We meet in the midst of several wonying interlocking economic and political developments. To Say that the “Arab Spring” has placed existing governance structures in that region under some stress would be an understatement. The initial hope and excitement generated by the Arab Spring is now giving way to analyses that are more realistic, factoring in both the country specific peculiarities and, indeed, anxiety and uncertainty that the successor political dispensations will take longer to evolve and may resonate with a far higher degrees of radicalisation than initially envisaged.
We also meet in the midst of reports that economic growth in many parts of the world is under pressure. The country where the IISS is headquartered is going through the longest depression since at least the end of the first world war. An unprecedented instability has gripped the international economic and financial order. The old ideas of how economic prosperity can be created are not equal to challenges posed by the management of a borderless economy. A meeting of Nobel Laureates honoured for their work in the dismal science, some two weeks ago, could come up with very little insight into the causation of the current global financial and economic crisis. To the extent that they made pronouncements, these would have added little or no additional value to the text book of an undergraduate student of economics.
We are thus faced with complex politico-economic challenges. The political upheaval and the sense of alienation that characterises the Arab Spring has economic roots. This is not to suggest that the explanation for what constitutes the Arab Spring lies largely, let alone entirely, in causation that is economic in nature. It is, however, not entirely coincidental that this upheaval is taking place as the global economic crisis is in full flow.
I propose to participate in today’s discussion from the perspective of India’s presence in the Security Council for the last eight months. I avail of your invitation, however, as India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations which gives me the privilege and honour to participate in the work of the Security Council not as the Chair of the Counter Terrorism Committee which I have the privilege of chairing since January this year. The views I express will be in my personal capacity.
The response of the Security Council to these challenges has been based on gross simplifications. The knee-jerk reaction is to put forward boiler-plate Resolutions and Statements. This often ignores the ground rule that each of the situations that have occupied the global agenda -Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain -is sui generis.
While the Security Council has the authority to intervene, that authority is limited to situations that pose a threat to international peace and security. The current composition of the Security Council has led to a situation where the interpretation of what constitutes a threat to international peace and security borders on the promiscuous. Add to that a high degree of political subjectivity and one gets a reasonably good idea as to why some situations come up for the Security Council’s attention and others do not.
The main premise on which the intervention in Libya has been based is the threat to civilians. We are in a sense, operating in the shadow of Rwanda and Srebrenica and the fear of mass-killings. Are these assumptions justified? Resolution 1970 was unanimously approved, by the Council with relative ease. Clearly, there was no support for Gaddafi within the Council let alone any desire to hold a brief for his onslaught against his own civilian population.
No one -and India least of all –disputes the validity of the concept of the Responsibility to Protect. The concept itself arose from the ashes of Rwanda. We all agreed to it in 2005. We agree entirely with both Pillar One and Pillar Two. Who can be against that? Pillar One states that “each individual State has the responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.” And Pillar Two emphasizes the commitment of states to assist -through capacity building -other states that are willing, but weak and unable, to uphold their Pillar One responsibilities. The problem relates to the implementation of Pillar Three. The Libyan case is one instance where Pillar Three has been utilised in a manner that has led some people to believe that a disservice has been done to this concept. I am on record within the Council’s consultations to have said not once, but many times, that Libya has given Responsibility a bad name.
Before the Council dealt with Libya, it was seized of Ivory Coast. The manner in which the Council dealt with the Ivorian crisis is an example of how interventions can be crafted to the satisfaction of the international community. Two clarifications are called for. One, Ivory Coast constituted a sui generis case in that the UN had a specific mandate for the elections there, unlike the other twenty elections in Africa this year. President Gbagbo lost the second round of elections in December 2010. The results were certified by the United Nations. President Gbagbo, however, refused to accept the results. The UN, AU and several members of the international community undertook intensive negotiations and made a number of proposals which were rejected by President Gbagbo. Meanwhile, his forces and militia started attacking civilians. There was unanimity that Laurent Gbagbo’s actions and his heavy weapons constituted a threat to civilians. An intervention was then mandated and executed by United Nations peacekeepers in an offensive role. Clarification number two. The negotiations resulting in Resolution 1975, particularly para 6 thereof was an extremely difficult process. The one time exception to give UN peace keepers that offensive role will continue to be questioned by purists for years to come.
This successful intervention emboldened some countries to make a prejudgment that the situation in Libya needed to be tackled with the use of force. An initial decision was taken under Resolution 1970 to refer the Gaddafi regime to the ICC.
