Pragati August 2008: Should India send troops to Afghanistan?

Issue 17 - Aug 2008
Issue Contents


Making a leader
Excerpts from a lecture on leadership and discipline
Sam HFJ Manekshaw

Our voice in our history
Academic freedom, private funding and historical research
Jayakrishnan Nair

On whether or not India has a coherent foreign policy

A survey of think-tanks
On China policy; Fixing the FATA; An Indo-Israeli alliance?
Vijay Vikram

Hold steady in Afghanistan
India is on the right track and it should stay that way
Shanthie Mariet D’Souza

A bigger military presence is essential
…if India is to shape Afghanistan’s future
Sushant K Singh

The myth of Taliban tribalism
The folly of trying to set tribes against each other
Joshua Foust

Monsoon Session 2008—What’s in store
Legislative brief
Sarita Vanka

When it’s good to slow down
The why and what next about rising inflation
V Anantha Nageswaran

The historical roots of the services sector
…calls for a strategy that plays to India’s strengths
Stephen Broadberry and Bishnupriya Gupta

Profiting from education
Resistance against commercialisation is fruitless
Atanu Dey

Four books about Pakistan
On nuclear proliferation, military politics and society
Nitin Pai

Reading the Arthashastra: On internal security

Conciliation, dissension and coercion

What prescriptions does Kautilya offer for internal security? He starts the chapter on “internal and external dangers” by noting that these dangers arise due to wrongly concluded “treaties and other settlements”.

He places threats into four categories. The most serious one arises from internal originators and internal abettors and is like the “fear from a lurking snake”. Second to this is the purely external threat, both originated and abetted by foreigners. Third comes the internally originated but externally abetted threat, followed by the externally originated, internally abetted threat.

So how should the king deal with these? For the purely internal threat—when originators and abettors are locals—he advises a policy of conciliation and coercion.

He may employ the policy of conciliation with regard to those who keep the appearance of contentment, or who are naturally discontented or otherwise. Gifts may be given under the pretext of having been satisfied with a favoured man’s steadfastness… or under the plea of anxious care about his weal or woe. [Arthashastra IX:5]

In addition, he advocates the use of spies split the ranks of the conspirators and their sympathisers. Kautilya is ruthless when it comes to coercive tactics against leaders of the conspiracy–the punishment is usually death, including what might today be termed “extra judicial killings”.
Continue reading “Reading the Arthashastra: On internal security”

Lubricating a US-Iran rapprochement (2)

The geopolitical implications of the new route to Central Asia

Commenting on India-US relations after the UPA government won the vote of confidence last week, Nikolas Gvosdev contends that Iran will remain as the key stumbling block for improved bilateral relations. Well, it doesn’t have to be.

A realist re-appraisal of the geopolitics of Central Asia will indicate that the United States and India are among those who lack good access to the region. China and Russia have an upper hand as they not only have borders with Central Asian states, but have extended their influence over gateways to the region. Once the Iran-Afghanistan corridor becomes operational, India will have an opportunity to improve its access to Central Asia. As Dr Gvosdev points out, the United States could benefit too:

There are even some positives for the US—a new trade route that provides an alternative to Central Asia’s continuing dependence on Russian export routes; a new alternative to China; another “brick” in the stabilization of Afghanistan by opening up trade and providing fees. [The Washington Realist]

Now, access to Central Asia is only one element of in US calculations: but if American policymakers understand that thirty years is long enough a time to be miffed, they will find that better relations with Iran not only solves many of their problems, but also that this has become necessary. The Bush administration’s recent decision to send a diplomat to join the Europe-Iran talks in Geneva and Barack Obama’s willingness to break the ice with Iran are therefore steps in the right direction.

At the very least, to the extent Iran is a ‘stumbling block’, a US-Iran rapprochement is in India’s interests (see previous post). This will require proactive diplomacy on India’s part. But it won’t be difficult to generate domestic support for such a project. And why, it’ll take wind out of the sails of those who are against better relations with the United States.

Reading the Arthashastra: sovereignty, power and happiness

Rediscovering Indian Realism: the elevation of happiness

Just why does a state need a foreign policy? Foreign policy, according to Kautilya is the “source” of peace and economic growth.

