Policy Alert: Rising Powers React to U.S. Fight against Islamic State

Policy Alert: Rising Powers React to U.S. Fight against Islamic State

US airstrikes in SyriaAs President Barack Obama unveiled his plan to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, U.S. military and its Arab allies yesterday launched airstrikes against the extremist group in Syria. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, Russia, India, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil on the ongoing fight against IS.


Commentary in China was divided: some advocated for China’s involvement in the Middle East due to economic considerations and China’s status as a global power, while others cautioned against aligning with the United States.

  • Li Xiaoshian, a senior researcher on Middle East Studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, warned that “if China does not join the endeavor to defeat the IS, it might suffer in the reconstructionprocess and its interests might lack protection.” However, Li expressed concern that the current alliance is “dominated by the United States and its Western allies.”
  • Noting that “China is the largest importer of Iraqi oil,” Jin Baisong, deputy director of the Department of Chinese Trade Studies at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation stated, “China needs to take preemptive measures to protect its economic interests in the region.” Jin added that the international community should “take steps to guarantee that oil production in Iraq continues smoothly.”
  • Han Dongping, a guest professor at Hebei University disagreed with others, asserting, “It is best to leave the IS problem for the people of Middle East to deal with. Other countries’ involvement in the Middle East will only complicate the situation further and make things worse.”
  • Zhao Jinglun, a columnist for China.org, stated that Obama has committed the United States to “a ‘pivot’ to Asia, a muscular presence in Europe and a new battle against Islamic extremists…so the common impression that the United States is in an era of retrenchmentmay not be true after all.”
  • “Obama is supposed to have offered a plan for degrading and ultimately destroying IS. But what he has presented looks like a plan for an open-ended war without well-defined conditions for victory,” said Zhao Jinglun in another China.org editorial.


Russia viewed the U.S. airstrikes on ISIS as a violation of sovereignty.

  • U.S. airstrikes on Islamic State militants in Syria violate Syria’s sovereignty and are destabilizing to the region, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday. “Attempts to pursue own geopolitical goals through violating the sovereignty of other states only escalates tensions and aggravates the situation even further,” the statement read. “Moscow has repeatedly warned that those who initiate one-sided military scenarios bear full international legal responsibility for the consequences.”
  • President Vladimir Putin discussed with his Security Council on Monday potential cooperation with other countries on fighting against IS, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
  • If the United States was serious about tackling ISIS in Syria and Iraq, it would be seeking an alliance between both governments, along with the Iranians, in order to do so. Instead, the most powerful nation on earth is behaving like a drunken giant staggering around a china shop causing mayhem as he goes,” criticized an op-ed in the Russia Times.


Indian commentators voiced skepticism toward President Obama’s war plan against IS.

  • The fight against IS marks the “return” of the U.S. to the Middle East, says D. Suba Chandran, Director at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi. Bridging the “trust deficit” in the region regarding America’s intervention approach, however, will be the “biggest challenge” to the strategy against the extremist group.
  • Rajendra Abhyankar, a former Indian ambassador to Syria and Turkey, argued that India “should stay out” of the fight against IS. He bashed the U.S.-led military campaign as “an invasion of a sovereign country,” for it did not seek any coordination with the Syrian government and bypassed the U.N. Security Council.
  • He also expressed concern that the military action “will exacerbate the dangerous situation in the Middle East rather than provide a resolution to the crisis…It is not possible to ‘degrade and ultimately destroy’ a stream of thought by military means; indeed, it might be granted a fresh lease of life.”
  • The deep root of the problem is the “deep-seated sectarian and regional power rivalries” in the Middle East, claimed Sreeram Sundar Chaulia, Dean at the Jindal School of International Affairs. “IS could gradually wither after a coordinated assault, but as long as the sectarian zealotry it represents thrives via the patronage of Arab rulers, new monsters will periodically pop up and embroil the region in permanent crisis.”


The Japanese government pledged $25.5 million in humanitarian aid for refugees from IS, but denied any military support. Japanese newspapers supported this action.

  • “While Japan cannot make military contributions, it will provide humanitarian aid and implement measures against terrorism,” Kentaro Sonoura, a parliamentary vice foreign minister, said at a U.N. Security Council meeting in New York last week.
  • The Yomiuri Shimbun warned that the United States and its allies “must be prepared for a long battle,” urging the Japanese government to “actively provide financial and other support to the Middle East, a region on which the nation depends for much of its energy sources.”
  • The Sankei Shimbun agreed, calling for U.S. greater leadership on and Japan’s humanitarian assistance for what it called the “new war on terror.”
  • “The world…is responding viscerally and emotionally” to IS’ savagery, cautioned The Japan Times, arguing for nonmilitary approaches such as tighter border control to prevent sympathizers from joining the fight, religious leaders’ disavowing the extremist group, and a halt of regional governments’ patronage.


The Korean government remained open to providing additional humanitarian support while remaining silent on any military involvement.

  • The government will “act within the scope of what is possible” in joining the fight against IS said Blue House Office of National Security chief Kim Kwan-jin. “I believe it could be something within the scope of humanitarian aid.”
  • “As long as the U.S. is only carrying out air strikes, there wouldn’t be any kind of military assistance for the South Korean government to provide,” said a diplomatic source in Washington D.C.


Until Tuesday, Brazil had said little officially about the situation with ISIS in Iraq in Syria, before President Dilma Rousseff spoke at the United Nations.

  • President Rousseff criticized the U.S. strikes against ISIS in Syria during a speech at the UN Climate Change Summit in New York on Tuesday. She argued that the attacks could prove more destabilizing in the long term and declared that Brazil repudiates aggressions by both sides and used the opportunity to call for a more representative Security Council.
  • In a blog post for Estadão, international politics commentator Guga Chacra criticized the willingness of Brazilians to support the U.S. sacrificing its money and soldiers in conflicts where they wouldn’t tolerate Brazilian casualties or spending, commenting that “it’s simple when it’s Americans are the ones who pay the taxes.”