Perilous interventions is a must-read for scholars and students of international politics, at a time when the global order itself feels imperilled. The United Nations and its apex crisis management body, the Security Council, created to protect future generations from the scourge of war, emerge as part of the problem in this disturbing and frank account of politics at the high table. Discussing cases of militarized intervention, carried out with and without the mandate and legitimacy of Council resolutions, the book provides a detailed and gripping insight into UN decision-making. The book's tragic conclusion is that parts of the Middle East and North Africa have become sites of enduring crisis and chaos, as a result of ‘the vicious cycle of perilous interventions’ (p. 7). The book comes with a very concrete prescription: that interventions, especially those that entail the ‘use of force’, and more generally that ‘interventionist mindsets’ (p. 5), have disastrous consequences and need to be challenged and scrutinized. Hardeep Singh Puri, a long-serving and distinguished diplomat, draws on his experience of multilateral diplomacy but especially focuses on the inner workings of the UNSC. Having served as permanent representative at the UN for India, he was President of the Council in August 2011 and November 2012, when Libya and Syria were high on the UNSC agenda. The UNSC comprises five permanent members—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States—collectively known as the P5, each with the power to veto a resolution. The council's ten elected members serve two-year, non-consecutive terms and are not afforded veto power. There is thus a particular nuance to the narrative and perspective provided in this book, as India, a non-permanent member, did not have veto power but was afforded an opportunity to steer and shape deliberations on two major international crises. Libya and Syria are cornerstones of the book, with chapters three and four providing intricate and detailed description and analysis of the decisions which led, in the first case, to UNSC-sanctioned military intervention and in the second to Council inaction. The author examines two further cases of recent intervention, Saudi Arabia in Yemen (chapter five) and Russia in Ukraine (chapter six). Together, they depict a troubling storyline of ad hoc decision-making, where major powers are swayed by short-term interests. Furthermore, the arming of rebels on the ground emerges as a pattern of action, ‘without thinking through the consequences and the wilful encouragement of destabilization’ (p. 37). The UNSC has grown increasingly hostage to Great Power politics, competition and mistrust, resulting in gridlock. This is in many ways reminiscent of the Cold War. To understand this, the author draws attention to mistakes made in the distant and recent past that continue to haunt the present and determine the future. These include decisions dating back to colonial times that impacted state- and nation-making, the ‘folly of the 2003 Iraq misadventure’ (p. 27) and a drastic misdiagnosis of the Arab Spring (chapter two). Tyrants, strongmen and authoritarian rulers are certainly also to blame for bad governance and calamities; however, the book explores the rationale for international intervention, which it argues is often based on contingent factors rather than an examination of underlying, embedded causes. Chapter seven shifts the book's regional focus, jumping suddenly to delve into India's own experience of intervention abroad—when it plunged into the evolving uncertainties of a civil war in Sri Lanka during the 1980s. Although the author suggests that there are lessons to be learned from this painful chapter in Indian foreign policy, the long and unintended implications of India's own ‘perilous intervention’ remain under-specified. This is tantalizing, given that Puri served at the headquarters of the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi in the early 1980s, and later liaised directly with Sri Lankan political leaders and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as First Secretary at the Indian High Commission in Colombo. Hopefully this is material for a book to come. Both realists, betting on chaos as a means of ensuring influence or enhancing power, and liberals, who foretold a better future to justify intervention, are put to shame in Perilous interventions. Furthermore, scholars and practitioners will need to grapple hard with the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect, which gained such traction in the early 2000s. ‘Responsibility’ cannot be a clarion call for action by the international community without it also being a qualifying adjective: Puri draws attention to the need for responsible decisions that recognize and prepare for the consequences of the international community's actions. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Institute of International Affairs. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com.
International Affairs – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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