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An argument worth talking about – A Book Review by Martin Khor

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)


Book Review by Barton Edgerton, Global Risks Insights: Perilous Interventions


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.


How The Great Powers Intervene In Regions They Don’t Understand Using False Moral Arguments

 Perilous Interventions: The Security Council and the Politics of Chaos.

Book review by Mr. Jaideep A. Prabhu

Hardeep Puri’s Perilous Interventions is an excellent exposition of Great Power hypocrisy and the weakness of the United Nations in both, curbing the predatory instincts of some of its members and the oppressive nature of other members.

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” Marcellus tells Horatio in the opening act of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Former diplomat Hardeep Singh Puri probably could not have put it better about the United Nations Security Council and the existing global order. Through his book, Perilous Interventions: The Security Council and the Politics of Chaos, a devastating indictment of Western hypocrisy in international governance, India’s former permanent representative to the United Nations gives readers a ringside seat to some of the discussions that went on in the Security Council during some of the major crises of the past decade. Puri lambasts the existing system and warns that without reforms, faith in multilateralism will soon fade.

Disregarding the advice of German chancellor Otto von Bismarck about the making of sausages and laws, Puri details the discussions within the Security Council on the question of whether the international community should intervene in Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction in 2003. Yet long before then, Iraq had attracted the attention of certain American strategists such as Paul Wolfowitz. They had argued as early as the early 1970s, Puri reminds us, that the removal of Saddam Hussein from power could potentially result in a domino effect of democratisation in the region, and with it, better partners for the United States. Two other candidates for regime change to accelerate this region-wide democratic revolution were Iran and Libya. Revolution in the former in 1979 and the subsequent Iran-Iraq war extinguished all such thoughts from the White House.

However, they were not forgotten. In Binyamin Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of the US Congress in 2002, the former and future Israeli prime minister reiterated this same idea. American fears about Iraqi ABCs – atomic, biological, and chemical weapons – rang his message sweeter to Washington. Looking to their own careers, CIA officials funnelled intelligence reports they knew would be prefered by the High Command rather than those undermining the public narrative of state sponsorship of terrorism and WMDs. The United States went to war in Iraq soon afterwards and the Middle East began to unravel – not in a manner either Wolfowitz, Netanyahu, or anyone else had envisioned.

Narrow national interests coloured the deliberations of the Security Council over Libya as well. Puri recounts how Britain, Germany, and especially France, more than the United States, were interested in deposing strongman Muammar Gaddafi from the beginning. Libya’s relations with Western governments had been slowly improving since 2003 when Tripoli reached out through the United Nations to make amends for its role in several acts of terrorism in the late 1980s. That, however, was not the public face of relations between Libya and the Western bloc. The Arab Spring protests gave the West, probably hoping for a quick success, the opportunity required to oust Gaddafi.

Under the guise of humanitarian intervention and R2P – the Right to Protect – Western nations placed onerous conditions upon Tripoli. Puri narrates the arguments over the language of Resolution 1970 and how, through wording that was loose at best and deceptive at worst, the Western powers tried to gain international sanction to bring Gaddafi to heel using “all necessary means to protect civilians and make available humanitarian assistance.” As Libyan government forces started to turn the tide against the rebels in the civil war that had devolved out of earlier protests, France, buoyed by an Arab League resolution calling upon the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, pushed through Resolution 1973 that was sufficiently lax in its formulation to allow military action. NATO, led by France and supported by the United States went to war in Libya. Puri strenuously makes the point that this was in complete violation of the spirit of the discussions in the Security Council but the West did not wait until even the ink was dry before invading Libya.

