Kautilya Adopted a Multi-Pronged Approach Towards National Security: Sihag

October 20, 2014

New Delhi: Speaking on the relevance of Kautilyan thought on national security, Professor Balbir Singh Sihag, Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts University, USA and author of ‘Kautilya: The True Founder of Economics’ (2014) said that Kautilyan understanding of economics and prosperity was based on much more solid foundation of ethics than Adam Smith’s idea of justice being the foundation. Moreover, Kautilya adopted a multi–pronged approach towards national security, a rarity in his times. Emphasising on the ethical side of Kautilya and his treatise the Arthashastra, Professor Sihag said that the Arthashastra adopts two different approaches when it comes to domestic policy and the foreign policy. While in the arena of the former, the king must follow ethical code of conduct; in the later the king should give primacy to national interest over all other considerations. It is the later approach with regard to the conduct of foreign policy that is highlighted by the west to deny credit to Kautilya and discredit him as an out and out unethical philosopher. Professor Sihag was speaking on ‘Kautilya and National Security’ at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) on October 20, 2014.

Highlighting Kautilya’s views on National Security, Professor Sihag said that to Kautilya there was no room for idealism in pursuing national interests. Kautilya understood that a stronger nation was in a better position to extract extra gains from treaties/negotiations and in making claims on common resources. He understood that national security was not any abstract concept and a nation needed to compare its strength to that of its potential adversary.

Arthashastra identifies food security as a key to ensure national security and in this regard Dr. Sihag lauded the Government’s stance on the food security issue at the WTO. The Govt. of India did not yield to the pressures of the powerful countries that have double standards on the issue.

Suggesting a way out of the current governance deficit that impinges on our national security, the Professor said that “Kautilya’s king was a loyal servant of the royal public” and the same approach should be followed by the people sitting at the top to herald a new era of national development. Decision-makers’ and advisers’ foresightedness and ethical conduct is most essential to national security and prosperity. Kautilya’s reminder of the higher purposes of the state is fascinating, which constantly reminds us that the Dharma of the king is to benefit his subjects and not himself and the choice of policy instruments, sama, dama, danda and bheda, depending on which serves the purpose and not on the individual preference or the whims of the king.

Summarising the importance of the Arthashastra, Dr. Sihag said that taking pride in the country’s rich heritage instils sense of patriotism and increases productivity. Arthashastra is definitely one of our richest heritage and we must take forward the legacy of Kautilya by understanding and applying the concepts in Arthashastra in the field of governance and foreign policy.

IDSA has been conducting research and organising national and international events initially on Kautilya’s Arthashastra as a part of ancient indigenous historical knowledge since October 2012. The effort has been motivated by the desire to educate and inform policy makers, scholars and the general public the traditions of strategic thought, defence and security. Reinterpretation of text and traditions relevant to contemporary issues is the vision of this exercise. Since then the institute has organised three planned events. Two monographs have been published and two edited books are under publication.