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Impact of Arthashastra on Modern Warfare


“In the happiness of his subjects lies the king’s happiness; in their welfare his welfare. He shall not consider as good only that which pleases him but treat as beneficial to him whatever pleases his subjects…An archer letting off an arrow may or may not kill a single man, but a wise man using his intellect can kill even reaching unto the very womb.” The Arthashastra


Historical Background

1. Kautilya, also known as Chanakya or Vishnugupta[1] was the key advisor to – and the genius behind the strategy undertaken by the king Chandra Gupta Maurya (317-293 B.C.) who stopped the advance of Alexander the Great’s successors and introduced the Golden Age of India.[2] The Mauryan kingdom united and amalgamated the Indian sub-continent into a single entity for the first time, thus creating the concept of Indian nationhood. The Mauryan Empire extended from the Persian border in the West to Burma in the East covered most of peninsular India.[3] The empire lasted 150 years until about 180 BC, after which the empire dissociated[4] into several fragments. Kautilya was the chancellor to Chandra Gupta Maurya, and he composed the Arthashastra to counsel a ruler on how to defeat one’s enemies and rule for the general good. The Arthashastra was very influential in ancient India up to the 12th century AD, when it faded from the public eye. The text, however, reappeared in 1904 and was published in English in 1915.[5]

2. Artha[6] of Arthashastra stands for wealth, but it has a much wider significance. As enunciated by Kautilya, wealth of a nation is both the territory of the state and the inhabitants of the state. Thus economics is at the heart of Arthashastra. A healthy economy and loyal subjects can be achieved by having an adequate balance between the treasury of the state and the welfare of the people, was preached by Kautilya. This was to be achieved by maintaining law and order and adequate administrative machinery.[7] Thus the Arthashastra also contains the enforcement of laws (Dandaniti) and the details of the organisation of civil service and duties of state officials.[8]

Arthashastra Overview

3. Written about 300 B.C., Kautilya’s work was pitched to teach with the various intricacies of governance and politics to the king.[9] Kautilya has covered the subject in depth and offers insights into various spheres of statecraft, war and diplomacy. Kautilya wished his king to become a world conqueror[10] hence his analysis of the types of war, his doctrine of assassination, sowing discord amongst the enemy, use of spies, religion, superstition, along with the use of women to create conflicts in the enemy camp are engrossing and unputdownable.[11]

4. Books of Treatise. The Arthashastra is divided into 15 books, 150 chapters, 180 sections and 6,000 slokas.[12] The books are arranged in a manner that the initial books deal with internal administration and the later books on a state’s relations with its neighbours. Interestingly, there exists a very prominent mention of the ancient Navy as he has mentioned the ‘superintendent of ships’ in Book II. He may have foreseen the advantages of a sea borne force and a Navy.[13]

5. Science of Arthashastra. Kautilya believed that a ruler’s duties included the internal administration of the country, protection of the state from external aggression, maintenance of law and order within the state, and the welfare of the people. New territory had to be acquired by alliance or conquest for the prosperity of the state and also in the political environment existing then, which had many kings, anyone content with his own territory was likely to fall prey to hedgemonistic ambitions of the other.

6. Spectrum of Arthashastra. Kautilya argued that a nation could never achieve prosperity under a foreign ruler; indicating that independence was a pre-requisite for prosperity and economic progress. At the macro level, the Arthashastra covers the entire gamut of human society, the establishment and continuance of a nation state, foreign policy, war, civil law and economics. At the other end of the spectrum, the book delves into the building blocks of a society by clearly defining standardised weights[14], measures and time, values and taxes on commodities[15], metallurgical standards[16], sources of state revenue[17] and a detailed analysis of the composition of an army and forts.[18]

7. National Security. Kautilya insisted that all threats to national security must be eliminated at any cost to the state, while no enemy must be privy to the inner machinations and processes of one’s own state – “Like a tortoise, the king (state) shall draw in any limb of his that is exposed.”[19] Internal stability was the harbinger of economic well being. However, to maintain internal and external security, Kautilya proposed a massive network of spies and agents operating within the state and also in surrounding and enemy states. Detailed descriptions of espionage and counter-espionage activities, physical punishments and torture for internal security set this work apart from any other political treatise.

