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Lay down the rules now

The Arab Spring is India’s chance to frame its stand on interventions in future conflicts.

india Updated: Oct 21, 2011 23:16 IST
Hindustan Times

Muammar Gaddafi was the first ruler to die as a consequence of the popular revolts that have swept the Arab world. He may not be the last, as the violence in Syria and Yemen is moving towards a state of civil war. Libya is a reminder that the Arab revolts have not been homogeneous, differing wildly in their circumstances, their ethical quality and the fissures they have represented.

The Libyan revolt will be among the least cuddly of these political upheavals. Gaddafi was brutal, but he did have support among a sizeable chunk of his people. There is little doubt the rebellion would have been quashed if the Western powers had not intervened. And, of course, it has been the bloodiest of the rebellions with as many as 30,000 people having died. The trickiest question for the international community is whether there is a case for intervention, military or otherwise, when something like a Libya or Syria is taking place.

Intervention is one of the thorniest international issues. Western countries have been more open to intervention in the affairs of other countries, especially in the past three decades. Cynics say it is a throwback to imperialism. The more nuanced argue it is consequence of a post-sovereign concept of international relations in which rights of the individual matter more than raison d’etat. India, like most emerging economies, has been a stout defender of sovereignty in the past.

It is likely to remain so in the future. However, as it becomes more confident of its ability to safeguard the integrity of its own decision-making process and its own cross-border interests expand, New Delhi may wish to take a new look at the issue of intervention. India, after all, does not shirk when it comes to sending troops into neighbouring countries and is a major peacekeeping provider for the United Nations.

India, in other words, argues intervention is acceptable so long as there is an international due process, preferably through the UN, by which such intervention is legitimised. But there is a case for India to go beyond even that stricture — given how cumbersome the UN is in authorising anything. A more sophisticated view would look at whether such intervention would help improve regional stability, would seek to measure popular support for such action and would consider the admixture of interests of nearby countries.

This would not be an easy matrix to work out, but it is the sort of thing that is expected of a country of global significance. The Arab revolt is a chance for India to clear its mind about such things, not least because it has little influence in most of these countries so its inclinations would be less muddied. The day will come, one suspects, when India will have to contemplate intervention in its own interests and it would be sensible to have the rules laid out well beforehand.

First Published: Oct 21, 2011 23:10 IST