Everything has consequences, and the Western sleight of hand over Libya had got Russia’s back up over Syria. As a result, when the Security Council started deliberating on Bashar al-Assad’s civil war, Moscow was implacable in their opposition to any sort of intervention. It is also possible, Puri admits, that this was due to greater Russian interest in Syria – a naval and air force base – or because there had been a change in power in Moscow from Dmitry Medvedev to Vladimir Putin. It is also possible that there was no appetite for yet another war in the Middle East in Washington during an election year. Yet the pattern of Western behaviour was similar: hollow humanitarian claims supported by regional powers with vested interests against the incumbent authority. Predictably, the results were also similar: chaos, instability, wanton destruction of life and infrastructure, the rise of private militias, and terrorism – all at the cost of the region. Any chance for an early peace was stymied by unrealistic preconditions such as the abdication of Assad. Furthermore, Washington’s too clever by half notion of ‘good terrorist’ and ‘bad terrorist’ helped spawn its own nemesis – something American politicians, despite several repetitions, are yet to learn from.

Perilous Interventions also describes the paralysis of the Security Council owing to its veto provisions over the crisis in Ukraine caused by the secession of Crimea and its return to Russia. The author stops short of excusing Russian behaviour as he lambasts European and American ambition in seeking to pry Ukraine out of the Russian sphere of influence. From the beginning, military force was out of the question in Ukraine for two reasons: Russia maintained a veto in the Security Council, and it was a major nuclear power that could not be trifled with as the likes of Iraq or Libya. The Western strategy, then, was to try and isolate Russia through economic sanctions. These may have worked partially but were doomed to fail eventually without the support of Moscow’s BRICS partners.

Yemen saw similar inaction from the Security Council. The country, already a regular on the UN body’s agenda even before civil war broke out, has experienced more death and destruction in five months than even Syria after four long years of fighting. Impoverished Yemen has for long been Saudi Arabia’s bete noire: fearful of foreign intervention – Egypt in the 1960s and Iran since the 1980s – in a country bordering its own restive Shia population, Riyadh has been quick and ruthless in its involvement in Yemen. The Saudi campaign, Puri reminds us, has received complete support from the United States and other Western powers despite the horrendous loss of civilian life due to the callousness of Riyadh’s military tactics that ranged from the use of missiles to indiscriminate bombing, which in one case even destroyed a Medecins sans Frontieres hospital.

Puri is not unfair in targetting only Western nations. He has a few choice words for the Indian debacle in Sri Lanka in the late 1980s too. However, the reader may surmise from the tone that the author is more understanding of Delhi’s compulsions than he is with Washington, London, or Paris. Furthermore, India’s reasons for getting involved in its southern neighbour’s affairs are a far more convoluted cocktail of domestic political considerations rather than the relatively straight-forward rapacious realpolitik of the West. The narrative also feels more restrained about the human cost of the tragedy in Sri Lanka compared to Iraq, Libya, Syria, or Yemen – but that may also be because the South Asian island has suffered far less despite a longer lasting conflict.

In each of the chapters is detailed a series of operational blunders that fed on each other and led to the present quagmire. From the insane notion of good and bad terrorism to the arming of certain rebel factions, from an utter disregard of historical follies to an almost stubborn refusal to accept intelligence from the ground, from giving ground to less informed commentators over professionals to cherry-picking intelligence, Puri’s rap sheet of Western political myopia and ideological blindness makes for a discomforting read – each of these mistakes, as we dispassionately read them, cost tens of thousands of lives.

Although Perilous Interventions is an excellent exposition of Great Power hypocrisy and the weakness of the United Nations in both, curbing the predatory instincts of some of its members and the oppressive nature of other members, it does not offer more insight on the crises of the past decade and half than a discerning reader could have gleaned from the regular perusal of the daily newspaper over the years. Why would a seasoned and distinguished diplomat be surprised by an unremarkable display of matsya nyaya?

The real punch of Perilous Interventions comes from its author’s assertion that this behaviour of the Western powers was given intellectual cover by their think tanks and media. In fact, Puri explicitly states that the push towards intervention in Libya came from the Western media over the inclination of a hesitant diplomatic corps. Gaddafi was portrayed negatively, incompletely, and even falsely – he had not, for example, threatened civilians with retaliation – in the tabloids to the extent that it was difficult for him to even get hotel rooms in New York during a 2012 visit. These observations by Puri only cement the cautious view of Western organisations in the rest of the world. They can no longer be seen as sources of intellectually rigorous, methodologically sound, and unbiased information. In fact, reading Puri between the lines, think tanks and media have become a new front for the West to propagate their hegemony through ‘mindfare’ – the war for opinions and minds throughout the world – true hegemony as described by Antonio Gramsci.

