ACROSS THE HIMALAYAN GAP
Ancients on War
This paper is meant to be only an exploratory comparison between strategic thinking in India and China in ancient times. For one thing, the problem of dating individuals, events and texts in Indian history is a formidable one. In China, on the other hand, it is much less of a problem, although the dates for Sunzi were in dispute for a long time. Interpolations in texts are common in both traditions but the ora1 tradition in India as opposed to the tradition of writing in China presents greater difficulties in reconstructing Indian texts. But the more serious difficulty in comparing the Indian and Chinese streams of strategic thinking stems from the strong “religious” base of Indian thought. In contrast, Chinese thinking has an unmistakable “secular” base. An off-shoot of the “religious” element in India was the social organisation it produced. Warfare in India was almost exclusively the preserve and even the duty of the ksatiiya varna (warrior class) which was hereditary, although specific instances of the priestly brahman varna can be found thinking about and engaging in warfare. In China, although the shi (scholar-gentlemen) were trained in the military arts among other scholarly subjects, they did not constitute a hereditary group.
absence of a “religious” base in Chinese thinking does not mean that the
role of ethics in war was neglected. The Confucian school, particularly
Mencius and Mozi not only emphasized ethical principles in warfare, they
were opposed to war as such. But with the rise of the state of Qin and its
expansion, the Legalist school of Shang Yang and Han Feizi gradually
eclipsed the Confucian opposition to war. And although Legalism was
theoretically abandoned when the Qin dynasty was overthrown by the Han (in
207 B.C.), “State Confucianism” as adopted by the Han thinkers did not
oppose war in the manner of Mencius. From Western Han onwards, realpolitik
dominated Chinese strategic thinking. Whether the Marxist-Leninist base in
Chinese strategic thinking in our century marked a partial return to
“ethical” principles is a question beyond the scope of this paper.
is probably a comment on the limits of ideology when it comes to applying it
to practical matters that despite the strong “religious” base of Indian
thinking, a strong school of realpolitik also appeared in India side by side
with it. Thus, ancient Indian thinkers produced two schools of war,
diplomacy and interstate relations; the dharmayuddha
(ethical warfare) school; and the kutayuddba
(devious warfare) school. The two schools were, however, not mutually
exclusive. The practitioners of each school was informed by the principles
and methods of the other and practised them. (In China, they were very
nearly mutually exclusive). The best example of this is the great Mahabharata
war in which one can see both schools of thought in operation: in this
war the victory went to the practitioners of the kutayuddha school although the war itself has always been described
as dharmayuddha. In the other epic
war, the Ramayana, although both
streams of thought were at work, the victory went to the dharmayuddha (righteous/ethical) school. And in the case of the wars
fought by Emperor Ashoka, while all of them were presumably won by the
methods of kutayuddha, after the
conquests Ashoka himself turned a complete pacifist. This was the case with
an individual (which is what has earned him fame) but in Indian thinking
neither school ever completely replaced the other. At the level of rhetoric,
the concept of dharmayuddha always
reigned supreme. But in practice kutayuddha
was often the norm. The defeat of Indian kings at the hands of foreign
conquerors has been attributed by many to the loss of traditions of
war-making, particularly that of kutayuddha.
This is probably why, at present in modern India, the kutayuddha school seems to be in the ascendant, although even there
the righteousness of the cause always dominates the rhetoric.
ancient times, India was populated by numerous tribes. Some indigenous and
others who had migrated into the subcontinent. (Some scholars have
questioned this theory lately). They were culturally and technically
unevenly developed and there was constant warfare among them, particularly
between the immigrants and the natives, The wars were fought over territory,
for lifting cattle (the chief form of wealth), for capturing women (the
immigrants arrived with few women of their own), for honour and status, for
self-aggrandizement in all spheres and sometimes out of anger, envy, fear or
just display of heroism. While such warfare over centuries produced tribal
rituals of warfare, codes of chivalry and heroism, technology of warfare
and, of course, the all important hereditary group of warriors, the ksatria
varna, it did not yield any body of thought which can be called
strategic thinking which remains the major characteristic of Chinese
thinking, particularly since the 4th century BC. Such thinking started with
the establishment of well-recognized kingdoms/states as political entities
possessing standing, armies, administrations, laws and social order capable
of supporting war.
(heroism) continued to be valued as the virtue of an individual warrior but
to this was added the concept of neeti (ethical principles) in the conduct of warfare. The belief
grew that without neeti, war became merely a display of animal-like
For a victory based on principles (dharmavijaya),
the king and the warriors had to observe certain codes in warfare. These
codes were incorporated in the Dharmashastras
(loosely translated as Books of Law). Warfare carried out according to the
codes was also called prakashayudha
(illuminated or open warfare). There was nothing secret about it.
