Beneath those foreign policy decisions lie many national patterns that are, to some extent, responsible for the characteristics of the Syrian and Jordanian foreign policy. In the following, I will analyze subset national patterns of both states with regard to their impact on the respective contemporary foreign policy and compare them with one another by a synchronous comparison. Syria and Jordan may today share a tendency towards a Western-orientated foreign policy, but it is not an identical one. There still remain differences that are caused by the disparities in national patterns, such as the political system, the economy, and the (civil) society. By analyzing those patterns for each of the two countries, I will demonstrate to what extent they influence national foreign policy. Afterward, I will compare the degree of influence in both countries with one another to explain, why the Syrian and Jordanian foreign policy differ in some aspects and why they are alike in others.

2. The Impact of Subset National Patterns on Syria's and Jordan's Contemporary Foreign Policy

2.1 The Political System

2.1.1 Categorization of Political Systems in the Middle East

There are many different ways to categorize the political systems of the Middle East states. The approach of Oliver Schlumberger, which I chose for this paper, consists of a dichotomous categorization into bureaucratic-authoritarian and traditional-authoritarian systems. Leaders of bureaucratic-authoritarian systems usually base their legitimacy on an explicit political ideology. Those states have experienced social ruptures leading to a systemic transition that in turn caused the creation of presidential republics with “state classes” or “state bourgeoisies” (Schlumberger 2002: 8). The legitimacy of traditional authoritarian systems, in contrast, is based on religious arguments instead of ideologies, and decision-making is primarily determined by primordial influence patterns. Moreover, traditional authoritarian systems traditionally orient their foreign policies towards Western states (Ibid.: 7).

2.1.2 Syria

Syria is a neo-patrimonial, personalized, highly centralized presidential republic (Perthes 2004: 87f) that emerged from a military coup by the Ba'th party in 1963 (Sottimano/Selvik 2009: 7). According to Schlumberger's categorization, Syria is a bureaucratic-authoritarian system (Schlumberger 2002: 10, figure 1). Like all neo-patrimonial systems, the Syrian regime consists of three circles: the inner circle, or core elite, the second circle and the third, or outer, circle. In the inner circle, domestic and foreign policy decisions are made and the members owe their position and influence to the president. The today's inner circle is formed by the President, his Vice president, the Prime minister, the foreign minister, the defense minister, the chief of the military intelligence, the deputy general-secretary of the Ba'th party leadership, the interior minister, the head of the General Intelligence, and the head of the General Intelligence domestic affairs department. The second circle consists of other cabinet members and advisors to the president, as well as leading military and security officers. Although they make no strategic decisions, they are still influential. The third circle are the less influential elite members with indirect influence over decisions, agenda setting or discourse, namely assistant ministers, provincial governors, heads of the Ba'th party's provincial branches and some high functionaries directly appointed by the president (cf. Perthes 2004: 90f).

The Parliament contains 250 seats, of which 167 are reserved for the NPF, the National Progressive Front. The NPF is the head organization unifying the six legal opposition parties and the Ba'th party. Of these 167 seats, 135 are in turn reserved for the Ba'th party (Becker 2006: 77f). Since 1990, the rest of the seats are open to independent candidates, that is candidates who do not run on lists of the Ba'th party or the NPF, and those seats are open for competition. The main purpose behind that was to incorporate unrepresented groups, especially the business community, whose expertise and economic contribution are highly needed, into official state structures (Perthes 2004: 93). Thus, the parliament integrates new social groups and their expertise into power (Becker 2006: 77f), and rubber-stamps decisions for the regime (Perthes 2004: 93).

Some elite members owe their position to the late president. Thus, Bashar al-Asad's presidency is reduced by other centers of power, that is to say the party, the cabinet, the army high command and the security forces, which were, when Bashar came to power, all dominated by his father's old guard. Therefore, Bashar had to consult them and share power with them (Hinnebusch 2003: 197). Moreover, he needed their experience and support to consolidate his power. Still, the regime elite was in dire need of a renewal to implement Bashar's reform agenda and to provide him with a loyal base. By 2003, Bashar had become the most important decision maker in the state after restructuring the elite. But as some old guard members remain part of the elite, to whom Bashar owes his position, he cannot make all important decisions alone, let alone to his favor (cf. Perthes 2004: 87, 89). Nevertheless, in contrast to the old elite, he enjoys broad popularity. Besides, he has successfully replaced parts of the old guard by staffing important positions of the regime elite with trusted people (Ibid.: 89).

The fact that Asad has to rely on the members of the inner circle concerning important strategic decisions, because he could not replace all by young and loyal reformers, leads to decisions the president does not favor. This becomes very clear if one considers Syria's relations with the EU: Negotiations on an association agreement in the context of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership that had already begun in 1998 tended to improve access for Syrian products on the EU market, and to force Syria to abolish tariff barriers on EU imports. In return, Syria should receive European financial and technological aid for structural adjustment. But there existed different views within the inner circle, where this policy would ultimately be decided. The majority of the regime elite regarded the human rights and democracy clauses of the agreement as an interference in their domestic affairs (cf. Perthes 2004: 101). Although the president and some others wanted to attend the Euro-Mediterranean conference in 2000, in order to avoid offending France and the EU, Asad had to accommodate the majority view that Syria should not attend any meeting where Israel would be also an attendant (Ibid.: 89). So, some years after Bashar's succession, foreign policy still remained the responsibility of a group of people who had been appointed by the late president, namely the Vice president, the foreign minister, and some veteran diplomats (Ibid.: 108). But today, Bashar al-Asad has gradually imposed his will on the remaining old guard politicians, especially by replacing the Vice president and the foreign minister with younger technocrats (Sottimano/Selvik 2009: 46).

All this shows that the president's will and his preferred foreign policy strategy are important elements in foreign policy-making, but the Syrian political system determines nevertheless, to some extent, the outcome. As long as there remain members of the old guard, Asad will not be able to define Syria's foreign policy on his own.



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University of Tubingen – Institut für Politikwissenschaft
impact national patterns foreign policy syria jordan



Title: The Impact of National Patterns on Foreign Policy in Syria and Jordan