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Exploring the Roots of India's Strategic Culture

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  • October 05, 2017

    Concept Note

    Despite a debate about its relevance, strategic culture has become a commonly used and acknowledged term in the sense of a “shaping context” for strategic behaviour. The sources of the strategic culture of a nation-state are its geography, history, national culture, politics, economics, technology, etc. The nation-states may have distinct strategic cultures pertaining to the differences in the material and ideational dimensions of these factors. However, strategy is essentially linked with national policy and goal. It has an operational value as means to implement a policy and achieve a goal, both long-term and short-term, that are shaped and defined by collectively shared values, experiences, attitudes, habits and the needs of a nation.

    The strategic can be understood in many ways as it has become a multidisciplinary term due to its importance for achieving a goal. But, strategic in its traditional meaning in International Politics/Relations has been primarily related to the military goals of a nation-state. Therefore, strategy, in this realm, is specifically understood as the set of identification, acquisition, allocation and mobilisation of various components of the comprehensive national power and their alignment towards achieving the military goals set by the state. A nation-state’s strategic affairs have three dimensions – securing its existence (kśema), achievement (yoga) and promotion (vivardhana) of its national goals pertaining to various cultural and politico-economic factors.

    Culture is the set of behaviour, belief, values and symbols that have been developed retained and handed over to the next generations in history. Strategic culture, therefore, is the set of the same in the context of the state behaviour in the matters considered as strategic. Although we note that there is an ongoing debate about the deterministic and explanatory value of strategic culture regarding state behaviour and decision-making, we cannot ignore the scholarly agreement on the influence of strategic culture in the background of decision-making (strategic culture as context). Scholars agree on the fact that there is a need of exploring the strategic cultures of various states so that we could build a pool of data and literature useful for further research.

    India, as a nation-state, has a long civilisational history and experience of complex cultural exchanges that has contributed to the development of its national identity and behaviour, including the ideational and material (geographical) conceptualisation of the state. The nation as a geocultural space and a 70 years old independent state has a history of seeing many empires and wars that compelled it to remain in a perpetual strategic engagement (both thought and action). Thus, it is worthwhile to investigate the nuances of the strategic culture acting as a context to its strategic behaviour.

    As regards the debate about the existence of strategic culture in India, views are often rudimentary and impulsive rather than based on an objective definition and understanding. The main reason for this is a lack of research and availability of literature on these dimensions. Thus, this is important to lead the debate in an objective and useful direction basing it on rigorous research. An awareness of the distinction and essential relationship between strategic thinking (philosophical and intellectual discourse) and strategic culture (experience, action, attitude and habit) is also important in the process of this investigation.

    It is in this context that the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses intends to explore the roots of India’s Strategic Culture, elements that have been influential in shaping Indian attitude towards perceiving threats, use of force, diplomacy, war, understanding and acquisition of power, etc.

    Some Important Questions:

    1. What are the root of India’s identification of its strategic geographical-self?
    2. What are the roots of India’s national and political self?
    3. What has been the relevance of strategy in Indian political thinking?
    4. Does India’s current strategic behaviour and positioning talk to its pre-independence and pre-colonial strategic thinking and execution?
    5. What are the roots of the Indian understanding on the use of force and military by the state?
    6. What has been the role of various pre-Independence (ancient and medieval) sub-regional military traditions in the Indian strategic thinking and culture?


    0930 - 1000h Tea & Registration

    Session I: Inauguration

    Chair: Prof Charan Wadhwa
    1000 - 1010h Introduction by Maj Gen Alok Deb, DDG, IDSA
    1010 - 1030h Special Address by Dr Arvind Gupta, Former Deputy NSA & DG IDSA

    1030 - 1045h Tea Break

    Session II: Roots in Language, Culture and Philosophy [1045 - 1230h]

    Chair: Amb A.N.D. Haksar
    1. Mr Vishnu Saksena, ‘Brāhmi Script and the Roots of Pan-Indian Culture’
    2. Dr Adil Rasheed ‘The Vedantist and Islamic Theological Schools on the Unity of Godhead (Brāhman and Tawheed)’
    3. Mr Nazir Ahmad Mir, ‘Cultural Explanation of Statecraft: Aśoka and Akbar’

    1230 - 1330h Lunch

    Session III: Intelligence and Strategic Culture [1330 - 1500h]

    Chair: Prof S.D. Muni
    1. Dr Michael Liebig, ‘The Kautilyan Roots of Intelligence Culture in South Asia – A Historical Perspective’
    2. Prof Subrata K. Mitra, ‘Ministry of Home Affairs and Intelligence in India’
    3. Mrs Kajari Kamal, ‘Indian Strategic Culture’

    1500 - 1515h Tea Break

    Session IV: War – Practice and Theory [1515 - 1715 h]

    Chair: Sqn Ldr R.T.S. Chinna
    1. Dr Saurabh Mishra, ‘The Use of Force and War in the Arthaśāstra’
    2. Col Vikrant Deshpande, ‘Hybrid Warfare: The Kautilyan Construct’
    3. Col P.K. Gautam (Retd), ‘Comparing Kāmandakī, Nītisāra and Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra’
    4. Dr Arpita Anant ‘Maratha Tradition of Statecraft and Warfare as Reflected in Ājñapatra’

    1715 - 1720h Vote of Thanks by Col P.K. Gautam (Retd)

    About IDSA's Project - Indigenous Historical Knowledge