Perhaps the only criticism of Perilous Interventions is the author’s discordantly Pollyanna-ish view that India played a positive role during the deliberations over these crises. The Indian stance has always been distant, unhelpful, and predictable – urge a cessation of hostilities, encourage negotiations, and plead for an arms embargo on the region. Although these are perfectly rational recommendations, it is similarly irrational to expect that the agitated actors in a conflict that has already spilled over to violence wish to listen to sense. Consider, for example, the Indian response to international calls for restraint during its wars with Pakistan.

Furthermore, Puri’s suggestion that the permanent members of the Security Council voluntarily give up their veto powers – de facto if not de jure – is laughable. Such largesse may be expected only from foreign policy neophytes of the kind India has been blessed with but not anywhere else. Yet even if the Permanent Five were to surrender their veto powers, the question then arises as to who will bell the cat. Is the international community truly willing or capable of conducting a military intervention in China, for example, for any reason?

Perilous Interventions will certainly feed those who are already deeply sceptical of the West and subliminally hostile to it. However, rather than adding ghee to the fire of conspiracy theories, Puri records in detail, with evidence, genuine cases of opportunism and hypocrisy. His call for reforms in the United Nations is likely to go unheeded for the same reasons he gives for the crises of the past decade and half – machtpolitik and opportunism. As a result, Puri’s admonition that the Security Council and multilateralism will lose credibility may indeed come true.


A dangerous game; Review of Hardeep Singh Puri’s Perilous Interventions

The most important task that Hardeep Puri took up after relinquishing charge as Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations in New York was to write a book giving an insider’s view of the Security Council’s decision-making process in relation to major global crisis situations during the two-year period of 2011-2012 when India was a member of the Security Council and Puri its representative there. The product in the form of this volume, Perilous Interventions, vindicates his decision. Perilous interventions, as Hardeep Puri puts it, reflect whimsical and reflexive decision-making with far-reaching consequences, without thinking through them. Most of these armed interventions have been made to achieve regime changes to serve ill-conceived short-term national and strategic interests. This book is about the origin, consequences and lessons to be derived from such interventions, which are at the root of some of the gravest problems confronting the world today. These threaten to tear asunder the post-Second World War international order.

The book presents five case studies of perilous interventions, ie Libya, Syria, Yemen, Crimea/Ukraine and Sri Lanka. To these are added chapter,s dealing with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Arab Spring, Policy-induced Migration and the Doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). All these relatively brief chapters are so complete in themselves, so well structured, so succinct and precise and so brilliantly analysed that they can substitute the volumes that have been written on each of these topics. Each chapter contains the background to the event leading to the present crisis, a blow-by-blow account of what happened or did not happen in the UN, in tandem with the unfolding of the situation on the ground, of misconceived external interventions and the arming of rebels, including those linked to al-Qaeda and the ISIS, and of the interplay of internal and external political factors complicating the situation and generally putting it beyond the realm of solution.

The author conveys his message in a forthright, frank and forceful manner. He spares none, including his own country. He strongly criticises the United Nations for its ‘inertness’ and ‘passivity’ in the case of Syria, Crimea/Ukraine and Sri Lanka. In the case of Syria, the Security Council has been unable to adopt any resolution of operational significance. In the case of Crimea, the author underlines that the Russian intervention ought to have had the prior permission of the Security Council. In the case of Sri Lanka, the UN did not take any collective action in a decisive manner to protect civilians from mass atrocities. He holds the three Western powers, UK, France, and the United States, responsible for using the Security Council as a fig leaf for armed intervention in order to carry out their design for regime change in Libya. He holds Saudi Arabia responsible for the unfolding of one of the greatest human tragedies in the world today ie in Yemen. He advances forceful arguments to demonstrate the illegitimacy of the Saudi intervention there and unequivocally blames the United States for supporting the Saudis in the attack against the Houthis. He takes objection to the reference in the Indian statement on Ukraine to legitimise Russian interest and sarcastically brings out its implication that “If the powerful have interest, ‘intervention’ and ‘take over’ are understandable”.

