The United Nations is an international organisation created in 1945 shortly after WWII to encourage resolution of international conflicts, to uphold international justice and to promote social progress. In the words of Dag Hammarskjöld, second UN secretary general, “the United Nations was created not to lead mankind to heaven but to save humanity from hell.” Since 1945 the United Nations helped save millions from poverty and diseases, and from diseases and local wars and conflicts. Today it has 193 country members and the challenges it faces are varied and vast.
Hardeep Singh Puri, an eminent Indian diplomat, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013, is the author of Perilous Interventions: The Security Council and the Politics of Chaos. He served in the Security Council from 2011 to 2013, during which time a wave of political upheaval and civil wars swept whole regions and affected the lives of millions of people.
This book is a chronicle of the interventions the UN Security Council (UNSC) has made in the past few years, in deeply divided countries, from the perspective of an Indian diplomat, non-permanent member of the UNSC. It deals with some of the most terrible events of our day, the overstepping of the mandate on Libya at the beginning of 2011, Russia’s unilateral decision to annex the Crimea from Ukraine, the lack of consensus among member-states in Syria, the use of force in Yemen, and finally with the doctrine Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which was endorsed by all member states of the United Nations at the 2005 World Summit.
The Security Council has five permanent members, China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and United States. It is the designated entity which has the authority to make a determination whether there is a threat to international peace and security. Having made that determination, it alone can authorise measures to deal with that threat. Yet, as Puri argues, when it comes to look at a situation is doing this in a political and self-interest manner. Global politics continues to be largely dominated by big-power interests.
Puri, an insider, examines the legal measures and the enforcement mechanisms of the Security Council and covers the events of the past few years since the Iraq invasion in 2003. He covers Libya in detail. He says that the decision to intervene to Libya, which was presented as primarily humanitarian, wasn’t discussed properly. In retrospect, clearly some of the countries, who wanted to use force, United States, France and United Kingdom in particular, they did so because they wanted regime change, they wanted to get rid of Gaddafi, despite the earlier signed oil and arms deal with him. Russia, China and India were abstained.
The illegal invasion to Iraq in 2003 which appears in the book as a historical disastrous intervention that opened a Pandora’s box of sectarianism, the 2011 intervention in Libya, and the ongoing Syria are decisions that were taken without thinking through the consequences. These failed interventions have triggered a series of unintended and far-reaching consequences which enabled Al-Qaeda to establish itself where it had no previously presence and they are in great part responsible for the creation of ISIS and the massive international refugee crisis.
Perilous Interventions is an important, very informative and timely book. Puri does explicitly argue in the book the Security Council’s reform, a term used extensively over the years as part of a broader discussion that involves UN Reform in order to build a more effective and democratic global institution. Puri argues that the UN have an important role to play but needs to be more fit for purpose, on improvements in the organization’s management and finance, on preventive diplomacy and to concentrate more on reaching out to people.