8. The Arthashastra is thus a mixture of both what we applaud today and what we consider to be reprehensible. Kautilya wrote his book about 2300 years ago when extreme forms of governance were commonplace and the primary task of the ruling monarch was primacy of his state and a policy of expansionism. While Kautilya was quite willing to reward those who served the state, he seemed to have an obsession with using the discipline of the laws to make everything in the kingdom ‘just right’. In the Arthashastra, everyday life in all its multifarious activities comes in for careful regulation and adjustment, from the ‘cooking pot to the crown’.[20]



Statement of the Problem

9. The aim of this paper is to study the teachings of Arthashastra in order to determine its relevance and yield insights into military strategy and warfare with emphasis on counter insurgency and counter terrorism.


10. The concepts of defence and war as enunciated by Kautilya are as relevant in the 21st century as it was in the 3rd century BC.

Justification for the Study

11. The Arthashastra is essentially a treatise on the art of government and specially focuses on aspects of internal administration and foreign policy. It has been translated as “Science of Politics”, “Treatise on Polity”[21] or the “Science of Political Economy”.[22] However, the best description of the word comes from Heinrich Zimmer who translates the word as “Timeless Laws of Politics, Economy, Diplomacy and War”.[23]

12. Two thousand three hundred years ago, Kautilya compiled the Arthashastra and with it he proved to be a kingmaker as he enabled the inception of the Maurya dynasty. The Arthashastra has endured the test of time and it has since withstood the test of credibility. We will be enriching ourselves if we learn and grasp even a fraction of the wisdom that Kautilya embodied.

13. Our ancient scriptures have been neglected and Western principles and teachings propounded in our literature, including military literature due to ignorance of students and insufficient importance by teachers.

14. Kautilya’s treatise enraptures in many ways, the complexity of our current world. The problems that existed then, persist in a more widespread and magnified manner in the contemporary world. The principles of Military strategy followed by Kautilya are also relevant in the contemporary world.

15. Study of his military strategy will throw some light on the in-depth knowledge of warfare in ancient India and will provide important lessons for conventional and unconventional warfare in the modern world, besides enhancing understanding and pride in our country and its thinkers. The lecture by Dr Gopalji Malviya, sparked the inquisitiveness and determination to study the Arthashastra.


16. The scope of this paper is restricted to the study and analysis of the aspects related to warfare as enunciated by Kautilya. The study does not include his precepts on the social, political and economical structure of an ideal state. Though Kautilya has treated foreign policy as an important part of warfare, only brief mention where necessary would be made. The famous Mandala theory[24] has hence been consciously left out. Also the actual battle fighting and formations described in detail have been omitted to maintain focus on strategy. The study will cover the relevance of Arthashastra and its importance for modern warfare, counter insurgency and counter terrorism.

17. Though a sincere effort has been made to cover the relevance, trying to expound on Kautilya’s immense wisdom presents a remarkable challenge. Therefore, throughout this dissertation the work of Kautilya is quoted to speak for itself.

Methods of Data Collection

18. There are a number of books written on Arthashastra. Though some books are in Sanskrit and some are literal translations, some books are available in college library on the Arthashastra notably by LN Rangarajan, R Shamashastry, MV Krishna Rao and Roger Boeshe. Some data is also available on the internet and journals. A bibliography of sources is appended at the end of the paper. Likely sources include the following:-

(a) Books written by eminent authors as mentioned above.

(b) Papers submitted by researchers.

(c) Information available over the internet.

(d) Discussions with teachers and professors of history. Dr Gopalji

Malviya was gracious enough to grant some valuable time for a ‘one on one’ discussion. His encouragement, advice and passion for the subject made the research meaningful.

Organisation of the Dissertation

19. The dissertation is organised into six chapters. Chapters one and two deal with introducing the subject and the methodology of the research. It is proposed to study the subject under the following heads:-

(a) Chapter III – Principles of military strategy in Arthashastra.

(b) Chapter IV – Relevance in 21st century conventional warfare.

(c) Chapter V – Relevance in fourth generation warfare.

(d) Chapter VI – Conclusion.