The author’s analysis of the Doctrine of R2P is significant in that it was during the period of his functioning as India’s representative in the Security Council that the doctrine was first put in practice with the intervention in Libya. It may be recalled here that the Western powers first wanted the acceptance of the doctrine of ‘humanitarian intervention’ as a part of the reform of the United Nations, but this was rejected by the majority of the UN member countries on grounds of being too open-ended and hence carrying the danger of opening the floodgates of interventions. What was included in perhaps the most comprehensive package on UN reforms adopted by the General Assembly in December 2005 was the Doctrine of R2P. This was, however, the thin end of the wedge.

The General Assembly has, no doubt, sought to circumscribe the use of R2P to cases of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. But as the author has brought out in chapter after chapter, the determination of the existence of such situations has been distorted, particularly in the case of Libya, with horrendous consequences for that country, the region, and the world. As the author points out, the trend, which has facilitated interventions by crossing the red lines laid down by the General Assembly, is the decline of the Westphalian concept of sovereignty with internationally recognised borders. The Western countries supported by their academic community, other think tanks and the media have played the principal role in bringing it about.

The author, however, regards the doctrine of R2P as essential to prevent mass atrocities and offers suggestions for its appropriate and effective application. These include making such interventions with the full knowledge of their consequences and integrating R2P with RwP ie Responsibility While Protecting. These are laudable objectives but in the present circumstances unlikely to be realized. The right course of action for protecting Third World countries including India from mindless interventions under R2P would have been to reject this doctrine altogether and, in its place, insist on the fuller utilization of Chapter 6 of the UN Charter of provisions other than the use of force, of Article 42 and the expansion of the scope of Article 39 relating to the determination of the existence of threat to peace, breach of peace and act of aggression.

The defining features of the book include its perceptive conclusions, salutary warnings and valuable suggestions for future action. One of the author’s most important suggestions is to reform the Security Council in order to democratize and make more effective its decision making. The author quotes from an article by General Satish Nambiar, who played a leading role in UN peacekeeping operations, to drive home the point that “Non-action was not due to lack of warning, resources or the barrier of state sovereignty, but because of strategic, political or economic considerations…”

In taking such a limited view of UN reform, it is forgotten that the overriding reason for the United Nations’ inability to act in most of the areas under its jurisdiction is the systematic, conscious and well-planned decimation of its capacity over the last few decades. This deficiency is of a structural nature going beyond the process of decision-making. After all, what is the point of India or any other country becoming a Permanent Member of the Security Council when the UN as a whole has lost its capacity to act? Proposals to halt this process and strengthen UN capacity were never seriously put on the UN reform agenda. For the most part of the reform process, India did not bestir itself to do anything about it and devoted all its diplomatic energy and resources to the issue of Security Council reforms in order to become its Permanent Member. This is no less an improbable proposition than restoring to the UN its lost functions and capacity.

In taking such a limited view of UN reform, it is forgotten that the overriding reason for the United Nations’ inability to act in most of the areas under its jurisdiction is the systematic, conscious and well-planned decimation of its capacity over the last few decades. This deficiency is of a structural nature going beyond the process of decision-making. After all, what is the point of India or any other country becoming a Permanent Member of the Security Council when the UN as a whole has lost its capacity to act? Proposals to halt this process and strengthen UN capacity were never seriously put on the UN reform agenda. For the most part of the reform process, India did not bestir itself to do anything about it and devoted all its diplomatic energy and resources to the issue of Security Council reforms in order to become its Permanent Member. This is no less an improbable proposition than restoring to the UN its lost functions and capacity.


‘Solid Book on Interventionism, Should be Mandatory Reading in Foreign Affairs’ – NN Taleb,

This is an outstanding book on the side effects of interventionism, written in extremely elegant prose and with maximal clarity. It documents how people find arguments couched in moralistic terms to intervene in complex systems they don’t understand. These interventions trigger endless chains of unintended consequences –consequences for the victims, but none for the interventionistas, allowing them to repeat the mistake again and again.