Acquisition and security (of property) are dependent upon peace and industry.

Efforts to achieve the results of works undertaken is industry (vyayama).

Absence of disturbance to the enjoyment of the results achieved from works is peace.

The application of the six-fold royal policy is the source of peace and industry. [Arthashastra,VI:2]

These four lines underline a profound political philosophy: that the fundamental objective of foreign policy should be to allow the nation to acquire and secure material gains, through economic growth and peace. Peace itself is defined as the undisturbed ability to enjoy the fruits of economic growth.

Depending on the direction of a state’s economy, Kautilya places them in three “positions”— deterioration, stagnation and progress. Foreign policy does not merely depend on the state’s absolute position—but its relative position vis-a-vis its allies, adversaries and other states in the international system. For instance, if pursuing a particular policy hurts the enemy more than it hurts the protagonist, Kautilya argues that the temporary losses may be neglected. Similarly, if two adversaries expect to acquire equal gains in the same period, he advocates that they make peace with each other. Obviously, if a policy hurts the protagonist but hurts the enemy less, then that policy must be abandoned.

The bulk of Book VII deals with the six policy options—peace, war, neutrality, marching (mobilisation), alliance and a dual strategy of pursuing war on one front and peace on the other—and how they might be applied in the contexts of relative deterioration, stagnation or progress.

In the Kautilyan framework, states have three elements: sovereignty, power and end. What goes into these elements is interesting.

Sovereignty is constituted by the king, the minister, the country, the fort, the treasury, the army and the friend. Translating them to the modern context is instructive. Taken together king and minister become president, prime minister and the Cabinet. Country in the Kautilyan sense is territory. It is interesting that he should split the fort and the army. A straightforward analogy would be defence and offence. But stretch it a little and we could conclude that the fort stands for deterrence and the army for compellence. In today’s context these would refer to the nuclear arsenal and the armed forces respectively.

The counter-intuitive component of Kautilyan sovereignty is the “friend”. In other words, there is an element of sovereignty that lies outside the state’s borders—it depends on the quality of the relationship the state has with others, and the quality of the states it has relationships with.

The second element—power—is defined simply as “strength”. It is of three kinds: intellectual strength that comes from the power of deliberation; the strength of sovereignty that comes from a strong finances and armed forces; and physical strength that comes from martial power. The first is the core of what contemporary scholars would describe as “soft power”; the second and third are aspects of “hard power”.

It is the third element of a state—the end—that is brilliant. Kautilya simply says “happiness is the end”. And there are three types of this end, corresponding to the type of power by which they are attainable.

And so we come to:

The possession of power and happiness in a greater degree makes a king superior to another; in a less degree, inferior; and in an equal degree, equal. Hence a king shall always endeavor to augment his own power and elevate his happiness. [Arthashastra, VI:2]

Related Links: The reading the Arthashastra series archive.

Debating UN peacekeeping

Addressing Anit Mukherjee’s rebuttal

Anit Mukherjee disagrees with the argument that India should reconsider its policy of contributing troops for UN peacekeeping operations. In addition to rebutting four arguments from the case Sushant Singh and I made in our op-ed in the Indian Express last week, he offers three arguments of his own in favour—-that involvement in UN peacekeeping contributes towards India’s soft power; that our arguments can be extended to justify pulling out from the UN as a whole; and that India need not demonstrate the same apathy towards UN peacekeeping as other great powers.
Continue reading “Debating UN peacekeeping”

Reading the Arthashastra: friend, gold and territory

The rediscovery of Indian Realism—starting a new series

Dr Rudrapatna Shamasastry’s 1915 translation of Kautilya’s Arthashastra has long been available online. The Acorn will attempt to publish excerpts each weekend—for discovery, for learning and for enjoyment.

We start with Chapter IX (On “agreements for the acquisition of a friend or gold”) of Book VII (“The End of the Six-Fold Policy”). Books VI and VII largely concern what we would today call international relations theory. And be warned: this is the advice he offers to a sovereign—a king in his age, and the government in ours. So don’t try this at home or indiscriminately apply it to your personal life.

