The Bundeswehr is leaving. Photo by JouWatch via flickr.com. CC BY-SA 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Moving the German Anti-IS Troops from Turkey to Jordan: A Jump from the Frying Pan into the Fire?

In response to Turkey’s decision to block visits of German parliamentarians, Bundeswehr troops are about to pull out from the Turkish air base in Incirlik in July. But will Jordan be a more reliable host?

After months of internal discussions and negotiations with their Turkish counterparts, the German government decided on June 7, 2017 to move their anti-Islamic State (IS) military staff and equipment (about 250 troops, six tornado jets and one aerial refuelling tanker aircraft) from the Incirlik Air Base in southeast Turkey to the Muwaffaq Salti Air Base in Azraq, Jordan.

The main reason behind this decision was Turkey’s constant refusal of visits by German parliamentarians to the troops in Incirlik, a conditio sine qua non for the German Bundeswehr which is understood as a parliamentary army. Indeed, the German parliament had repeatedly discussed the low level of cooperation from the Turkish side – a NATO partner –, and approved the government’s decision on June 21, 2017 with a broad majority.

However, there is more at stake than just the rejection of German parliamentarians in Turkey. Since the suppression of the Gezi protests in Istanbul 2013, the Turkish government has reduced fundamental principles of democracy, particularly since the failed putsch attempt on July 15/16, 2016. Few weeks before, the German parliament had adopted its Armenia resolution, calling the Ottoman massacre against Armenians in 1915 a “genocide”. While the German government never aligned with this resolution, the Turkish government vehemently protested against it. This resulted in increasingly offensive accusations against German politicians, suggesting they were openly supporting terrorists (read: Kurds) and acting like “Nazis.”

At snail’s pace towards democracy

However, critics claim that Jordan might not be a suitable partner for the Germans either, as apparently democratic standards are not better than in Turkey, and furthermore Jordan is not a NATO member. This notwithstanding, Jordan has improved its credentials over the recent years to some extent. In the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index (BTI), the kingdom improved its overall score for political transformation from 3.92 (BTI 2012) to 4.37 in the upcoming BTI 2018, scheduled to be published in early 2018. The country demonstrated progress, albeit excoriatingly slow, in its movement towards a more representational (democratic) system of government. For instance, the most recent parliamentary elections, conducted in September 2016 and held according an improved electoral system, were monitored by an EU led delegation of international observers, whose final report praised Jordan’s management of the process. Already in 2011, a constitutional court had been established – for the first time in the country’s history – in order to ensure that parliamentary legislation is congruent with the rights and spirit of the constitution. Yet individual citizens are unable to take claims to this court. Only the government, members of parliament and senators can do so.

At the same time, a series of constitutional amendments made in 2014 and 2016 reduce parliamentary oversight over the executive, and in some respects, weaken the role of the cabinet within the executive. The king can now appoint judges of the constitutional court, the chief justice, the heads of the gendarmerie, joint chiefs of staff, and heads of the General Intelligence Directorate (“Mukhabarat”) without any cabinet consultation or ministerial countersignature.

So, after all: is Jordan a better partner for Germany’s army than Turkey? In the upcoming BTI 2018, Jordan will still be ranked as less democratic than Turkey, despite the major losses that Turkey suffered under increasingly authoritarian Erdogan. Yet, Jordan now scores higher in crucial indicators such as association and assembly rights, independent judiciary and civil rights.

New Anti-Terrorism Law endangers opponents

There remain some legitimate concerns however regarding the institutional balance between preserving civil rights and Jordan’s need to combat extremism and terrorism. 2014 changes to the 2006 Anti-Terrorism Law highlight this. In the 2006 version, an act of terrorism was defined as “any deliberate action committed by any means, leading to killing or physically hurting any person, or causing damages to public or private property.” Contrastingly, the 2014 rendition removes reference to murder as a consequence of action, defining terrorism as “any deliberate act or abstention of an act, or threat of an act, regardless of its causes, uses, or means committed to carry out a criminal act collectively or individually that could jeopardize the safety and security of society.” A result is an exceedingly more nebulous definition, which facilitates the harassment and detention of political opponents, journalists and civil society activists. Charges under anti-terror legislation are under the jurisdiction of the State Security Court (SSC), whose decisions are above appeal. Thus a broad definition of terrorism can create imbalances between the legitimate need to defend society against terrorism on the one hand, and the equally legitimate desire on the part of Jordan to continue along its political reform trajectory.

However, these well-documented shortcomings notwithstanding, Jordan has overtaken Turkey by far with respect to credibility and regional cooperation. These are of course crucial aspects for the German government when considering shifting its troops to Jordan: how likely is it, that the Jordanian government will cooperate with the Germans in order to make a noisefree conduct of the operation possible? And here, prospects in Jordan are clearly better than in Turkey at present. At the same time, it must be expected that if the Jordanian government overdoes its fight against terrorism with random prosecutions of innocuous citizens, criticism from the German government will remain silent. It is simply too dependent on Jordan now in their joint fight against the IS.

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