Puri, as an insider, outlines the principles and legal mechanisms, then runs through the events of the past few years since the Iraq invasion; each one of his chapters are models of concision, presenting the story of Ukraine, Syria, Lybia, and Yemen, among others, as standalone briefings to the uninitiated. It was high time that somebody in international affairs has approached the problem of “iatrogenics”, i.e. harm done by the healer.

This book should be mandatory reading to every student and practitioner of foreign affairs.



“Eye for an Eye – will lead to complete blindness” – Hardeep Singh Puri, Udaipur Times

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.



‘Perilous Interventions’ That Damaged the International Political World

Manoj Joshi, The Wire 06/01/207

Hardeep Singh Puri’s book highlights the interconnected world where mistrust, violence and injustice are increasing while international covenants fray, and stresses the need for a collective legal framework to deal with them.


Going by the introduction, the presumption is that Hardeep Singh Puri’s book, Perilous Interventions: The Security Council and the Politics of Chaos, was finalised early in 2016. Developments since then have only confirmed its central argument – the world remains a dangerous place with challenges that have become ever more complex. It needs a collective effort to provide an international legal framework to deal with them. The UN system offers one, provided it can be made to work.

Unfortunately, the recent history of the system – at whose apex is the UN Security Council (UNSC), tasked with ending conflict and fostering peace in the world – has not been a happy one. We have seen it all too frequently deadlocked and bypassed, and often impotent in the face of unilateral “perilous” interventions. The denouncement in Syria is unfolding and as of now there are no signs that the UN will or is even capable of taking charge.

As a diplomat, Hardeep Singh Puri has cut his teeth on a range of issues — the Indian intervention in Sri Lanka, managing ties with the US in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, as a trade specialist in Geneva. But clearly his life-changing experience has been his experience as the permanent representative of India at the UN in New York in the 2009-2013 period – including the period in which India was a non-permanent member of the UNSC in 2011-12 – and as president of the council in August 2011 and November 2012 and chairman of its counter-terrorism committee from January 2011 to February 2013.

Perilous Interventions, he notes in the afterword, is motivated by the parlous state of our interconnected world where mistrust, injustice, inequality and violence seem to be increasing and politics, leadership, international covenants fraying. These in another period would have been seen as  the words of an idealist. But in today’s world there is a desperate realpolitik need to restore a world that functions within the framework of the rule of international law and convention and emphasises democracy and compassion.

One of the great values of the book is that it provides a short but insightful education into the “perilous interventions” that have so damaged the world order. He navigates with great clarity through the contemporary history of Libya, Syria, Yemen, Crimea or Ukraine and Sri Lanka, and uses his personal experience as India’s representative in the UN to see how the idealistic expectations of the UN systems have broken down.

This is a lesson India learnt early in January of 1948 when our complaint of Pakistan’s aggression in Kashmir was turned into the “India-Pakistan” question. We were lucky, we went under Chapter VI, had Chapter VII been applied it could have led to external intervention in the region with unforeseen consequences.

Puri has had occasion to look at the various instrumentalities that are involved in our reaction to crises – governments, big powers, lobbyists, special interests, the media, think tanks and so on. But there is also the issue of political leadership, and this is best brought out by the Russian reaction that Puri describes under President Dmitry Medvedev and later Vladimir Putin. Of course, leadership is a key issue because the course of Middle Eastern history could well have been very different if George Bush had been more competent and Tony Blair less cynical. Ironically, the CIA officer who interrogated Saddam Hussein after his capture now agrees that Iraq may have been best off if the dictator had been left to run it.

Another issue relates to the role of the western think tanks, lobbies and ‘experts’ in promoting intervention. Syria again is a major case where the western narrative is completely one-sided and only now after the failure of western policy are people questioning it. It is of course known that powers like Qatar which played a major role in promoting the Syrian conflict, are also big donors to American think tanks.

