Policy Alert: U.S. Fight against Islamic State Spurs Reactions from Rising Powers
Last month, President Barack Obama held a world anti-terrorism summit in Washington, D.C., calling on more than 60 nations to join the fight against “violent extremism.” During the summit, he reiterated his position not to call war against Islamic State (IS) as a religious one and emphasized the need to address the social origins of terrorism, such as twisted interpretations of Islam, local economic grievances, and IS propaganda. This followed a series of terrorist attacks in Paris, Sydney, Copenhagen, and Ottawa, and the White House’s request to Congress for a new war authorizationagainst the terrorist group. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, Russia, India, South Korea, and Japan on the recent development on the fight against IS.
Chinese editorials expressed dissatisfaction in the way the United States has dealt with terrorism.
- “Uncle Sam: anti-terror leader or terrorist breeder?” asked one People’s Daily headline. “Washington paid little attention to exploring the root causes of terrorism, which should be deemed intriguing, as the latest villain on its black list, the Islamic State (IS) extremist group originated not in Iran or the DPRK, both “enemies” of Washington, but in Iraq, a state ‘freed’ and ‘democratized’ by the U.S. itself.”
- “Although terrorism is growing rapidly for the moment, IS is an extremist organization with alimited appeal. Thus, there is little chance they will spread their influence across the globe, despite that their growth and threat in the Middle East will persist,” predicted Global Times reporter Li Aixin
- A Xinhua editorial criticized the inability of the U.S.- led coalition to bring an end to terrorist activity. “Not unexpectedly, the terrorist threat to international security is still increasing despite the ongoing U.S. counter-terrorism operations…This has raised serious questions about the viability of Washington’s ‘international coalition,’ which looks rather like apatchwork of assorted countries with different interests.
- “The war against Islamic State is a global fight, not simply a battle to be waged by the people of Iraq and Syria with a scattering of U.S. and Arab air support…Only through leadership and governments working together than the scourge be eliminated,” wrote the South China Morning Post. It concluded, “Those attributes have been lacking in the U.S.-led alliance.”
Russian analysts argued that IS poses as much of a threat to Russia as it does to the West, but acknowledged that Russia and the United States have different views on how to tackle the problem.
- “The Islamic State poses just as much of a threat to Russia as it does to the West,” argued Ilya Rogachev, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s department of new threats and challenges. Rogachev blamed the West for the drop-off in cooperation with Moscow.
- Leonid Isayev, senior lecturer in the department of political science at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics argued, “American policy in the Middle East lacks a systematic approach. Having not destroyed al-Qaeda in Iraq, the U.S. switched to Libya, then, having quit what it started, intervened in the Syrian conflict.”
Several articles questioned the motives of Russian citizens that have left to fight for IS:
- Alexander Bortnikov, head of Russia’s Federal Security Service estimated that as many as1,700 Russians are currently fighting in Iraq alongside Islamic State.
- Vladimir Sotnikov, research fellow at the RAS Institute of Oriental Studies, argued that “onlypreventive efforts by secret services as well as effective measures to fight youth unemployment in the North Caucasus can stem the growth in the number of Russians fighting for the IS.”
- “Laws must be tightened against destructive groups, whatever ideology they may be following, and human rights activities promoted with the aim to protect not the rights of religious minorities, but the main majority of beliefs from the influence of sects. Human rights activities must be geared to the protection of the majority, which, in contrast to the radicals, do not constitute a threat,” said Galina Khizriyeva, senior research fellow at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies.
Indian media outlets and commentators debated the nature of the IS threat and Western response to that threat.
- The Hindu argued that President Obama “deserves credits for outlining a nuanced view of the social origins of terrorism, and a more humane, long-term and inclusive approach.” But it also added that “it would be unrealistic to expect a radical shift in U.S. foreign policy,” with the recent intensification of drone attacks in Syria and Iraq.
- Regarding the controversy surrounding the labeling of IS as “violent extremism,” Claude Smadja, president of Smadja & Smadja, a strategic advisory firm, argued that “this is definitely not a war against-or a confrontation with-Islam as such, but a war against Islamic radicalism.” There are no way for the West to “come to terms with radical Islamism,” as “[these radicals’] rage towards the Western world is not caused by the actions-or lack of action-from Western societies, but by what these societies are, what they represent.”
