The term “Iatrogenesis” comes from a Greek word that means “brought forth by a healer”. It has a negative connotation that entails the potentially damaging effects of misguided medical intervention. This could be the reason why the primary consideration for the Hippocratic Oath is “primum non nocere” which translates to first do no harm. For physicians, this oath is a guiding principle that necessitates the patients’ well-being as the healer’s primary consideration regardless of the interventions or procedures involved.

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Perilous Interventions: The Security Coundil & The Politics of Chaos, a Harper Collins publication is the outcome of an insider’s account, that of Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s representative of the UN Security Council from 2009 till 2013.

Hardeep Singh Puri was in Udaipur today evening as part of a book signing event under the Kalam series,  a Padma Khaitan Foundation event, organized by Udaipur’s Cultural Rendezvous at Radisson Blu.

Candid as ever, Ambassador Puri overwhelmed the elite gathering with his crisp elocution and flamboyant interpretation of decision making at the highest levels of global politics.

Puri, in his tete a tete with the audience, spoke on global situations prevalent today, the decisions of super power institutions leading to atrocities in the Middle East – Libya, Syria, Yemen.

The role played by superpowers in provoking terrorism through organizations like the Islamic State in Middle East,; Russia’s interventions in Crimea, Ukraine right down to India’s intervention to affairs in Sri Lanka were adeptly described by Puri, with solid examples and explanations on how the clock moved.

In the question session, Hardeep Singh Puri was asked very specific questions relating to India’s policy shift with Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and he answered with his insightful understanding of the political influences at that time and now.

Puri said that Rajiv Gandhi was a witness to the building of the Tamil rebels against the Sri Lankan Sinhalese, by his mother, the former Prime Minister of India.  Tamil rebellion fueling was India’s intervention in Sri Lankan matters – which was in chaos at that time and India hoped to benefit by this intervention, is what the then Prime Minister Indira thought.  This very own Tamil terrorism resulted in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, although he was keen on disintegrating the rebellion.

Earlier, Congress had created Bhindranwale to control the Akali Dal in Punjab, but the same force resulted in the assassination of Indira Gandhi.

“America is not our friend – this is our misunderstanding.  A country which supported the rise if Islamic State to control Iraq, supported Taliban to oust Russia from Afghanistan and many other interventions in other countries for their benefit – both commercial and political, cannot be anyone friend.  America will behave the way Trump behaves – changing stance every day”, argued Puri.

On Pakistan, Puri was very bitter and confirmed that though the surgical strike was successful and the right thing to do, India must not continue with its soft stand and policy on Pakistan needs to take a radical shift from that of the last 4 decades.  Pakistan has taken a setback from the surgical strike, but it will retaliate and we must be ready for that – a significant policy shift is warranted, he said.

Journalism in the modern world is rooted in commercial and political will – said Puri, hitting out at media.  Though, not generalising the perspective, Puri said that during the American elections, each media except Fox was biased towards Clinton.  Pollsters were proven wrong by the people.  The voters expressed one stance and went ahead with the other, keeping media playing the trumpet in another direction.

On Indian elections held in 2014, Puri, who is a member of the BJP, had then asked on how the BJP would win with such limited percentage voting in its favor, to which Arun Jaitley had replied – “It is not the arithmetic that will result in the BJP’s victory, it is the Chemistry – the people will chose a new leader, not because he or she is the best, but because the competition is ineffective” – this is what happened in India in 2014 and now in US in 2016.

On demonetization, Puri was clear in his thoughts, calling it a very audacious and ambitious step, and a much needed radical decision, in the face of opposition from every quarter.  He said that he might have answered differently if his analysis of the decision was questioned a week earlier, but now, he is sure that this step as a solid action against black money and terrorist funding and will result in benefits for the country’s economy and the common man.  He said that this policy decision will be followed by many other beneficial decisions, in times to come, and the current transactional chaos should not be taken in isolation.

