Reading the Arthashastra: War by diplomacy

Here’s an interesting paper by Roger Boesche on the Kautilyan doctrine of war and diplomacy:

Whereas Carl von Clausewitz said that war is just an extension of domestic politics, Kautilya argued that diplomacy is really a subtle act of war, a series of actions taken to weaken an enemy and gain advantages for oneself, all with an eye toward eventual conquest. In Kautilya’s foreign policy, even during a time of diplomacy and negotiated peace, a king should still be “striking again and again” in secrecy.

Because a king abides by a treaty only for so long as it is advantageous, Kautilya regarded all allies as future conquests when the time is ripe.

[JMH/JHU]

(A couple of years ago, Sunil Laxman had introduced Professor Boesche’s The First Great Political Realist—a slim, readable introduction to the Arthashastra.)

On the topic of agreements, Kautilya declares:

When the profit accruing to kings under an agreement, whether they be of equal, inferior, or superior power, is equal to all, that agreement is termed peace (sandhi); when unequal, it is termed defeat (vikrama). Such is the nature of peace and war. [Arthashastra VII:8]

There are two aspects to the assessment of benefits from an agreement: relative gains and the time dimension. An agreement is desirable when the gains from it outweigh the gains the enemy makes from it. Also, “whoever thinks that in the course of time his loss will be less than his acquisition as contrasted with that of his enemy, may neglect his temporary deterioration.” Simple as it seems, since an agreement between two states affects all others in the raja mandala, the actual business of calculating relative gains and summing them up is necessarily a complex exercise.

Related Links: The reading the Arthashastra series archive.

1 thought on “Reading the Arthashastra: War by diplomacy”

  1. Seriously and sincerely hope that the Islamabad blasts weren’t the RAW taking a leaf out of the Arthshastra, and the perpetrators be damned.

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