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Krishnadev asked: Is there an Indian school of strategic thought?

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  • S. Kalyanaraman replies: No, there is no Indian school of strategic thought. In fact, there is no country-specific or culture-specific strategic thought, notwithstanding contrived efforts to differentiate between ‘Western’ and ‘Non-Western’ discourses in International Relations.

    Throughout history, the external policies of nation-states, city-states, kingdoms and empires have been driven by the readily mobilisable manpower, financial and technological resources available to them at a particular point in time to protect, pursue and expand their interests. When these available resources were small, states tended to adopt policies that were conservative and status quo in character. And when these resources were available in a larger measure, they invariably preferred to pursue expansionist and revisionist policies. This pattern has unfolded in various parts of the world irrespective of the prevalent cultural, religious or civilisational values. The rise and fall of various empires, kingdoms, city-states and nation-states testify to this.

    Recall the histories of Athens, Venice, Rome, Britain, Russia, the Mauryas, Guptas, Cholas, Mughals, and the successive Chinese dynasties, the Persians, Ottomans and the Mongols. Each of these sovereigns waged war, pursued peace and commerce and sought to promote its own cultural and religious values as well as ideas and institutions. And each did so to protect, pursue and promote its own interests. The means adopted by each in this regard was not a function of its culture or religion or nature of government, but a function of the resources available to it at a particular historical juncture as well as of the receptivity or opposition it encountered in the process. Acceptance by another meant the triumph of soft power while opposition necessitated the employment of hard military power to break down resistance. Soft power triumphed when the other party was considerably weaker or smaller or chose not to resist. Hard power was employed only when manpower and financial resources were available to overthrow the opposition. Even then, no state or kingdom or empire preferred to employ hard power given the inevitable costs involved in such a course of action. Hard power was employed only when other softer means of persuasion failed.

    If this has been the experience of every type of sovereign that has ever existed in the world, then there cannot be a country-specific or culture-specific external policy or school of strategic thought. What course of action a particular sovereign employs at a particular historical juncture becomes a function not of its culture but of the material means available to it to pursue its interests.

    Posted on August 14, 2014