Of the three gains, the acquisition of a friend, of gold, and of territory, accruing from the march of combined powers, that which is mentioned later is better than the one previously mentioned; for friends and gold can be acquired by means of territory; of the two gains, that of a friend and of gold, each can be a means to acquire the other.

Which is better of the two: a friend of long-standing, but unsubmissive nature, or a temporary friend of submissive nature, both being acquired by affording relief from their respective troubles?

My teacher says that a long-standing friend of unsubmissive nature is better inasmuch as such a friend, though not helpful, will not create harm.

Not so, says Kautilya: a temporary friend of submissive nature is better; for such a friend will be a true friend so long as he is helpful; for the real characteristic of friendship lies in giving help.

Which is better, a big friend, difficult to be roused, or a small friend, easy to be roused?

My teacher says that a big friend, though difficult to be roused, is of imposing nature, and when he rises up, he can accomplish the work undertaken.

Not so, says Kautilya: a small friend easy to be roused is better, for such a friend will not, in virtue of his ready preparations, be behind the opportune moment of work, and can, in virtue of his weakness in power, be used in any way the conqueror may like; but not so the other of vast territorial power.

Which is better, a friend of vast population, or a friend of immense gold?

My teacher says that a friend of vast population is better inasmuch as such a friend will be of imposing power and can, when he rises up, accomplish any work undertaken.

Not so, says Kautilya: a friend possessing immense gold is better; for possession of gold is ever desirable; but an army is not always required. Moreover armies and other desired objects can be purchased for gold.

Which is better, a friend possessing gold, or a friend possessing vast territory?

My teacher says that a friend possessing gold can stand any heavy expenditure made with discretion.

Not so, says Kautilya: for it has already been stated that both friends and gold can be acquired by means of territory. Hence a friend of vast territory is far better.

When the friend of the conqueror and his enemy happen to possess equal population, their people may yet differ in possession of qualities such as bravery, power of endurance, amicableness, and qualification for the formation of any kind of army.

When the friends are equally rich in gold, they may yet differ in qualities such as readiness to comply with requests, magnanimous and munificent help, and accessibility at any time and always.

Which is better, an immediate small gain, or a distant large gain?

My teacher says that an immediate small gain is better, as it is useful to carry out immediate undertakings.

Not so, says Kautilya: a large gain, as continuous as a productive seed, is better; otherwise an immediate small gain. [Arthashastra Book VII]

Sunday Levity: Buffet style

Pick, choose, enjoy

Dilip D’Souza is so unmoved by “realpolitik” that he has published another post on the topic to register his inertia. His post lightens up the Sunday. It is a must-read post for those who are interested to study the fine art of buffet-debating: just the the bits you like, ignore the bits you don’t, and enjoy your meal.

Dilip selectively quotes from two posts, and one comment, to declare that Realist prescriptions for a policy towards China leave him confused. He could have saved himself the trouble, and the confusion, if only he had looked at what was on the a la carte menu: the old post on One China Policy (there isn’t one) was even re-published in April this year as it was ‘pertinent to the current situation’.

If he had done that, he would not have had to, buffet-style, take some bits and drop others from the paragraphs he decided to quote. (the bits he dropped are in italics)

India’s accumulation of power and influence in Asia will be perceived as a threat by China to the extent that it relatively diminishes Beijing’s own influence. And vice versa. There’s no reason to feel apologetic about this. Aggression and intimidation, like diplomacy and negotiations are parts of a composite toolkit. An offhand rejection of one or more of them is not prudent. [No apologies expected]

India must refrain from going overboard in its support for the Tibetan protests lest this issue upset broader relations with China. But Mr Bhadrakumar defies imagination by holding the Indian government guilty of doing too much already. [John 8:7 does not apply to international relations]

Less than three seconds, actually

To realise that some people don’t get it.

Dilip D’Souza disagrees with the view that “”projection of power is necessary to create the conditions for human development through trade and culture”. He cites a small sample of countries that, according to him, have succeeded in spite of not projecting power.

According to Dilip, these countries are: “Iceland, Singapore, Korea, Norway, Taiwan, Japan and Germany after being devastated in WW2, arguably even Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, Botswana until it was hit by AIDS a decade ago.”