Hardeep Singh Puri ended the session by answering questions by the media and signing his book Perilious Interventions for the audience who thoroughly enjoyed the interaction.


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Hardeep Singh Puri’s conclusions suggest that careful planning can help international actors avoid disastrous unintended, but not entirely unpredictable consequences. This is a valuable guidance for not only policymakers but business leaders and investors as well.

Outside of the P5, the 15 seats on the UN Security Council rotate for two-year staggered terms. India, with the world’s second largest population, ended its most recent rotation in 2013, its seventh since 1950. During this time, India’s delegation was led by Hardeep Singh Puri. His new critique of the United Nations Security Council delivers insight into many of the global challenges the international community is confronted with today.

As Ambassador Puri reports, the Arab Spring of 2011 brought hope to the many on the Council. However, the months to follow would see the start of the Syrian civil war, the overthrow of Gaddafi, and the destabilization of Yemen. Each of these situations forms core chapters of Perilous Interventions: The Security Council and the Politics of Chaos, his engaging memoir of the 2011 to 2013 period during which India sat on the Security Council. Chapters on Crimea and Sri Lanka are also included, as well as two conceptually focused ones on the migration crisis and the doctrine of the responsibility to protect. Introductory chapters on the troubled consequences of interventions in recent decades and an overview of the Arab Spring round out the book’s contents.

The general message of the book is clear: interventions are hard work, they often have significant unintended consequences, and most of the time the global community seem to get stuck in interventions where it should stay out (and stays out of situations it should enter). For Ambassador Puri, two questions follow, each of which is laid out early in the book: Why do countries seem to pursue policies counter to their interests? Why do countries, not just rich one, interfere in the affairs of other regimes?

The need for many of these interventions can be attributed to good intentions. While states clearly abuse conventions of international law, one need not assume nefarious motives to explain the occurrence of perilous interventions. He suggests that in some ways, our best motives can lead us astray. For example, three pillars support the responsibility to protect that is at the core of collective international security. First, states have a duty to protect populations from horrors of the 20th century like genocide, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing. Second, states are responsible for giving others assistance for building capacity to support economic and social development. Finally, when harms occur, states are obliged to swift and timely action. The desire for quick action is often a particular problem – actions that proceed a careful framework can often lead to unintended consequences. At other times, action is fettered by carefully crafted triggers, which can initiate action only when a specific state of affairs is achieved. Unfortunately, these triggers seem to be pulled without comprehensive and judicious analysis of their consequences.

While the reader never gets an entirely satisfactory answer to the questions set forth at the outset, they do get some insight into where plans can go astray. The long chapters on the Arab Spring and the collapse of the Gaddafi regime are particularly rich. The other, shorter chapters also each show how interventions are often very different, and they all point to several lessons.

History is often less of a guide than the reader might think. Although there are often superficial similarities between present and past events, historical parallels can obscure unique and important issues that must be handled with care. When speed of action is prioritized, scenario planning is cut short and secondary or tertiary effects are not considered. The events have unintended consequences, and without careful contingency planning, events can easily get out of hand.

The upshot seems to be guidance towards a cautious approach that seeks a pause in action to think through unintended consequences. This guidance is for members of the UN Security Council, but given the start of 2017, it doesn’t look like many global actors are taking these lessons seriously. For example, the current US administration’s policy on Syria or North Korea is less than obvious, suggesting to some that current action and rhetoric is not part of a part of a larger strategy. For Ambassador Puri the risk is that interventions such as these will lead to perilous interventions.

Although the exact context may be different, the lessons for political actors work just as well for investors and business leaders. The last six months have given good reason for investors to update their contingency plans, but they should be updated to consider secondary or tertiary effects. Hasty market entries or retreats, product roll outs or portfolio pruning can all fall prey to the consequences associated with perilous interventions.  Many of these risks can be mitigated in the same way. If he were addressing this audience, the Ambassador might well conclude by guiding readers to slow down, scenario plan, act carefully and have a contingency plans in place.

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