Military intervention to halt atrocities is one of the most contentious aspects of R2P and with which India has often expressed disagreement in the past. Since the 2005 World Summit, however, there has been an apparent softening in that opposition. This article takes a close-up look at the empirical record, revealing ambiguity in Indian attitudes from the outset that militates against categorizing them as either ‘for’ or ‘against’ humanitarian intervention. The portrait that emerges is of a reactive actor driven incrementally away from a default preference for sovereignty as autonomy, whilst harbouring deep concerns about armed intervention. This article suggests that cautious and reluctant accommodation offers the best description of India’s still unresolved stance on humanitarian intervention. That fits in with a broad preference for pragmatism in foreign policy, which has struggled to balance traditional concerns with a ‘new’ ambition to acquire and sustain greater power-political influence in a changing world.
This article reflects on Hardeep Singh Puri’s approach towards the responsibility to protect (r2p) in Perilous Interventions, and, in so doing, also on the approaches generally taken in the Indian debate on the subject. It looks, in particular, at issues that both tend not to consider, limiting their contribution to the discourse on r2p. In this regard, the book is characteristic of critical Indian assessments of r2p, which have a narrow focus on the norm’s interventionist pillar and a further tendency to view it through a West/non-West, interest-based lens. This, in turn, contributes to an internal discourse that pivots on selected, individual cases of intervention – as does the book – while precluding a richer and conceptual engagement with the norm. The book is also preoccupied with the negative consequences of military intervention and the lessons of failure, so much so that it misses an opportunity to consider more fully how the use of force for human-rights protection might be made less perilous or less necessary.