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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.


“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.

Source: http://udaipurtimes.com/eye-for-an-eye-will-lead-to-complete-blindness-hardeep-singh-puri/


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.


‘Puri: Stalemate over Syria Is Security Council’s “Most Serious Failure”’ – International Peace Institute

Hardeep Singh Puri, former ambassador of India and author of Perilous Interventions: The Security Council and the Politics of Chaos, told a book launch event at IPI on October 25th that the stalemate over Syria and the Council’s consequent inaction was the panel’s “most serious failure.”
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‘Crises, Conflict and Intervention: Global Perspectives: Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri’ – IISS.org

As Prepared:

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.

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‘The Perils of Humanitarian Wars’ – Vijay Prashad, The Wire

In Perilous Interventions, Hardeep Singh Puri, an astute observer of the limits of the ‘responsibility to protect’ doctrine, explores the failure of the UNSC on several accounts, especially its decision to intervene in Libya militarily.
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