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.