Let’s see if they really meet his own definitions:

1. Iceland, successful, but member of NATO. NATO, it turns out, is an organisation invented to project power against a neighbouring superpower. Realpolitik suggests that tiny Iceland could hardly ensure the well-being of its people if it did not “hold its own” against the Soviet Union, and since it was too small to do it alone, it joined NATO, for collective security.

2. Singapore, successful, but not projecting power? It consistently spends over 5% of its GDP on defence, among the highest in the region, has compulsory military service for all adult males, and provides naval bases for the region’s big powers. For good reason: “by holding its own”, its armed forces and strategic partnerships deter adversaries who might interrupt with “ensuring the well-being of its people”. According to one of its founding fathers: “The war-making potential of a small, vigorous, well-educated and highly motivated population should never be underestimated.”

3. Korea (err, which one?). The successful one that could focus on the development of its own people by “outsourcing” its strategic security to the United States? Or the failed one that concentrated solely on holding its own, but neglected the development of its people? [Note the difference: no one argues that merely holding one’s own is sufficient, rather that it is a necessary condition] Coming under a superpower’s security umbrella, like joining an alliance like NATO, is not a rejection of power projection. Rather it is an acceptance that such arrangements are necessary, at a particular period in time, to “hold one’s own”.

4. Norway, successful, and like Iceland, a member of NATO.

5. Taiwan, successful, and like Korea, under the US security umbrella. And if it is not holding its own, why is the People’s Liberation Army not liberating it?

6. Japan & Germany. After the World War II, both Japan and Germany came under US protection. But the story of Japan and Germany’s rise to the top league of human development hardly started in 1945. It started at least a century earlier.

7. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. These, according to Dilip, are examples of success of delivering development and well-being to their people. Really? It is easier to argue—as is commonly done in Colombo and Dhaka—that they owe their failures, at least in part, due to being at the receiving end of Indian hegemony. The Sri Lankan government can’t buy weapons to fight the LTTE without running the risk of rubbing India on the wrong side.

8. Botswana. That’s one example that proves exactly the opposite of what Dilip would like. It started out with no army at all. It was only after it realised that this provided an invitation to South Africans and Rhodesians to attack that it set up its own armed forces. And how much does Botswana spend on defence? A whopping 8% of its GDP. That’s excluding a security relationship with the United States.

Realpolitik merely suggests that a stable balance of power creates the conditions (of stability and security) that best allow states to pursue their domestic goals. But Dilip confuses the “projection of power” with the aggressive use of military force. Perhaps because he spends only three or four seconds thinking about it.

Why Ramachandra Guha is wrong

And why the accumulation and good use of geopolitical power is necessary

We discussed Mr Guha’s long essay in Outlook earlier this week. Mr Guha’s argument that India should not even attempt to become a superpower is just about as wise as his hero’s, who had declared that India didn’t need an army.

Harsh Pant has the necessary rejoinder. Excerpts:

What is disconcerting about the piece, however, is the negligible space Guha gives to foreign policy apart from an odd reference to Pakistan and China. It may be that he thinks the domestic challenges facing India are so formidable that only once India had tackled them should it start worrying about the rest of the world. Or what’s more likely is that he thinks if India is able to take care of its internal problems and becomes successful in living up to the highest aspirations of its founding fathers, foreign policy will take care of itself. A truly liberal, democratic, secular India will garner the respect from the rest of the world that it would most certainly deserve.

It is this understanding (or should we say misunderstanding) that leads him to make his subjective desire known — that India should not even attempt to become a superpower because in his view, international relations cannot be made analogous to competitive examination. The problem with this argument is that states do not attempt to become superpowers. They are superpowers, or great powers or major powers by virtue of their capabilities — economic, military, technological, societal — and, contra Guha, international relations is indeed analogous to a competitive examination because only the most capable states in an international system, defined by its anarchical nature, are the ones that are able to keep their citizens most secure and retain their autonomy in foreign policy. States seek power not to become superpowers per se but to survive in a world that is nasty and brutish, to maintain their territorial integrity and the autonomy of their domestic political order.