20. Kautilya has enunciated many military strategies in the Arthashastra. Most importantly he does not seem to have made much distinction between military strategy and that of statecraft. He believed that warfare is an extension and an integral part of statecraft.[25] He has covered an array of strategies over a vast canvas from the actual fighting and planning, to training and deceit. Some of these will be discussed in this chapter.

Planning a Campaign

21. Kautilya’s most striking doctrine is his discussion of planning a campaign -“The activity of one setting out on a campaign deals with the factors to be taken into account before the king (state) decides that it is in the state’s interest to commence the campaign”.[26] Kautilya brings out the various facets of planning a campaign. He enunciates eight factors which are to be critically considered for determining whether a campaign would end in success, prior to making preparations for war. The factors that he considered for a successful campaign included Power (military, intellectual and morale), place and time, revolts and the rebellion in the rear, the calculation of losses, expenses and gains and the likely dangers of treachery. Few of the factors are discussed below:-

(a) Power. According to Kautilya, the most important factor is of power. Power included the military might, and the economic strength of the adversary, and also the intellectual power, and t the ability of the enemy to carry out a objective analysis and not to be swayed by emotion or opinions. He even lists out the order of the three constituents of power to be Intellectual power, Military might and Enthusiasm and morale in the decreasing order of importance. Kautilya says that though the mightier king may be endowed with better war machinery and that he can buy heroic fighters, the Power of good analysis and judgement (which include intelligence and the knowledge of politics – the two eyes of the king) are superior to sheer military strength. The operational ‘fFactor of fForce’ as spelt out in present day warfare encompasses the tangible (personnel, weapons, mobility, fire power and logistics) and the intangible elements (leadership, morale, discipline, training, doctrine and motivation).)[27] The human element that is the power of good counsel and intellectual power has been given the highest importance by Kautilya, unlike modern thinkers who give more importance to the military might. The intangible human elements are difficult to quantify and hence tend to tilt the balance if not correctly assessed. Hence to compare two opponents as emphasised inemphasised in the Arthashastra ,Arthashastra, their power in all aspects needs to be compared.[28] Kautilya gives least importance to morale but adds that ‘Tthe night before the battle is to be used for preparing for battle and building up the morale[29] of troops’.[30]

(b) Place/Terrain[31]. The next important factor to be considered is the place andplace and the terrain.[32] Employment of infantry, horses, elephants and chariots have been given the due importance with respect to terrain[33]. He has articulated that the land being used for conflict should be unsuitable for the enemy and suitable for own operations. This terrain is a smaller manifestation of the operational ‘Factor of Space’. as given in the present day references on Operational Factors. The present day conventional warfare propagates that the free movement of one’s forces and the space available are crucial for success in war. An example of denial of space is the concept of Blockade. Thus the importance of space was evident to Kautilya except the new concept of cyberspace. However his postulate that on each kind of space the king should undertake such works to increase his power[34] is still relevant.

(c) Time/Campaigning Season. Kautilya has laid stress on timing[35] and selection of season for an expedition. He recommends that the climate and the time or duration of a campaign (day, night, fortnight, month, season) is of great importance. His concept of space is replicated as he articulates that the time of conflict should be unsuitable for the enemy and suitable for own operations.[36] He also states the various kinds of warfare and weapons to be used in different seasons . ‘An army consisting mostly of elephants should be used in rains or when plenty of water is available, camels and horses may be used in little rain or areas with muddy water’.[37] The operational factors in modern warfare give serious consideration to the factor of time. Time has further been divided into preparation time, warning time, reaction time, decision cycle time etc. Durations of the campaign and the interval between two consecutive operations should beare kept short to be maintain a high tempo. This is brought out by Kautilya when he recommends that ‘whenever the king is superior, he shall not waste any time and should proceed against the enemy whenever by doing so the enemy can be weakened or crushed’. Due to new technologies the pace of thein present day warfare new technologies are enlarging the area of combat is growing and at the same time compressing the time factor is being compressed. Thus tThe critical evaluation of time, and the various weather parameters and advices such as theand terms for planningfor planning a long, medium and short war as given in the Arthashastra remain relevant even today.

