Perilous Interventions | Hardeep Singh Puri

Summary of: Perilous Interventions: The Security Council and the Politics of Chaos
By: Hardeep Singh Puri


Embark on a critical exploration of the United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC) involvement in handling global crises, as Hardeep Singh Puri’s book ‘Perilous Interventions: The Security Council and the Politics of Chaos’ unfolds. Delve into the complexities surrounding the implementation of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, the motivations and consequences of the UNSC’s interventions, and the influence of powerful nations’ whims and interests. By analyzing events such as the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Arab Spring, and conflicts in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, this summary provides a revealing insight into the unintended consequences and long-term fallout from these perilous interventions.

Protecting Citizens from Mass Atrocities

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine requires nations to protect their citizens from mass atrocities, with foreign intervention an option for states too weak to manage this. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has replied differently to various threats, highlighting that there is no agreement on how to implement R2P. Despite uncertain results, such as Iraq and Libya invasions, UNSC continues to approve foreign intervention under the pretense of promoting peace and democracy. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned that force cannot reorder societies from the outside. R2P requires a consistent approach and careful consideration for its success.

Perilous Interventions

The consequences of UNSC interventions are often catastrophic, leading to human rights violations, devastation of infrastructure, and ecological damage. Policymakers tend to make hasty decisions without considering the aftermath, resulting in miscalculations with far-reaching consequences that reverberate for years. The 2003 invasion of Iraq is a clear example of such errors. The Sunni-Shia conflict intensified, anti-Western sentiment prevailed and ISIS emerged. The lack of understanding of the sociopolitical undercurrents further fuelled extremist groups, making Iraq worse off than under Saddam Hussein. The book highlights the dangers of such interventions that are often framed as life-saving missions but result in the destabilization of already-volatile nations. Its conclusion is clear; “A perilous intervention is about whimsical and reflexive decision-making, and about taking decisions with far-reaching consequences without thinking through their consequences”.

The Misconceptions and Misunderstandings of the Arab Spring

The Arab Spring proved that the West’s simplistic view of the Middle East and North Africa failed to achieve any meaningful change. The Arab demonstrators looked at the West as enemies, not role models. Instead of leading to democracy, the upheavals in the region led to even more repression. The failure of the West to anticipate the power vacuum and its interventionist policies have only led to more chaos. The arming of the so-called moderate opposition in Syria only further complicated an already volatile situation. The Arab world considered the West as a villain that supported repressive regimes leading to imprisonment of dissenters becoming training grounds for future terrorists.

Libyan Intervention: A Costly Mistake

In 2011, the United States and France bombed Libya after reports portrayed Gaddafi as an aggressor who sought to kill his own people. However, the West’s interpretation of Gaddafi’s rhetoric was inaccurate, and his edicts were likely directed at armed rebels. A careful analysis of his speeches indicated that he did not plan a genocide of his own people. The private armies that emerged after Gaddafi’s death resulted in chaos, making the military intervention a costly mistake.

Syria’s Tenuous State

The Syrian conflict left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced, yet the UN failed to intervene. The West armed anti-Assad rebels while Russia backed the lawful government, escalating the conflict and dividing global powers. The situation in Libya left the West uninterested in unseating Bashar al-Assad, and American military intervention was deemed insufficient. The conflict worsened, pitting the US against Moscow, with Russia warning that ISIS would take control if Assad fell. The situation remains uncertain, and Russia’s military intervention made a political resolution all the more difficult.

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