Guha is right: India is a unique nation and it should be judged in light of its norms and ideals. But all nations think they are unique, that their norms and ideals are the most superior. Only those with adequate capabilities are able to effectively leverage their norms and ideals on the international stage. Guha’s discomfort with power is palpable throughout his essay. In domestic politics, too much power with any single institution is most certainly a recipe for disaster. But foreign policy is not merely an extension of domestic politics and therefore, power needs to be understood differently in the context of international politics.


Guha is probably right, India will never become a superpower. But he is wrong to suggest that it should not attempt to be one because that implies that Indian policy-makers should not be working towards improving the material capabilities of its citizens, that they should not be concerned about making India more secure and autonomous.A weak and powerless India will continue to be on the periphery of global politics and it is doubtful if Indians will be satisfied with being a Switzerland or a Madagascar. Indian policy-makers should be working towards the acquisition of greater material capabilities for the welfare of their citizens, for a more prosperous, more secure and more autonomous India. It is in such an India that Guha’s dreams about a more equitable socio-economic order are more likely to come to fruition. And if that ends up making India a great power or a superpower, well, Indians, I am sure, can live with that. [Outlook]

Lubricating a US-Iran rapprochement

India should signal its willingness to play mediator between the two antagonists

It is heartening to see that K Subrahmanyam believes that India could offer to become a mediator between the United States and Iran.

The North Koreans used a nuclear test and nuclear weapon making effort successfully to deter threats of externally induced forcible regime change to persuade the US to negotiate directly and to obtain much-needed aid. Iran is in a somewhat analogous situation with US threatening regime change and military action. In the case of North Korea, China acted as a successful intermediary. There does not appear to be an intermediary to facilitate an Iran-West dialogue which can lead to the resolution of the issue. In a sense, India is in a position to play that role. China made it clear that it did not favour North Korean nuclear weapons and that did not prevent China playing the mediatory role. In this case, one cannot be confident whether such an offer will be acceptable to Iran and the US. But India does not lose anything in making that offer. [IE]

This is the question I asked Stephen Cohen recently:

Q: Is it possible for India to play a bridging role between America and Iran, much like the role played by Pakistan between China and America?

A:I don’t think so. It is largely our problem, a psychological one to be more specific, that goes back to 70s and the hostage crisis. Too many Americans are still wrapped up in that. We have an obsession and we cannot get rid of it. So it is hard for India to play that kind of role. By the way, there are other countries that want to play that role also.

Indian is caught between all kinds of contesting powers. I am not sure if India wants to play any role at all. I know one Indian diplomat who has said that India is better off not being a permanent member in UN Security Council. If it were a permanent member, then it would have to take a position on every issue. Historically, India is best off by not taking positions, given its fragile domestic politics and the loss of a foreign policy consensus. There is room for creative Indian diplomacy on Iran, but they have to take Pakistan along. I think India ought to go with Pakistan to the US and say ‘look we understand your concerns about Iran but pipeline is more important to us’. [Pragati Issue 15 | June 2008]

The hurdles Dr Cohen refers to might be collapsing. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, has signaled his willingness to engage Iran’s top leadership directly. Even if he doesn’t make it to the White House, the fact that he is advocating such a stance indicates that those psychological barriers are coming down.

Second, as Mr Subrahmanyam’s op-ed suggests, India might not only be willing to play this role, but it might be one where India’s geopolitical interests and the diktats of its domestic politics are in some alignment.

Other countries might well want to play the role, but not all of those have the requisite capability to even attempt such a thing.

The main resistance to a US-Iran rapprochement will come from Pakistan, China and to some extent, from Saudi Arabia. Pakistan is unlikely to prefer another of its Western neighbours to be on good terms with the United States, and China would like nothing better than for the US to be tied down in as many Middle Eastern knots as possible. So it is unlikely that India can ‘take Pakistan along’ on this one.

To the extent that a US-Iran rapprochement will diminish its influence in the region (and strengthen the Shia arc), Saudi Arabia will be against the plan. But Saudi Arabia is unlikely to want a nuclear Iran or indeed see another war in its neighbourhood. Also, winning Russia’s support will be key.

But this is a diplomatic project that is worth India’s effort.