Tilting at Windmills? The Indian Debate over the Responsibility to Protect after UNSC Resolution 1973

in Global Responsibility to Protect
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India voted for United Nations Security Council Resolution 1970, but abstained from Resolution 1973 authorizing a no-fly zone over Libya, subsequently criticizing the NATO campaign. This stance provoked much comment within India and among foreign commentators on Indian foreign policy. Some praised it as morally superior to approving military action, which was portrayed by some as Western ‘neo-colonialism’. Others, however, were critical of India’s unwillingness to back intervention in Libya and the principle of the Responsibility to Protect. For the critics, India’s objections to UNSC 1973 merely demonstrated the continued weakness of the foreign policy establishment and its inability to balance power politics and ethical values. This article evaluates these various positions, but argues that while the Libyan episode stimulated an unprecedented amount of comment in India about R2P, it is unlikely that the Indian government or leading Indian commentators will soon shift their positions.

Tilting at Windmills? The Indian Debate over the Responsibility to Protect after UNSC Resolution 1973

in Global Responsibility to Protect




 Quoted in Bruce Riedel‘A Letter from Agra: How India Views U.S. Actions in Libya’Up Front Blog21 March 2011 Brookings Institution http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2011/03/21-india-libya-riedel accessed 10 November 2012.


 See S. D. MuniIndia’s Foreign Policy: The Democracy Dimension (Delhi: Foundation Books2009) pp. 55-85. The phrase ‘militant Nehruvian’ comes from Stephen P. Cohen India: Emerging Power (Washington DC: Brookings 2001).


 See Nayar and PaulIndia in the World Order pp. 159-202.


C. Raja Mohan‘India, Libya and the Principle of Non-Intervention’ISAS Insights 122 13 April 2011 http://www.isas.nus.edu.sg/Attachments/PublisherAttachment/ISAS_Insights_122_-_Email_-_India_Libya_and_the_Princple_of_Non-Intervention_19042011144243.pdf accessed 10 November 2012.


 Quoted in WheelerSaving Strangers p. 63.


 See Samir Amin‘US Hegemony: Need to Reshape European Politics’Economic and Political Weekly 34/21: 1247-1248 (May 22-28 1999).


Nambiar‘India’ p. 261.


M. S. Rajan‘The New Interventionism?’International Studies37/1: 31-40 (2000) p. 32. This article is a response to Michael Glennon’s ‘The New Interventionism: The Search for a Just International Order’ Foreign Affairs 78/3: 2-7 (1999).


Rahul Rao‘The UN and NATO in the New World Order: Legal Issues’International Studies37/3: 157-181 (2000) p. 163.


 See also Ninan Koshy‘Sidelining the United Nations’Economic and Political Weekly35/15: 1243-1244 (8-14 April 2001) as well as Nambiar ‘India’.


Alex BellamyGlobal Politics and the Responsibility to Protect: From Words to Deeds (London and New York: Routledge2011) p. 22. See also M. S. Rajan’s review of the International Commission on State Sovereignty’s 2001 report ‘Sovereignty of States and Intervention’ International Studies 40/3: 277-281 (2003) which expresses a similar view.


Alex BellamyResponsibility to Protect: The Global Effort to End Mass Atrocities (Cambridge: Polity2009) p. 88. See also Bellamy Global Politics and the Responsibility to Protect pp. 22-23.


 See especially Ramesh Thakur‘In Defence of the Responsibility to Protect’The International Journal of Human Rights7/3: 160-173 (2003) The United Nations Peace and Security: From Collective Security to the Responsibility to Protect (New York: Cambridge University Press 2006) and Ramesh Thakur and T. G. Weiss ‘From Idea to Norm – and Action? Global Responsibility to Protect’ Global Responsibility to Protect 1/1: 22-53 (2009).


BellamyGlobal Politics and the Responsibility to Protect p. 61. Whether Mukherjee actually intended to invoke R2P is controversial. He certainly said that ‘The Sri Lankan government has a responsibility to protect its own citizens…’ but whether he meant to appeal to the R2P norm is debateable. See especially Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury ‘The Sri Lankan Situation and the “Responsibility to Protect”’ ISAS Insights 61: 1-6 (2009) and for a positive spin on Mukherjee’s remarks see Ramesh Thakur ‘Protecting Citizens Abroad’ Daily News and Analysis 7 May 2010 http://www.dnaindia.com/print710.php?cid=1380008 accessed 10 November 2012.


 See for example Harsh V. Pant‘Libya Exposes New Faultlines in Indian Foreign Policy’ISN Insights21 April 2011 http://www.isn.ethz.ch/isn/Current-Affairs/Security-Watch-Archive/Detail/?ots783=4888caa0-b3db-1461-98b9-e20e7b9c13d4&lng=en&id=12859 accessed 10 November 2012.


S/PV.6491 26 February 2011.


S/PV.6498 17 March 2011.


Masood Haidar‘Russia and China denounce West’s attack on Libya’Dawn.com22 March 2011 http://www.dawn.com/2011/03/22/russia-and-china-denounce-wests-attack-on-libya.html accessed 10 November 2012.


 See for example K. C. Singh‘Why the PM’s UN Visit Won’t Help India’s Cause’rediff.com26 September 2011 http://www.rediff.com/news/column/why-the-pms-un-visit-wont-help-indias-cause/20110926.htm accessed 10 November 2012. On 15 March 2011 in the Lok Sabha Jaswant Singh he reproached the government arguing: ‘you do not have the choice of saying that we are far away. You are not far away…. Mr. Minister please forgive me for pointing out that it is not within your authority to say that we do not wish to interfere. If you do not interfere events will interfere with India…. Please do intervene with consideration and caution but you cannot be a bystander’ Lok Sabha debate 15 March 2011 accessed 10 November 2012 p. 113.


