Saturday, March 20, 2010

Arthashastra: The Foreign Policy Focus –Part 1

I have been a follower of Kautilya Arthashastra since 2002. I was introduced to the content of this treatise through L.N. Rangrajan’s Kautilya – The Arthashastra. Then in 2004 I had the good fortune of obtaining The Kautilya Arthashastra of Dr. R.P. Kangle. I found certain differences of understanding of the same text between the work of L.N. Rangarajan and Dr. Kangle. I found myself more comfortable with many sections of Dr. Kangle’s translation. But that is a subject of another discussion. Also, I came to recognize that though Dr. R Shama Shastry’s version was the first in modern times, it is Dr. Kangle who’s seminal work has become the basis of all future translations and analysis.

Therefore, like any other writer, wherever there is quotation of Book.Chapter.Text, it is from Dr. Kangle’s translation.

Over the last week, there has been a lot of mention of Arthashastra in various contexts. I for one had mentioned it to justify my view of Governance before Ideology. Recently, G. Aditya Kiran had published a write-up on his blog and shared with all on twitter, focusing on the import of Foreign Policy of Kautilya on current times. It is the discussion that started on Twitter that led to my own description of Kautliyan Foreign Policy administration. I am not claiming this to be the ultimate understanding, but this is what I have come to understand from my own readings.

Foreign Policy in Kautilyan Arthashastra

Many people tend to give Dandniti the central place in Kautilya's policies of governance. This is, however, untrue. Kautilya was a sane, moderate and balanced policymaker and "Prudence" is the central theme of his treatise. Let us see how he elaborated on the Foreign Policy.


Sama Vyayamau Yogakshemayoryonih(6.2.1)

To indulge in a noble exercise (Sama Vyayamau) that will bring advancement and enjoyment of fruit of labour to the people of the state (Yogakshemayoryonih). Conversely, any exercise that brings advancement and enjoyment of fruit of labour to the people of the state must be considered a noble endeavor.

Important Character: Vijigishu

In Kautilya Arthashastra, Vijigishu is a kind of king who is outward looking with a desire to have a control or an upper hand in inter-state relationships in order to not only have a greater personal influence but also to have benefits accrued for the advancement of his nation and its subjects.

For the sake of ease of understanding and also to relate in a minor way to existing situation of democratic state, we will identify the Vijigishu’s State with Our State. Vijigishu himself will be identified as Us.

Important Background Situations:

1. The constituents of the internal system of the state: Here the seven constituents have been described. Each constituent’s excellences (Book 6) have been disclosed and the ideal situations of the entire system along with the calamities (Book 8) that may befall have been explained in great detail.

The primary idea is that we should run the state well and all the constituents of a state must play their roles properly in order to create an ideal situation. This leads to the advancement of the state which in turn makes the state more powerful. This in turn forms the first principle of a foreign policy.

2. The existing relations with the neighboring states: Twelve different kinds of relationships with other states vis-à-vis Our State have been explained in Book 6 (from 6.2.13 to 6.2.22). This is the basis for the circle of Kings or alternatively the Raj Mandal Theory. This circle or the Mandal may have 3 constituents or upto 12 constituents. It is dependent on our Geopolitical situation.

While all neighboring states may typically be our enemy only one of them will be a natural enemy and, therefore, the staunchest enemy. This Natural enemy and the remaining constituents of the Mandal may act in a way to create the situations for war and peace which in turn will affect the decline, stability and advancement of Our State. This is always in addition to the first factor of ideal working of internal constituents of the state.

This possibility or reality of external influences on the state gives rise to the need for the foreign policy itself.

It also creates the second principle of foreign policy, which is to eliminate the enemy.

3. The power of the state: The power of the state will go through the phases of decline, stability and advancement. This is dependent on the functioning of internal constituents. The internal functioning could be ideal or away from ideal.

Similarly the power of enemy state plays an influential role on the decline, stability and advancement of our state. It may not be possible to be stronger than the enemy all the time over a long term period. In this situation, our state must find allies from within the circle of Kings or the Raj Mandal. Those states that are neighboring our enemy but do not share borders with us will typically be our Natural enemy’s enemy. The Natural enemy being the common enemy, neighbor’s neighbor will be our ally. But such a state must be considered an ally, if and only if, it comes forward to help our state.

This ever-changing situation creates the need for an ally and ally is only judged by his action. This also becomes the third principle of foreign policy.

With this background and the use of wisdom and Dharm, we arrive at six principles of Foreign Policy:
1. The King shall always develop his state through its constituents to make the state powerful and the conditions favorable for advancement.
2. The Enemy of the State should always be eliminated
3. Those who help Our State are our Allies
4. We should always adopt a prudent course of action. Preventing a situation, that obstructs advancement, from occurring is better than curing it after it has occurred. This is a wise decision.
5. Peace should always be preferred to war. We should only be interested in long term advancement of our state and if it comes through instruments of peace, then so be it.
6. A King’s behavior, in victory and in defeat, must be just. He should always follow the Dharm, His Dharm is the Raj Dharm.

Having understood the need for a Foreign Policy and the principles that we may observe, we reach the operational aspect of ‘How do we implement the Foreign Policy?’. Kautilya gives us six- well thought out measures of Foreign Policy.

Six Measures of Foreign Policy administration

1. Peace
2. War
3. Staying Quiet
4. Marching
5. Seeking Shelter
6. Dual Policy

For those who have followed Arthashastra for a while, it is known that the Arthashastra had been in existence much before Kautilya, and Kautilya Arthashastra is probably the last version. This version stands out also because Kautilya has clearly stated his opposition to the text of the older versions proposed by different teachers. In case of Foreign Policy measures, Vatavyadhi (another teacher who may have given one of the earlier versions) identified only two main measures – War and Peace. According to him the other four measures come from War and Peace itself. (7.1.3-4)

Kautilya disagreed and stated that due to difference in situations that they may be applied, these are actually six different measures. (7.1.5)

However, the six measures have existed as part of foreign policy administration.

Now comes the Power of the state to analyze the situation and judge when each of these measures may be employed. Right medicine is possible when the diagnosis of the ailment is right. In that sense, ability to analyze and judge forms the part of the Power of the State, in addition to resources and size of army.

We will discuss this operational aspect and scenario building in the Part 2.


  1. Hi Is there any writing avaialble that explains US way of leading the World Stage. I belive Borrow and Consume ( as against Save & Produce) policy has some tactical advantages and thats what US probably is pursuing.

    Do you want to share Any insights on this?

  2. @Sunil

    As far as US is concerned or for that matter other Bilderberg supported nations are concerned, there is a different approach I have perceived.

    It is continuity of colonization through Manchurian Candidates through control of Natural Resources and control on Production. While producers themselves are consumers, the employees (third world nations) are also consumers...

    Industry owners will always be richer than employees.

    It is what started off from the time of Industrial Revolution.


    Piyush Kulshreshtha