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October 18, 2017
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Blunders of intervention: Policies the world is paying for

Published: September 2016
 
Perilous Interventions: The Security Council and the Politics of Chaos (HarperCollins) by Hardeep Singh Puri; Pg 263; Price: Rs 599.
As modern civilisation continues to reel under a battery of murderous attacks from Islamic extremists, many of who now claim to owe allegiance to the contemporary quasi-state terror entity called the Islamic State (IS), the world looks increasingly vulnerable to ordinary citizens who wonder at the impunity with which militarised attackers are able to operate freely and spread mayhem, penetrating security shields of cities and countries that have spent billions of dollars to fortify themselves.

Highly motivated extremists professing faith in a perverted brand of Islam go around snuffing out innocent lives and destroying families almost at will, putting fear into the hearts of people as to where and when they could strike next. This has led many around the world to ask, legitimately perhaps, how these thugs came to be created in the first place and how the powerful western world, armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons and conventional weaponry, appears so powerless against these death merchants.

There are conflicting explanations to the ISIS phenomenon, and reasons for their emergence on the global scene are as varied as can be expected from a divided world order that seems more intent on downsizing each other than joining forces against a common global enemy.

Throwing some light and plenty of fresh insight into a tangled web of misjudged decisions by the West is Hardeep Singh Puri, acknowledgedly one of India’s outstanding plenipotentiaries in important global capitals, who as India’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations 2009-2013, coinciding with the period 2011-12 when India was non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, was witness and often participant in the select club of diplomatic parleying at the horseshoe-shaped table of global negotiations.

In a book he has penned within two years of his retirement, Puri rips the veil of guarded gentility from these “high-end decision-making, often over $80 per head lunch” and talks of how a small group of the world’s most powerful diplomats represented on the Security Council discuss, in Machiavellian fashion, the use of force on other nations to effect regime change and how this “ill-thought out itch” to intervene results in disastrous consequence for the country, the region and the world.

“Perilous Interventions: The Security Council and the politics of chaos” is an insider’s account and interpretation of the West’s “desire for geopolitical domination” which has often resulted in recent years – in theatres from Afghanistan to Syria – in policy decisions that have set in motion a “vicious cycle of terrorism and chaos” that shows no signs of ebbing or being tamed.

The West’s penchant to be self-righteous and assume the high moral ground in the pursuit of “Western values” has led to decisions being taken by people with little knowledge of the social dynamics of the region, with unforeseen and tragic consequences.

It has, as Puri says in the book based on meticulous notes he maintained during his years at the UN, his last diplomatic posting in an illustrious career with the Indian Foreign Service, “invariably led to the rise of terrorists and non-state military actors…” like the ISIS phenomenon.

Puri dubs ISIS “the unwanted child of failed interventions” and traces its genesis to “costly policy mistakes” which often get repeated when policymakers ignore the lessons of history.

The migration crisis, which is a humanitarian disaster and is leading to unpredictable economic, political and social conflicts in Western societies, was never considered by the Western decision-makers, and has, as Puri suggests, “upset delicate social, ethnic, tribal and sectarian balances and the secular ethos often maintained by authoritarian regimes”. Iraq, Libya and Syria are prime examples of this.

Puri’s conclusions are devastating in their forthrightness and he says categorically that ill-advised military interventions — which are even now being propounded for a fractured Syria by Western leaders, academics and think tankers — are not the answer to poor governance whose ideological underpinnings may not be in sync with Western value systems.

What is more worrying and reinforces the argument of non-Security Council countries on the need for urgent UN reforms is the Security Council, the highest decision-making body that has been mandated by a global order to preserve world peace and stability and protect citizens from state-sponsored atrocities, has been manipulated by a clutch of countries and is often unable to perform its expected role.

A must-read book for those interested in global affairs and in understanding the complex dynamics of international forces that goes into making critical decisions that have consequences for the world for years and decades to come. Puri has done a signal service to diplomats, experts and laypersons alike.

(Tarun Basu is a veteran journalist and analyst. He can be contacted at tarun.basu@spsindia.in)

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