The interventions discussed relate to the big powers – US, UK, France and Russia. Or they relate to Saudi Arabia, an economic big power, backed explicitly by the US. But there is one which is different – the Indian intervention in Sri Lanka. It was completely outside the UN system, but it had subtle US backing. In 1985, having decided to shift Indian policy, Rajiv Gandhi got US approval, even telling journalists that the US agrees that India should play a larger role in the region. Puri served at a crucial position as the senior political diplomat in Colombo and had first-hand experience of the subject that he has now written on.

At the end of the day, this book is about global governance and the systems that we use to exercise it. Clearly, what we learn is that the system is now dysfunctional. It is either ignored, manipulated or paralysed in the face of a crisis. There is nothing new that is happening today – a new US president whose grip on foreign affairs is questionable and whose team comprises of ideologues who bear great responsibility for the mess the world is in today. We appear to be entering into a phase where international agreements like UNCLOS are fraying – as are borders in countries like Libya, Syria, Iraq and Somalia.

In themselves interventions are not necessarily bad. We have the example of the Indian intervention in Bangladesh which took place despite the US’s opposition. However, it is in the interest of world order to make the UN system work the way it was intended to. While that system took into account the fact of power politics, it did not cater for the prolonged power transition that is taking place.

Looked at any way, Puri’s book is a must-read for all those interested in global affairs and concerned over the deterioration of the international system. As the days go by, the situation seems to be getting worse.  We need to find that space where a mutuality of interests not only prevents states from using force outside international law, but also strengthens the system where violation of international law is punished.





An Indian settles a score (Translation from German: Ein Inder rechnat ab)

Source: Die Zeit, 5 January 2017, page 5

The diplomat Hardeep Singh Puri blames the West of moral hysteria. The result would be wrong wars. A meeting

By Jan Ross, New Delhi

Once the Russian UN envoy remarked that whoever speaks after Hardeep Singh Puri in the UN Security Council sounded like a harmonica player after the concert of a symphony orchestra. You believe it right away. Ambassador Puri is one of those eloquent, cultivated appearances that the Indian elite are so rich of. We are sitting in his apartment in New Delhi; there is a framed photograph at the wall showing the host in a discussion with Barack Obama. Hardeep Singh Puri’s father was a diplomat before; he was filling a post in the old Federal Republic of Germany in the 1950s:  “I attended the kindergarten in Bad Godesberg for four years”, tells Puri, who is retired and lives between India and New York. He still remembers the address of the house where the family lived at that time: Goethestraße 42.

Puri was in the UN Security Council in the years 2011 and 2012. He witnessed the decision about the mission of war against the Libyan dictator Gaddafi. (India was sceptical then, just like the government of Merkel/Westerwelle.) Puri just published a book about his experience, a bitter reckoning with the policy of military intervention. Arming rebels, the overthrow of regimes initiated from outside, the smashing of state structures, which cannot be replaced by anything better in the end: In his eyes all this is a decisive factor for the bloody disaster, which the Arab world has been sliding into since then.

Interventions for humanitarian reasons are less popular by now after the complicated experiences of the past years. For Puri, they are an expression of a generally misguided political idealism, which he sees as dangerous. The hopes for an Arab Spring, the awakening of freedom in the Middle East were an illusion from the very beginning in his view: “The unrest in the Arab streets was no call for democracy like in Central Europe before 1989”, he says. “They liked the West in Poland and its political leadership. In Egypt they thought that the western leaders had been in bed with their own dictators.” No wonder that this bitterness turned into hostility and violence, he believes.

According to Puri the well-meant mistakes began in Libya before the military mission. It was wrong to bring Gaddafi before the International Criminal Court because of his violations of human rights. Why should the dictator give in and resign, if he was threatened with a trial after losing power? In Puri’s perspective America and Europe tend to moral hysteria: “The West has no means to decide what a core interest is”, he thinks. “Your political leaderships fall victim to an emotionalised journalism.” They had themselves confused by media reports about the malpractices of Gaddafi and then brought about anarchy and civil war with ill-conceived punitive or aid actions.