(d) Troop Mobilisation. He Kautilya lays down the criterias in great detail which are required for mobilising each kind of troops. like Tthe standing army, is to be chosen if the threat is great and from well trained troops, however the territorial army is to be chosen if the enemy is weak. Tthe militia or is to be mobilised if the enemy is weak and it is only a law and order problem. Ffriendly or allied forces. are to be used when the king and the ally have the same objective. Without any remorse he adds that the jungle tribes should be used when there is a gain to the king, whether they win or lose in fighting the enemy – ‘Just as a Chandala stands to benefit when a wild dog fights a wild boar’. Combat potential concept in the present day concepts operational art states that combat potential is converted into Combat power by mobilisation of troops and start of conflict.[38] Even Kautilya has rightly emphasised the importance of troops and thus their bearing on the factor of force. Kautilya prefers an army of trained Kshatriyas[39] or a large force composed of Sudras and Vaishyas[40]. He was the first Indian statesman to consider the lower castes to fight wars.

(e) Other factors. The other factors he discusses in planning include the revolts and the rebellion in the rear, the calculation of losses, expenses and gains and the likely dangers of treachery. Thus Kautilya has also brought out the fact which present day planners also abide by; of not planning or initiating military action without adequate forces and in the presence of unreasonable military or political constraints. Though most planning is valid only till the first contact with the enemy, still a complex almost mathematical analysis of gains and losses was carried out to justify going to war.

(f) Power Place Time relation. The relationship of power, place and time to wage a war had various interpretations during that period. However Kautilya has clearly enunciated that though each of these components is important, none is more important than the other and all are interdependent. The fact that Kautilya understood the concept of space-time-force relationship and dynamics is a revelation. He postulated that only when the king finds that he is superior in power space and time shall he proceed against the enemy. “Force is important for a campaign; just as the collision of an unbaked mud-vessel with a similar vessel is destructive to both, so war with an equal king brings ruin to both…place (space) is important as a dog, seated in a convenient place, can drag a crocodile and a crocodile in low ground can drag a dog…time is critical as during the daytime the crow kills the owl and at night the owl the crow.”[41]His analysis of Force-Space-Time in the quote shows that the correct forces need to be deployed in the correct terrain at a time of their choosing for maximum effect. The analogy of the crocodile being dragged by a dog would refer to a vastly superior force being inexorably drawn away from their base into an area of operations that is favourable to the smaller enemy (large conventional forces fighting insurgents in urban areas). All the factors listed by Kautilya need to be considered whilst planning a modern day conventional or unconventional campaign.

Internal Security

22. Physical Security. The security of own kingdom consisted of physical security and also the capability to prevent treachery, revolts and rebellion.[42] The frontier post and forts (consisting of mountains, rivers, jungle and deserts) provided physical security. The details of fortifications are placed at the Appendix _______. Thus the importance given to internal security was immense. Demobilisation of troops was carried out in times of peace to save money and they were mobilised again for conquests. However the forces guarding the forts, royal property and the kings own guards were never disbanded, thus ensuring the importance of internal security. Besides Kautilya was extremely wary of revolts, rebellion and the ability of spies trying to influence the people by wrong newstreachery.

23. Control Over Army. Various means were utilised by the king to maintain control over his army including the Chiefs of Army such as paying them well, keeping them under surveillance and testing their integrity to prevent any rebellion.. Some of these measures including shrewd and ruthless ones are enumerated below:-

(e) They were paid well to prevent them from being tempted by bribes by the enemy.

(f) They were kept under surveillance of clandestine agents, especially to see that they did not succumb to the instigations of the enemy.

(g) Their integrity was tested to weed out the cowardly.

Also the

(h) Tthe wings of the Army were kept under the control of more than one chief so that mutual fear and suspicion would ensure their loyalty.



(a) Those suspected of treachery were posted to remote areas while their families were kept in the capital as hostages.

Imperativeness of Security. Kautilya believed that offensive action is based on defensive power. His insistence of for internal security clearly underlined underlines the fact that before forces are committed to the main task all own vital and vulnerable targets should be secured. In fact he even advices the king to keep the treasury and army under his control. In case of a threat of revolt, Kautilya advices the king,not to remain behind in the capital and to allow his Commander to lead a campaign and to leave it to his Commander and remain behind in the capital, .in case of a threat of revolt.

