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National Security Strategy for India: Kautilya Has the Answers

Image Source Wikipedia Commons - Artistic Depiction of Kautilya

The debate over publishing India’s National Security Strategy (NSS) has once again received much attention. There are several discussions in the media over What a NSS is, Why India requires it and what should it contain and so on.

Some of the recent luminary votaries of an NSS are the former Army Chief General M M Naravane and the former National Security Adviser and Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon. Both in separate forums have called for an official NSS which should be made public and based on which weighty issues such as Theaterisation of the Armed Forces need to evolve.

Whether driven by this or a general debate in the global strategic community that India does not have a NSS as it lacks a strategy culture – implying that New Delhi is not in conformity with western strategic thinking, there is an impetus to formulation of a seminal document is unclear.

Suffice to say such a debate crops up in the country from time to time mostly during the times of general elections or a new government takes office. Thus it may not be too propitious to suggest that with polls in the first half of next year the demand for an NSS may have received traction. Whether it will be taken to the conclusion now remains to be seen?

Another recent debate essentially in military circles is that of revival of ancient strategic thought through a project called as Udbhav led by the Indian Army in collaboration with the United Services Institution of India which has a Centre for research on military history.

The main impetus for this debate appears to be the wave of cultural nationalism that is sweeping the armed forces as well. Thus a necessity to study ancient military literature ostensibly not to ape modern western military thoughts is being felt. 

Indeed, Indian Army officers have been studying the relevant text of Arthashashtra by Kautliya which is a prescribed syllabus for the Defence Services Staff College entrance exam at least once in five years in the past.

Though this is limited to application of the military facets of Kautilya or Chanakya the study has been ongoing albeit in an abridged form for some years and the thoughts are not new.

An important facet that emerges from the study of Arthashashtra is the focus on Statecraft and governance of which war is one part which gels with modern western thought that war is politics by other means a la Clausewitz.

While Clausewitz and others such as Jomini have written exclusively on the conduct of war at the grand strategic, operational and the tactical nuances – Kautilya focuses on administration of a kingdom as a welfare state for the people.

War is one part of this praxis, and he has outlined at least four means of conducting wars or Yuddha with the kinetic being only one of these.  The conduct of war has thus received limited coverage in the book with general principles that can be applied in modern 21st Century warfare. To that extent the Army’s scholarly venture into Arthashashtra may be limited in scope and perhaps time.

But the rich literature and details on statecraft in Arthashashtra provide a primer for a national security strategy which would prove useful for those who are presently involved in drafting an NSS for India.

If Ends, Ways and Means is what a strategy in modern terms is all about Kautilya provides a very detailed exposition of the same in Arthashashtra.

Kautilya’s detailed review of use of power is worthy of study of those who can exercise the same today. The power which a state can bring to promote its interests is based on six factors – the king or leadership, the ministers or government, the fortifications, the hinterland as a source of natural and human resources, the treasury or economy and the army.  An ancient version of comprehensive national power or CNP. Of these the three key factors that enable a King to exercise power are outlined as – Army, Economy and intellectual capabilities.

In all this the power of ‘mantra’ or good counsel is given due importance where even a powerful state may not be able to achieve its national interests purely based on the six factors stated above.

The theory of Mandala or Circle of States is perhaps Kautilya’s most popular with the enemy’s enemy etc and is not being gone through hear.

In dealing with States in the Circle – Kautilya advises adopting six methods – peace, war, indifference, preparing for war, seeking support and dual policy of making peace with one while war with another,  Dissuasion, deterrence, limited war and so on could fall in this framework.

To control the members of the Circle, a king could adopt four methods suggested by Kautilya conciliation, Dana or placation with gifts in other words grants and aid, sowing dissension and finally if necessary use  of force.

While only a few applications from Kautilya’s tome are outlined here there are many examples of statecraft in Arthashashtra which can be suitably applied to devise a NSS for India to meet the modern challenges with ancient Indian strategic wisdom.

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