Hardeep Singh Puri’s book ‘Perilous Interventions’ focuses on military interventions in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen
India’s surgical strikes on terror camps across the Line of Control occurred a few weeks after Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri’s book Perilous Interventions was published. Mr Puri’s book is focused on similar military interventions in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, and opens a window to the secretive working of the United Nation Security Council (UNSC).
The surgical strikes were presented by the government as a bold and audacious move on India’s part; in comparison Mr Puri’s book is less explosive. But his analysis of events in hindsight and his experiences have convinced him that the UNSC has become irrelevant and is in the dire need of reforms. He has quoted many examples, some being the unauthorised military strikes in Iraq in 2003, Russia’s unilateral decision to annex the Crimea from Ukraine, Saudi Arabia’s military strikes in Yemen, the overstepping of the mandate on Libya and, most recently, the lack of consensus among member-states on Syria.
Mr Puri was chairman of the UNSC in August 2011 and had served the UN as India’s permanent representative from 2009 to 2013. He has, through this book, poured his heart out against the unfettered self-interest of the both permanent and non-permanent members that have led to the arming of rebels, the rise of terrorism, destruction and unprecedented chaos in the world on the pretext of preventing mass atrocities in West Asia and Africa.
Mr Puri describes the geopolitical situation of the past 15 years in eight chapters, each one briefly dealing with a specific problem, its root cause and the UNSC position. In the first chapter the former ambassador details the rise of ISIS and failure of policymakers to learn from its mistakes. He calls ISIS an unwanted child of failed intervention of the West and categorically blames the US for spawning it. He blames the Bush administration for neglecting its occupation of Iraq, where the terror groups reorganised and converted themselves into the world’s most lethal terror organisation, ISIS.
His chapter on “Libya: The Unravelling of a Country” where he had first-hand experience in dealing with the crisis, provides succinct details about how France and the UK wanted to launch an offensive against Libyan dictator Mummar Gaddafi to topple the latter regime and prevent mass atrocities against civilian and repression of opposition forces. Mr Puri says the US was initially reluctant to join its two close allies the UK and France, but gave in later. These countries overstepped the UNSC mandate and their sole aim became to topple the Gaddafi’s regime. Their arming of the rebels has now left the country devastated. Explaining India’s position, the former ambassador said though India supported the UNSC resolution on Libya just like Russia and China, it didn’t co-sponsor the military intervention.
In his report to New Delhi Mr Puri suggested that the resolution against Libya was entirely the result of media pressure. But he does not elaborate India’s position vis-à-vis Libya (Indians constituted the second highest expat population after the Chinese). It would also have been more interesting had he provided some anecdotal evidence or rationale for French and British enthusiasm for military intervention in Libya.
His chapter on Syria, where civil war still rages, draws parallels with the situation in Libya and is cited as another UNSC failure. Mr Puri argues that the solution in Libya could not have been replicated in Syria. The chapter assumes significance because the writer shows clear division and mistrust between the two groups. One is led by Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia and its ally Qatar, plus the US, the UK and France on one side and Russia and Shia-dominated Iran on the other. The book suggests that more than a concern for human rights violations the above mentioned countries acted more in their self-interest; Russia’s double veto against military action in Syria stems from its geostrategic interests in the region. Had the UNSC approved military strikes in Syria, it would have dealt Russia a massive blow. The biggest irony he highlights is that even as the US, UK, France and some Gulf countries continued arming the opposition forces fighting the Syrian President Bashar al- Assad, Russia allegedly bombed these opposition forces to strengthen the Assad regime.
In the next few chapters, Mr Puri continues to build his case on the ineffectiveness of the UNSC with example of Yemen. He accused both the US and Saudi Arabia for the current turmoil in this tiny country. Citing various humanitarian and international laws, he concludes that the Saudi’s use of weapons was a violation of the laws of war and has resulted in the killing of innocent civilians and children. “The UN is today playing the role a passive bystander as one country breaks international law and another falls prey to unimaginable man-made devastation,” he writes. The former ambassador does not stop here and accused the Americans of changing their allies in Yemen as “if they were changing shirts”.
Apart from providing a crash course in contemporary history, Mr Puri’s views on the efficacy or otherwise of the UNSC are not novel; such assessments have been part of the public discourse for some years. But an insider’s eye view certainly lends authority to an issue that is worthy of deeper study.