- Political commentator Ali Khan Mahmudabad argued against the notions that “we understand IS,” and that it is “a coherent ideological group with clear theological precedents grounded in historical fact.” In its fight against the terrorist group, the world “needs to make sure that we do not mindlessly just accept their propaganda as fact and therefore contribute to their own myth-making.”
- The Hindustan Times expressed a grim view that the fight against IS “will be a long battle,” as the jihadi group “appears a far more formidable foe than the Afghan Taliban,” with its abundant financial resources and weapons, and the U.S. struggles to muster political support for more firepower both at home and abroad.
Korean commentators questioned the effectiveness of the West’s military approach to IS.
- Chung-in Moon, a political science professor at Yonsei University, argued that “direct military intervention by the West has its limits. Hasty intervention is a shortcut to rationalize the justification that IS members are jihadists who fight against 21st century crusaders. That will only empower IS, and its supporters will grow exponentially.”
- “IS has placed its roots down in wretched societies in failed countries like Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen. Therefore, eradicating IS depends on how fast those countries can be normalized and effectively exercise their public authority,” Moon added.
- He concluded, “In the end, the key is left in the hands of Arab countries and the Muslim communities there…Leaders of the Arab world and in Islam must find a way to isolate and diminish the presence of these extremist groups. They must remove IS with their own hands, as these people came from their society.”
Meanwhile, Korean media debated the country’s anti-terror law in the wake of the recent recruitment of an 18-year-old Korean man, named Kim, by the jihadist group.
- Government officials said that Kim could be subject to prosecution under the criminal law for joining IS, although a foreign affairs official admitted that “Because there is no precedent for punishing an individual joining a terrorist organization in a foreign country, there may be differences in legal interpretations.”
- The Korea Times argued that existing laws are not adequate to stop Korean nationals from joining the terrorist group, urging the government to pass “an anti-terror law [that] will allow for preventive actions such as blocking access to IS-related websites and tracing the movement of terrorists.”
- “Now that it has become apparent that IS is not such a distant threat, the government must come up with preemptive and proactive measures to deal with the group’s penetration into our country,” argued the JoongAng Ilbo. “The threat of punishment can hardly stop the violent group from reaching the nation, so the government must enact a terror prevention law before it’s too late.”
Despite the support for the global anti-terrorism efforts, the recent hostage crisis involving two Japanese journalists has raised questions about the country’s involvement in the fight against IS.
- Noting the fact that Middle Eastern countries traditionally have fostered a pro-Japanese sentiment because of its economic assistance, left-leaning Asahi Shimbun asked, “Is it that Japan’s support to the U.S.-led war against terrorism and deployment of Self-Defense Force troops to Iraq have affected the local sentiment toward Japan in a negative way?”
- Opposition lawmakers have criticized Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that his speech in Egypt announcing a $200 million aid package to Middle East countries provoked the Islamic State militants.
- The Mainichi Shimbun opined that the hostage crisis could negatively affect the Abe administration’s security policy agenda, as the Diet currently debates security bills regarding foreign deployment of Self-Defense Force and collective self-defense.
Coverage and reactions to IS in Brazil by both the media and the government were largely muted. Apart from a few isolated incidents, the government has opined very little about the situation, and the media has mainly relied on outside reporting.
- In September, President Dilma Rousseff was heavily criticized when she called for dialogue with IS during her speech at the United Nations. Rousseff was forced to defend her comments which came right when IS seemed poised to massacre thousands of Yazidis in Iraq, and led many to criticize her as naïve.
- In Brazil’s congress, one evangelical backbench senator harshly criticized Itamaraty–Brazil’s foreign ministry–during a session in February for its lack of clear position regarding IS. He likened the government’s relative silence to having an anti-democratic stance.
- Two Brazilians–both living in Europe–have been arrested while trying to travel to join IS.One has a Brazilian mother and was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison by a Belgian court. The other had been living in Spain and was caught in Bulgaria trying to cross the border into Turkey.