24. This coupled with the fact that he attached great importance to controlling his army brings out the fact that internal security must be the sound foundation for a successful campaign.

25. Threat of Coup. Kautilya advised the king not to leave military matters entirely to others and be involved in it. He paid great importance to the training of the army and to the loyalty of the soldiers. Towards this he advocated the use of spies especially from threat of a coup. Kautilya recommended that “secret agents, prostitutes, artisans and actors as well as elders of the army should ascertain with diligence, the loyalty or disloyalty of soldiers”.[43]

Types of Warfare

26. According to Kautilya, the king had two main responsibilities which included the protection of own state from external aggression and enlargement of territory by conquest[44]. He thought there was a ‘science’ of warfare, presumably part of a larger science of politics. [45] Kautilya has described four types of War[46] as follows:-

(a) Mantrayuddha or War by Counsel. This is the exercise of diplomacy to win wars. This is to be utilised when the king is in a weaker position and engaging in battle would not be wise or beneficial.

(b) Prakasayuddha or Open Warfare. This is the form of normal warfare

which follows all laid down rules of fighting a battle. Open warfare, Kautilya declared, is ‘most righteous,'[47] but he was willing to use any and all kinds of warfare to achieve consolidation and expansion of the kingdom. Kautilya advised the king that “When he is superior in troops, and when he is on land suitable to himself, he should engage in an open fight. In the reverse case, (he should resort to) concealed fighting.”[48] This was quite unlike the teachings in the Indian epics which emphasised the Dharmayudha or ethical warfare.

(c ) Kutayuddha or Concealed Warfare. This form of warfare includes psychological warfare and treachery in the enemy’s camp. Also known as Guerrilla warfare.[49] The Chinese civil war by the People’s Liberation Army, the Vietcong in the Vietnam war, the Kosovo Liberation Army in Kosovo are examples of using mobile military tactics to defeat a stronger force. and guerrilla warfare.

(d) Gudayuddha or Clandestine / Silent War. This type of war is waged by covert means to achieve the objective. It includes means to win without fighting the battle by means such as assassinating the enemy. Also called silent war, it is a kind of warfare with another kingdom in which the king and his ministers—and unknowingly, the people—all act publicly as if they were at peace with the opposing kingdom, but all the while secret agents and spies are assassinating important leaders in the other kingdom, creating divisions among key ministers and classes, and spreading propaganda and disinformation.[50] Roger Boesche has said in his book on Arthashastra that “silent war is a kind of fighting that no other thinker I know of has discussed”.[51] The assassination of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi carried out towards furthering separatist movements are examples of this kind of warfare. In silent warfare, secrecy is paramount, and, from a passage quoted earlier, the king can prevail only by “maintaining secrecy when striking again and again.”[52]

Military Organisation

27. The military organisation is covered in great detail in Arthashastra. Maintenance of the state’s armies, troops and the organisational structure[53] of various components are still valid. The organisation was based on the number ten[54] and as today we follow the relationship of three. In the olden days since space was limited, it was perhaps possible to have a commander controlling ten subordinate commanders.[55]

28. Managing the Army. He further warns against calamities which adversely affect the functioning of the army which include not giving due honours, not paid sufficiently, low in morale etc. Kautilya states that armies should never be abandoned, left leaderless or totally merged into someone else’s army.ItThe army should always have adequate reinforcements[56]. He further warns against calamities which adversely affect the functioning of the army. He includes many factors such as not giving due honours, not paid sufficiently, low in morale, an angry army, a dispersed one, having to fight in an unsuitable terrain or season, an army which has been encircled, obstructed or cut off from reinforcements and supplies and most importantly one without leaders. He makes an incisive observation when he states that an unhonoured army, an unpaid army an exhausted army will fight if honoured, paid and allowed to relax respectively but a dishonoured army with resentment in its heart will not do so. He further gives importance to leadership qualities by stating that an army repulsed will fight if rallied by heroic men unlike an army abandoned by its chief. This is as true today, even in the age of C4ISR. and where troops or ships are spread across the globe. It is an accepted fact that in the absence of an inspired leader victory goes to the stronger (numerically superior) side. He also adds that even if the army faces extreme reverses like loss of capital or death of a commander it will still fight unless they are cut off from their king and leader. He stated the pre requisite for an effective leader which is true even today that he should keep in mind two fundamental elements, the mission and the people. The king is advised to guard his army against troubles created by the enemy and told to strike at the weak points of the enemy’s army similar to the critical vulnerabilities in JOPP.