Our advice that the approach should be gradual and calibrated and that ICC referral should ‘be held as a threat to induce the Gaddafi regime to cooperate with the international community was not accepted. Opposition forces were then supplied with arms and when the security forces retaliated, Resolution 1973 was adopted. The spectre of large-scale bloodshed in Benghazi was used to push this resolution through. When my Lebanese colleague used the term ‘Rivers of blood’ to describe what would happen if the Council did not act and Gaddafi attacked Benghazi, this plea on behalf of the Arab League found resonance with ten of the Council’s 15members. I reminded the Council that the term had first been used by the Member of Parliament for Wolverhampton South West, Enoch Powell in the late ’60s. Mr. Powell was playing on the fears of his local white constituents to drum up hysteria against immigration from the coloured parts of the Commonwealth.
The provisions of Resolution 1973 that called for ceasefire and political process were ignored. The Council was faced with the spectacle that it could not act on its own resolution which called for a ceasefire. It was obvious that the entire focus of the intervention was regime change. Violations of the arms embargo took place with the rebels being anned. ‘Protection of Civilians’ or R2P, the ostensible justification, degenerated with both sides committing atrocities. The five months of military operations in Libya have caused widespread deaths and destruction. International intervention played into tribal conflicts and the situation degenerated into a civil war dong tribal lines. NATO bombing was required to tilt the balance in favour of the Benghazi group. The prognosis for the future: maybe low-intensity chaos.
The recent revelations about extra-legal renditions and cooperation between intelligence agencies have made the debate around the motives murkier. It appears that a regime with which several countries had a comfortable working relationship suddenly becarne inconvenient. Moreover, a blind eye was turned to similar situations in other nations where it was not convenient or expedient to intervene.
Let us turn to Syria. We are agreed that violence needs to stop. We are also agreed that reform must take place. We are, however, not all on the same page to repeating the experience of Libya in a region where a careful geo-political arrangement has been constructed. Any unravelling of this situation is likely to have unpredictable consequences.
Caution is the need of the hour. Instead, a number of countries seem intent on travelling down the Libyan road rather than relying on diplomacy and mediation. There has been no cal1 on the opposition to engage with the government. There has been no expression of concern at use of violence by the opposition forces. These do not augur well.
It appears that the law of force rather than the force of law remains the norm in international politics. In fact, there seems to be an increased reliance on the use of force. Force is being used too frequently and too quickly.
There are many limitations to the use of force. Any respite that coercion brings about in the absence of a political settlement is likely to be short-lived. International efforts to mediate solutions may suffer due to premature use of force.
The reality of collateral damage can have unpredictable effects on any political processes. The demonstration of the lack of patience in persisting with peaceful efforts is also likely to play into the hands of those who want the conflict to persist. These efforts have had the regrettable consequence of prolonging some of these conflicts.
The use of force cannot be the primary reaction to conflicts. There is a clear need to look beyond coercive solutions.
Decisions to use force rather than persist with mediation should be free of political motives. The reputation of the United Nations for impartiality and fairness should be enhanced by such a decision and not weakened.
It is also important to remember that conflict resolution takes time and commitment. It requires a clear understanding of the nature and context of the conflict and its sources. It requires the ability to discern realistic solutions. It requires involvement of various stakeholders affected by conflict. It needs to incorporate the forces for stability and progress in a particular situation. India’s experience of creating a successful democracy and a modern, dynamic nation on the foundation of the greatest diversity in any nation leads us to stress the particular importance of this process of inclusiveness. We were particularly fortunate that our revolution that resulted in India’s freedom was led by a pacifist.
India, as a responsible member of the international community with one of the most liberal and forward looking constitutions and legal frameworks in the world, cannot oppose a framework that will attempt to prevent a Rwanda or the anarchy of a Yugoslav breakdown happening in future. History indicates that the conscience of the international community appears to awake selectively. The massacres that took place in Rwanda did not take place because of the absence of legal basis for intervention. The Convention on the Prevention of Genocide grants “universal jurisdiction” in the case of genocide. Non-intervention occurred because of the absence of strategic interest on the part of members of the Security Council.
Seen from Our perspective, the Security Council stands open to similar charges today. It appears to intervene selectively on the basis of political expediency and strategic opportunism rather than genuine humanitarian need. We agree that democracy and human rights need to be supported. This cannot however be done selectively. This selective application of the “rules” in fact weakens the uniform application of norms that creates just, and therefore enduring, legal regimes.