The meeting with Hardeep Singh Puri is something like a basic course on the multipolar world. His criticism is no special radical singular opinion, on the contrary: Most Indian diplomats or foreign policy experts would probably agree with him. Western attempts to make the good things on the globe win in conflict, with weapons or just with sanctions or loud protests are seen in New Delhi as a general expression of arrogance or naiveté or both. And India is no opponent or competitor of the Americans or Europeans, unlike Russia or China. It is not hostile, it is simply different, and it sees the world differently. It sees it like many in the “global South”, in the growingly important non-Western democratic countries like Brazil or Indonesia or South Africa.

Puri is no pragmatic cynic at it, who simply wants to stand aside in case of major state crimes. He is proud of his country for having successfully stopped a murderous policy once, in 1971, when the Pakistani army brutally oppressed a protest and independence movement in East Pakistan, which is today Bangladesh. India intervened then, made an end to the violence and helped the East Pakistanis to get their own state. Puri says: “If atrocities are committed on a massive scale, one must stop it.” However as minimalist as possible.

“All we had needed in order to protect the citizens in danger in Libya would have been a physical safety zone around Benghazi,” he says, the city into whose direction Gaddafi’s troops dangerously advanced at the time. What happened instead was a regime change, which went so wrong, that in the next and worse case no-one was willing to take any action against the bloodshed: “If Syria would have happened before Libya, then Assad would have disappeared today,” says Puri.

Why do the countries of the “global South” exercise more restraint on the issue of intervention and generally on a somehow missionary foreign policy? Hardeep Singh Puri does not believe that this is a sign of more wisdom. His explanation is more down-to-earth: “The emerging and developing countries are more unassuming; they have never exercised power in the international system. There is in contrast the danger of hubris if you have power.”

And then he adds a thought that is typical Indian. The original concern in an overwhelmingly diverse country, in which the most different religions, language and ethnic groups live together: “We understand more of the forces of chaos,” says Ambassador Puri, and about how thin the ice of the political order is and how turbid, dark and deep the water below.


Will Ban Ki-moon be the next President of South Korea?

Called on outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon on 28 December 2016, a few days before he demited office.

How will his 10-year tenure as the ‘secular pope’ be assessed? If the farewell ceremonies both inside the UN and in New York provide any indication, his 10-year tenure might be characterized as hugely successful.

He was widely regarded as the  most pro-US Secretary-General  and saw   the US as a vital  actor for the  UN’s success . This is relevant to recall on the eve of the 45th President of the US assuming office less than a month later . Senior members of the incoming team,including  President Elect  Trump himself, have made statements severely critical of the UN.

Among the Secretary-General’s many victories which will hopefully define his legacy, the ones being cited more prominently are the Paris Climate Agreement, adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the first-ever universal set of Sustainable Development Goals for the world  and the creation of the new UN Entity for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment.

Among the negatives that are  being most commonly cited are the cholera in Haiti and the failures on the peace and security front, most notably Libya, Syria, Yemen and Ukraine. The latter four are covered in my book, Perilous Interventions, which I presented to him on the afternoon of 28th December. I requested him to find some time to read the book, if only to set the record straight because many of the issues covered in the book will, in the ultimate analysis, also have an impact on defining his legacy.

Legacies, by their very nature, begin to define themselves more clearly with the passage of time and after some distance had been traversed  between the ‘events’and the ‘assessment’. Assessments undertaken too close to the events themselves run the risk of being vitiated by subjective factors.

It is an open secret that Mr. Ban is eyeing the Presidency of South Korea. Under normal circumstances, with high  ratings in opinion polls and a year to go for the elections, he was widely regarded as having very bright prospects. Developments in Seoul, particularly the impeachment of a democratically elected President, appear to have queered the pitch for Mr. Ban at least in so far as the ‘timetable’ is concerned. He now has 5 months to campaign. This is not enough, as he admitted to Colum Lynch of Foreign Policy, to start a new political party. Consequently, the opposition candidate appears to be faring better at the opinion polls. Mr. Ban, however, is a fighter. His tenacity and organizational skills are legendary and he is unlikely to be deterred easily. If I were a betting man, which I am not, I would rate his chances to be the next President of the Republic of South Korea as reasonably fair.