Algorithim of Victory.

29. When two kings are at war, he advises his king to sue for peace with a stronger king, accept the peace offer of a equally strong king and to destroy the

weaker king.[57] He justifies going to war by the natural enemy concept[58] which states that if the conqueror does not eliminate the enemy, the enemy will eliminate him. After victory it is vitally important to consolidate on newly acquired territory so as to be able to embark on further conquests. He clarifies that a defeated army should never be harassed to the point of making it so desperate that it will return to fight with vengeance.[59]

Oligarchies / Coalitions

30. A whole section is dedicated to oligarchies or confederacy. In the present world such a communion is exhibited by coalition forces. While accepting that these coalitions are strong entities he frames various means to fight and put up resistance against them. As an oligarchy is defined as a unassailable cohesive unit, sowing dissension, using deceit, treachery and playing on the differences amongst them has been suggested as measures to defeat them. In the present world, the attempt to break the coalition by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is an example of this tactics.[60]

Strategies for Weak King

31. Kautilya has written extensively on the response of a weak king when being attacked by a stronger king. When confronted by a superior power Kautilya advices the weak king to find a way to survive to fight another day, preserving “his body, not wealth; for, what regret can there be for wealth that is impermanent?”[61] Kautilya did not however expect the weak king to give in to the conqueror without a fight and recommended various measures which included use of ‘diplomatic or concealed warfare’ and instigating a revolt in the enemy camp.As a desperate measure he even advocated a powerful speech offering a mixture of moral exhortation and arguments to be given to the superior king.

People and Popular Support

32. Kautilya maintained that people were more important than forts and armies. As he put it, “one should only seek a fortress with men.”[62] Kautilya urged the king to be popular with the people and to endeavour to secure the welfare of his subjects. The Arthashastra has emphasised on not causing harm even to the subjects of the enemy king. In fact extra ordinary measures are recommended to win over the people of the enemy land. Their customs had to be respected and their gods had to be revered by the new king. After the war, carrying away loot was forbidden.

33. The important six fold foreign policy[63] has been left out due to dissertation restrictions. The gamut of strategies from the planning aspects, the types of war to the very crucial support of the people will be will be contextually examined for their relevance in the next chapters.



34. Realist School. In this chapter the present day conventional warfare will be examined as seen through the prism of Kautilya. Kautilya is widely known to have preached the Realist School of thought which advised rulers to maximise power through political rather than military means. He preached that the ends justified the means including the use of ruse, deceit[64], cunning and subterfuge[65]. However Kautilya has discussed conventional warfare in great detail and has also given the option of frontal attack on the enemy.[66]

35. Role and Mission. In an increasingly complex world, the missions of the armed forces are correspondingly more diverse and complex than ever before. In times of peace and tension, the armed forces are a powerful instrument of the nation’s foreign policy.[67] In times of crisis and conflict, they are the foremost expression of the nation’s will and intent. Suffice to say that the expectations of a nation from its military are diverse and wide-ranging. Therefore, modern warfare is not restricted to war alone. Rather, they encompass the military, political, economic and the diplomatic aspects.

36. Nature of War. War or conflict has two different characteristics. One, which represents progress and change, and the other, which represents constancy and permanency. On one hand, the dynamics of progress and change depend much upon a commander’s imagination, innovativeness, grasp of technology and complexity. While on the other, the Arthashastra is testimony to the constant and unchanging nature of war. Studies of military history show that certain features constantly recur; that certain relations between type of action and success often remain the same; that certain circumstances and moments have time and time again, proved decisive. Past being the prologue of future, underscores the relevance and significance of studies of military history such as propagated by the Arthashastra.

Joint Intelligence Preparation of Operational Environment

37. Factor of Space. The r

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