Author: Hardeep Singh Puri
"Perilous Interventions" | Comprehensive critique of the abuse of the UN Security Council
Sidharth Mishra writes how this book largely deals with the interventions which the UN made to mainly replace regimes in a country on the bidding of one or the other permanent member.
Hardeep Singh Puri, a career diplomat, had long engagements with the United Nations. Among his several tenures with the UN, the last was as India’s permanent representative at the world body. His tenure overlapped with India’s non-permanent membership of the Security Council between 2011 and 2012. He presided over the sessions of the council in August 2011 and November 2012. Needless to add here that Puri was privy to many moves which the world body made which were to prove counterproductive in maintaining global peace. No wonder he decided to title his book – Perilous Interventions.
We live in the times very different from 1945 when the United Nations was founded. The UN Charter had affirmed our collective determination to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. The definition and perception of war, as it was seen in 1945, has metamorphosed into a phenomenon which encapsulates the mutating threat of violent extremism and terrorism; from the double-edged sword of new technologies to the existential risks posted by climate change and natural disasters. This was something which was not ordained for the world body to deal with when it was founded more than seven decades ago.
However, Puri’s book doesn’t have that wide a canvass as the agenda which the United Nations has allocated to itself. It largely deals with the interventions which the world body made to mainly replace regimes in a country on the bidding of one or the other permanent member. Puri, enjoying the advantage of being an insider, runs through the events of the past few years since Iraq invasion; presenting the story of Ukraine, Syria, Libya and Yemen. These chapters serve as standalone briefings to the dilettante.
Putting focus on the United Nations Security Council, where he represented India during its membership of the body between 2011 and 2012, Puri argues that the world body stands to get further discredited if it continues to function in the same manner as it has done since the turn of the century. Establishing his credentials as a global diplomat by taking swipe at our disastrous intervention in Sri Lanka, where he served as a young diplomat, he makes a searing criticism of the Security Council and its ill-fated decisions on Libya and Syria. He wonders how such decisions could be taken without taking into the account the consequences and asks poignantly why governments pursue policies which are against their own interests.
Perilous Interventions indeed is a comprehensive critique of the Western use of military force and the abuse of the United Nations Security Council that are now widely seen as contributing to the regional crisis. The crisis caused by the whimsical interventions has been extremely catastrophic. The consequences of the intervention in Libya and, even worse, the protracted war in Syria, has left over 300,000 dead and over four million of its citizens displaced. On the more worrisome count, it has led to a very rapid and related rise of the ISIS as a new brand of militant terrorism.
The underlying narrative of the book is Puri’s advocacy of multilateralism. In international relations, multilateralism is multiple countries working in concert on a given issue. Multilateralism is a form of alliance, although it may have somewhat of a different structure than traditional alliances. Multilateralism was defined by Miles Kahler as “international governance” or global governance of the ‘many,’ and its central principle was “opposition [of] bilateral discriminatory arrangements that were believed to enhance the leverage of the powerful over the weak and to increase international conflict.” In 1990, Robert Keohane simply defined multilateralism as “the practice of coordinating national policies in groups of three or more states.” Puri’s narrative amplifies the fact that despite pleading for multilateralism, the UN body functions to the contrary espousing principles of bilateralism and in most of the situation of unilateralism.
The book rather the critique of the United Nations, especially the Security Council, is important for another reason that it has come not from, former foreign correspondent for BBC Humphrey Hawksley put it, “the safe talking shops of Washington Beltway, London’s Whitehall or a European Union committee. This is eye of how and why things fall apart when run by an old-guard global system that has not been reformed for more than seventy years.”
The virtue of the author could also be the cause for the criticism of the text, which says that the world body has gone horribly wrong with each of the decisions which it took. Those not in sync with the tune of the narration will find it easy calling it coming from third world diplomat holding a grudge against the world leaders.