India Should Refer to Arthashastra to Broaden Vision on Strategic Doctrines: NSA

October 18, 2012

New Delhi: India needs to develop its own strategic vocabulary and doctrines to truly seek “the broadest possible degree of strategic autonomy” said National Security Advisor, Mr Shiv Shankar Menon, adding that reading Kautilya’s ‘Arthashastra’ will help us “by broadening our vision on issues of strategy”.

Mr Menon was speaking at the Workshop on Kautilya, organised by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) under its Project on Indigenous Historical Knowledge-I on October 18, 2012.

“Much of what passes for strategic thinking in India today is derivative, using concepts, doctrines and a vocabulary derived from other cultures, times, places and conditions” added Mr Menon.

Terming the Arthashastra as a “text of its time and place, Mauryan to Gupta administration,” Mr Menon said that “Kautilya’s is more than just a power maximisation or internal dominance strategy for a state. He has an almost modern sense of the higher purpose of the state, and of the limits of power”.

Arthashastra is “serious manual on statecraft, on how to run a state, informed by a higher purpose (or dharma), clear and precise in its prescriptions, the result of practical experience of running a state. It is not just a normative text but a realist description of the art of running a state, the NSA added.

Describing India’s supposedly incoherent strategic approach as a “colonial construct”, the NSA insisted that “some of the problems in IR and strategic studies that we think we are dealing with for the first time, have been considered by great minds in India before’’ and the country should “use the past to learn ways of thinking about these problems, improving our mental discipline, as it were.”

“By reading Kautilya (and other texts like the Shantiparva of the Mahabharata) “one is also reminded of the rich experience in our tradition of multipolarity, of asymmetries in the distribution of power, of debate on the purposes of power (where dharma is defined), of the utility of force, and of several other issues with contemporary resonance,” concluded the NSA.

`Earlier welcoming the guests, Director General, IDSA, Dr Arvind Gupta pointed out that the workshop aims at achieving three goals: “to bring together Indian scholars and experts, who have been studying Kautilya and have more than passing interest in his work”, “establish that India has a long tradition of strategic thinking, which needs to be brought to light” and lastly to provide an impetus “to the study of regional literature, thinking of other Indian thinkers and strategists, who wrote and spoke in regional languages”.

The Workshop had four sessions where various aspects related to Kautilya’s Arthashastra like foreign Policy, diplomacy, pedagogy and its relevance in contemporary times and future studies were discussed.

The papers presented in the workshop extensively discussed the Kautilyan concepts of ‘Rajmandala’ (circle of states), ‘Shadgunya’ (six instruments of foreign policy), intelligence System and comprehensive national power.

The speakers during the workshop were Dr Radhakrishnan Pillai, Founder Director, Chanakya Institute of Public Leadership; Dr Ranabir Chakravarti, Centre for Historical Studies, JNU; Dr Amalesh Kumar Mishra, History Division, Ministry of Defence; Dr Krishnendu Ray, Department of Ancient Indian History and Culture, University of Calcutta; Wg Cdr G Adityakiran and Wg Cdr Sachin More; Shri N.S. Mani and N Raju Singh, representatives of National Archives of India, Ministry of Culture; Amb AND Haksar (Retd) and IDSA scholars, Dr. Kalyan Raman and Col. P K Gautam (Retd.).

The workshop was organised as a part of the IDSA project on Indigenous Historical Knowledge, which aims to initiate the study, internalization, spread and consolidation of Chanakya’s Arthashastra in a sustainable way. The four themes for focus being foreign policy, intelligence, war and internal security as it relates to contemporary times.

The workshop concluded with participants affirming the need to continue this effort through concentrated focus on other such classics on diplomacy and statecraft available in various languages.

Click here for complete text of NSA's address