Tag Archives: The United Nations Security Council


‘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.


Source: https://thewire.in/97428/perilous-interventions-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.


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.