A panel discussion at the Alliance Française here on Thursday threw into sharp relief the complexities of 'humanitarian intervention', which has come to be embodied in the principle of ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P). The panel, which featured familiar faces from India’s strategic community, differed in its views on R2P and its application to the ongoing crisis in Libya.

“Let me congratulate France for acting boldly to lead the Libyan intervention and saving Europe from irrelevance," began C. Rajamohan of the Centre for Policy Research. According to him, humanitarian interventions had to be seen through the prisms of “consistency, [the] neutrality of interveners and [their] pursuit of maximalist goals”. Dr. Rajamohan was candid in his embrace of the same, asserting that ‘some regimes just had to go’, but predicted the fate of R2P would ultimately be determined by “success” in Libya.

His self-professedly ‘realist’ take, however, found little favour among other panelists. Shuddhabrata Sengupta, a writer and member of Raqs Media Collective, condemned the Libyan “aggression”, and claimed that its sponsors were hardly the torchbearers of humanitarianism, “as they made it out to be”. Mr. Sengupta referred to the Mucyo Commission’s report, which indicted the present French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe for lending active support to genocidal forces in Rwanda.

The discussants also highlighted India’s role in moulding the character of humanitarian interventions. K.C. Singh, a retired diplomat, said that India’s “explanation” for abstaining from the Security Council vote on Libya was “weak” and suggested it should have joined hands with the West in supporting the UN resolution. “If India wishes to be a permanent member of the UNSC, then it should behave like one”, he said.

The discord among NATO members in fleshing out the contours of a “poorly conceived” intervention likely pointed to an entrenched civil war in Libya, argued Siddharth Varadarajan, Strategic Affairs Editor of The Hindu. The need for a cautious approach to R2P was also endorsed by Dr. Radha Kumar, who heads the Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution at the Jamia Millia Islamia. Dr. Kumar, who said that preventive steps were as important as missions to protect, advocated more attention being paid to the post-intervention situation.

The discussion was introduced by French Ambassador to India, Jerome Bonnafont, who said that France had a “stake in the debate on R2P”, adding that his country attached importance to what “India thought of the issue”.