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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THE world is in a terrible mess. And that’s an understatement.

The recent mess originated or worsened with military actions, mostly by Western powers, against a growing number of countries, ostensibly to protect the citizens of these countries from their own dictatorial governments.

But the military actions and their aftermath led to great suffering in the targeted countries. With the dictator gone and the state system in collapse, various political and sectarian forces have jumped in to fill the power vacuum, fighting one another, often committing atrocities, and with those controlling territories often behaving more brutally than the overthrown tyrants.

Such has been the fate of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, among others. The reasons given for intervention are always noble (to protect helpless citizens, to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, etc). The real reasons appear to be rather different: to achieve regime change, and further the self-interests of the intervening countries.

These issues have been discussed in Perilous Interventions, by an eminent diplomat, Hardeep Singh Puri, who had a ringside seat as permanent representative to the United Nations when India was in the Security Council in 2011 and 2012.

He also twice chaired the council when it was embroiled in the high drama of major powers battling over whether and how to intervene in Libya and Syria.

The author hopes to draw attention to how past interventions have gone disastrously wrong – and the syndrome of turning away from the scene of intervention once the vested interests of the intervening nations have been achieved.

The Security Council is the UN’s most powerful body, yet it operates in secrecy. It is the only body that can authorise countries to legitimately wage war, except for self-defence.

The use of force has invariably had unintended and mostly disastrous consequences, says Puri. At the heart of this are “perilous interventions” – taking decisions with far-reaching consequences without thinking through their consequences, and the urge to intervene through the use of force, often to achieve “regime change”, even when this is not the stated objective.

Policymakers do not prepare for preventing developmental, social, ecological and health loss and damage. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed. Millions have been internally displaced and sectarian attacks have caused 100 deaths a day in Iraq alone.

It was clear years ago that military intervention and the arming of rebels would create unprecedented chaos and result in the unravelling of countries, says Puri.

Many wise thinkers advocated caution and were ignored.

Where regime change has been effected, weak governments have been held hostage by sub-regional or sectarian militias and violent extremists and terrorists. The state and its institutions have broken down, replaced by a reign of terror. Development has been set back at least 20 years.

Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi pleaded with the West to avoid military intervention, warning that al-Qaeda was gaining ground. His warning was ignored and soon after he was overthrown, most of Libya was conquered by groups linked to al-Qaeda.

The book describes the dynamics in the Security Council. What was defined in the resolutions authorising the use of force and how they were finally implemented were distorted in intent and practice, says Puri.

The book contains several propo­sals. First, there is at the very least a need for the international community to reassess the way it deals with such countries and situations in the future.

The UN and Security Council should not be used to give legitimacy to parochial interests and unilateral military actions. Instead, there is the need to counter the real enemies – violent extremism and terrorism – in a holistic way.

Puri dwells at some length on the doctrine of responsibility to protect (R2P), which helped open the road for UN-authorised interventions.

This doctrine, adopted in 2005 by the UN, arose from guilt that the UN did not act to prevent the mass atrocities in Rwanda and Srebrenica in the mid-1990s.

According to the R2P, if the Security Council believes there is reasonable evidence that mass atrocities are likely to occur, it can authorise intervention in the country.

Most developing countries had fears the R2P doctrine would provide an opening for reordering of societies from outside using military force, and these fears seem now to have been justified.

Puri advocates that R2P be accompanied by the principle of Responsibility while Protecting (RwP). This may include a mechanism to review implementation of the Council mandate, strict reporting requirement from member states implementing the mandate, and a commission of inquiry to investigate violations.

This book is most timely as there are recent signs that the lessons Puri is putting forward have not been learnt, as seen in the aggressive stance by the US President against North Korea, Iran and Venezuela.

Someone should give Donald Trump Perilous Interventions, or a two-page summary.

It may save a lot of lives – and even the world.

(The article was published on on October 9, 2017)

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