Indian Perspectives on the ‘Responsibility to Protect'

Date01 July 2020
Published date01 July 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Indian Perspectives on
the ‘Responsibility to
Akanksha Singh1
The concept of ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) took shape to refine the
contested concept of ‘humanitarian intervention’. In the initial phase, the concept
of R2P did not receive enthusiastic endorsement. Developing countries including
India perceived it as a new body with the old spirit and likened it with the concept
of humanitarian intervention, and this was reinforced by the US-led war against
Iraq in 2003. However, the 2005 World Summit proved to be a watershed in
the evolution of R2P, just as it is a landmark to understand an important phase
of India’s approach to the idea. It would not be accurate to characterize India
as a determined nay-sayer on R2P endorsement, particularly in view of the
widely known priority India attached at the World Summit to the question of
United Nations (UN) Security Council enlargement. Eventually, by 2009 (with
the introduction of ‘three- pillar principles’ of R2P), India became a major
proponent for the cautious and legitimate implementation of R2P. However, the
experiences gained from Libya made India become a voice of caution in invoking
forcible options under the R2P principle in Syria. In this article, the attempt has
been made to articulate various permutations and combinations regarding India’s
evolving approach to R2P on a case-by-case basis.
Humanitarian intervention, responsibility to protect, responsibility while
protecting, United Nations, World Summit, three-pillar principle
1 Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament, School of International Studies,
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Delhi, India.
Corresponding author:
Akanksha Singh, Doctoral Research Scholar, Centre for International Politics, Organization and
Disarmament, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Delhi
110067, India.
International Studies
57(3) 296–316, 2020
2020 Jawaharlal Nehru University
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0020881720930605
Research article
Singh 297
The roots of India’s humanitarian and value-based foreign policy approach can be
traced back to Emperor Ashoka’s intense inclination towards the Buddhist
philosophy of peace and non-violence in the aftermath of massive destruction and
bloodshed during the Kalinga war. Also, while throwing light on the six tools of
foreign policy, the ancient Indian political philosopher Kautilya determined
Sandhi as the first and foremost tool. By Sandhi, he meant making peace or
negotiating a peace treaty for eluding the interventionist measures. It was his
consideration that Sandhi enables a state to stimulate the measures concerning
development and welfare without being the party to any conflict. After
independence in 1947, the central element in India’s foreign policy was its
commitment to the struggle against imperialism and colonialism. India’s non-
alignment policy formulated amid the Cold War period and under the leadership
of Nehru, resisted against the West-sponsored pacts and alliances, considering
them as deliberate attempts by the imperialist superpowers to dominate smaller
and weaker countries of Asia and Africa. Nehru’s preferential inclination towards
soft power mechanisms over that of hard power shaped the nature of India’s
foreign policy and particularly its stance on intervention and the use of force. In
this realm, it could be perceptible as to why India has expressed its reservations
against any ideological or normative orientation, which in one or other way has
provided legitimacy to the right of intervention. The historical experiences and
long-standing traditional foreign policy principles have been significant in
enabling India to be sceptical about the interpretation of the concepts of
‘humanitarian intervention’ and R2P.
This article attempts to explore various dimensions in relation to India’s
evolutionary approach to the concept of R2P. It progresses by addressing the
following themes: (a) humanitarian interventions in the 1990s and development
of the concept of R2P; (b) India’s position on endorsement of the R2P at the World
Summit; (c) India’s considerations towards R2P in the aftermath of World Summit
negotiations; (d) India’s response to the Libyan crisis (2011); (e) India’s response
to the issues after Libyan intervention; and (f) concluding observations.
Humanitarian Interventions in the 1990s and
Development of the Concept of R2P
In the early 1990s, grave violations of human rights were occurring within the
African and Central and East European states. Their implications were so severe
that the responsibility came on the shoulders of the international community to
protect the people of these states. However, the international community faced a
dilemma. The problem was not that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC)
was unwilling to prevent these conflicts; rather, it was perhaps unable to do so
because of the restrictions imposed by Article 2(7) of the United Nations (UN)
Charter (non-intervention in domestic affairs). Considering the magnitude and

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