Vijay Prashad‘Imperial Anxieties’Frontline28/6 12-25 March 2011 http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl2806/stories/20110325280605100.htm accessed 10 November 2012.


John Cherian‘Colonel in his Labyrinth’Frontline28/6 12-25 March 2011 http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl2806/stories/20110325280602600.htm accessed 10 November 2012.


John Cherian‘Libya in the Crosshairs’Frontline28/8 9-22 April 2011 http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl2808/stories/20110422280800400.htm accessed 10 November 2012.


Prem Shankar JhaCrouching Dragon Hidden Tiger: Can China and India Dominate the West? (New York: Soft Skull Press2009).


Prem Shankar Jha‘Does the West have a Death Wish?’Tehelka8/13 2 April 2011 http://tehelka.com/story_main49.asp?filename=Op020411Does.asp accessed 10 November 2012.


Brahma Chellaney‘Saving Civilians; Murky Geopolitics’The Hindu6 April 2011 http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/thscrip/print.pl?file=2011040650961000.htm&date=2011/04/06/&prd=th& accessed 10 November 2012. On oil as a motivation see also Pranay Sharma ‘The Pillars of Hind’ Outlook India 15 August 2011 http://outlookindia.com/printarticle.aspx?277944 accessed 10 November 2012 and R. S. Kalha ‘Gadhafi is Another Name for Oil’ Tehelka 7 June 2011 http://www.tehelka.com/story_main49.asp?filename=Ws070611Gadhafi.asp accessed 10 November 2012. Kalha is a former Indian Foreign Service officer.


Arvind Gupta‘Mind the R2P’Indian Express22 April 2011 http://www.indianexpress.com/news/mind-the-r2p/779647/0 accessed 10 November 2012.


G. Parthasarthy‘New Trends in Foreign Policy: Learning from Western Action in Libya’Tribune India31 March 2011 http://www.tribuneindia.com/2011/20110331/edit.htm#4 accessed 10 November 2012. See also his ‘India No Rubber Stamp for the West’ The Hindu Business Line 31 March 2011 http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/columns/g-parthasarathy/article1585292.ece?homepage=true accessed 10 November 2012.


John Cherian‘Mission Creep’Frontline28/10 7-20 May 2011 http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl2810/stories/20110520281004300.htm accessed 10 November 2012; ‘Hollow Ring’ Frontline 28:1 4-17 June 2011 http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl2812/stories/20110617281205300.htm accessed 10 November 2012. See also John Cherian ‘Forked Tongue’ Frontline 28:12 4-17 June 2011 http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl2812/stories/20110617281205600.htm accessed 10 November 2012 and ‘Desperate West’ Frontline 28:15 16-29 July 2011 http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl2815/stories/20110729281505500.htm accessed 10 November 2012.


Anjali Kamat and Ahmad Shokr‘Libya’s Reformist Revolutionaries’Economic and Political Weekly46/12: 13-14 19 March 2011.


Ajish P. Joy‘The Crisis in Libya’ORF Issue Brief28 April 2011.


Manoj Joshi‘Dodgy Stand on Libya Crisis’India Today24 March 2011 http://indiatoday.intoday.in/articlePrint.jsp?aid=133200.


Raja Mohan‘India Libya and the Principle of Non-Intervention’ p. 8. See also his review of Brendan Simms and D. J. B Trim’s edited Humanitarian Intervention: A History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2011) ‘We Shall Protect You’ Centre for Policy Research Blog 21 May 2011 http://www.cprindia.org/print/blog/international-relations-and-security/3173-we-shall-protect-you.asp accessed 10 November 2012.


Harsh V. Pant‘Libya Exposes New Faultlines in Indian Foreign Policy’ISN Insights21 April 2011 http://www.isn.ethz.ch/isn/Current-Affairs/Security-Watch-Archive/Detail/?ots783=4888caa0-b3db-1461-98b9-e20e7b9c13d4&lng=en&id=12859 accessed 10 November 2012.


Sumit Ganguly‘A Pointless Abstention’The Diplomat23 April 2011 http://the-diplomat.com/indian-decade/2011/03/23/a-pointless-abstention/ accessed 10 November 2012.


Dhruva Jaishankar‘India’s Acute Abstinence Syndrome’Polaris19 March 2011 http://polaris.nationalinterest.in/2011/03/19/acute-abstinence-syndrome/ accessed 10 November 2012.


Rohan Mukherjee‘Redefining Responsibility’Pragati: The Indian National Interest Review3 September 2011 http://pragati.nationalinterest.in/2011/09/redefining-responsibility/ accessed 10 November 2012.


 See especially David M. MaloneDoes the Elephant Dance? Contemporary Indian Foreign Policy (New York: Oxford University Press2011).


 See Pratap Bhanu Mehta‘Reluctant India’Journal of Democracy22/4: 101-114 (2011).


Amrita Narlikar‘Is India a Responsible Great Power?’Third World Quarterly 32/9: 1607-1621 (2011). See also Narlikar’s New Powers: How to Become One and How to Manage Them (London: Hurst and Co. 2010) especially chapter 2.


Pratap Bhanu Mehta‘Still Under Nehru’s Shadow: The Absence of Foreign Policy Frameworks in India’India Review8/3: 209-233 (2009) p. 231.


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