Preparations for such a war were made openly in the full knowledge of the
was no element of surprise and there were strict rules about seasons of
warfare, the duration of combat was restricted to daylight hours and rigid
codes about close combat between warriors were observed. In all this, there
was no room for strategy or tactics; only the numbers of warriors, their
skills and the quality of weaponry counted. But, at the same time, diplomacy
played an important role in building alliances for war and in making
decisions about whether or not to go to war. The Chinese case around the
time of Sunzi was quite different; set-piece battles were a thing of the
in actual warfare, the principles of righteous warfare were often set aside
by individual warriors or their commanders. In fact, such was the sweetness
of victory that some kings waged war for reasons of self-aggrandizement. The
victory achieved for such selfish reasons came to be classified into two
categories aasurvijaya in which the enemy’s territory was annexed, enemy
kings and commanders were booty punished after the war, enemy cities were
destroyed and the women were carried away as war booty. The second category
produced lobhavijaya or victory
out of covetousness or greed. This did not need waging a ruthless war of
destruction but one for gain in terms of territory, wealth, women and so
kutayuddha (devious warfare) could produce victories aimed of
self-aggrandizement, Although the form was repeatedly denounced by ancient
sages, it was nevertheless practised with increasing frequency until by the
time of Emperor Ashoka, it came to be accepted as a norm. From practice,
codification of devious warfare was only a short step. Several thinkers like
Brihaspati and Shukracharya are known to have done this. But a comprehensive
codification was undertaken by Kautilya, the great strategist of the Mauryan
term koota, in the context of hunting, was used for a trap or snare.
Consequently, in the context of warfare, it came to mean ensnaring or
trapping the enemy. This included the use of magic spells and such other
occult methods. (Sunzi decidedly rejected that use.) And when it came to
weaponry prevalent in those days, it included the use of poisoned arrows,
fire arrows and such other unauthorized weapons which could bring about
destruction of men and property on a large scale. Other methods included
poisoning of the enemy’s water sources, attack by stealth, enticing the
enemy into an unfavourable position, bribery, assassinations and attacks at
every single war described in the epics and the puranas incorporated at
least some of these forbidden methods. Sometimes, only one side is said to
have done this. In the Ramayana,
for example, the raksasa side is
said to have resorted to koota
methods. In the numerous wars fought between the devas and aasuras the
latter are always accused of having used unethical methods. In general, it
seems that such methods we attributed to the side which was technologically
superior but nevertheless lost the series of wars in the end. The didactic
message of these classics was that righteousness always emerged victorious.
A few epics like the Agni Purana, however,
condoned the use of koota methods by the weak as a last resort.
prominent characteristic of the Hindu reading of reality is that the good is
always mixed with or accompanied by the evil. Human nature is the product of
a variety of influences (karma) from the previous births and the present
life. So the same human being contains both righteous and unrighteous
impulses, even the most ideally righteous person may occasionally commit
unethical acts in the interests of larger righteous causes. Thus, in the Ramayana,
Lord Rama, the most perfect human being known nevertheless kills Vali, a
brother of his ally, by deceit. In the Mahabharata,
Lord Krishna, himself a major God in the Hindu pantheon, advises and
resorts to all kinds of trickery in the service of the weak but righteous
side in a dispute over a kingdom. Hindu
classics always uphold the rhetoric of righteousness or dharma but condone
and often justify lapses from the codes.
In this essay, I want to focus on the thinking of two strategic thinkers, Kautilya and Sunzi. Kautilya (also known as Chanakya and Visnusharman), who comes closest to the thinking of Sunzi as is available to us in his Art of War (Bingfa)). Like Sunzi, Kautilya also rose as a strategic thinker in a period of constant warfare; both realized the importance of studying war as an important aspect of statecraft. However, Sunzi does not seems to have played any role in helping any particular stale of his time to establish its hegemony over others. Kautilya on the other hand is said to have single-handedly engineered the victory of the Mauryas by destroying the Nanda power and to have put Chandragupta Maurya on the Magadha Ihrone.
thinking on statecraft as a whole is available to us in the great classic
Arthashastras (AS hereafter) which may be translated as the “Science of
Politics and Administration”. Unlike the Bingfa (BF hereafter), it covers
a much broader range of subjects. But in this essay, we will discuss only
those sections which deal with war and external affairs.
AS recommends that a state should base its defences on the fort (durg)
and the army. Of the two, it regards the tort to be more important since
it allows the king to survive a siege and practise his diplomacy from that
base. The army is, of course, important in defence matters but it can be
completely lost on the battlefield leaving the king without any protection.
In contrast, the BF totally rules out sieges as being expensive and
the defence of the stale against enemies, the AS prescribes al least four
bases, one each in every cardinal direction. These should preferably be
natural defensive points such as mountains, water, desert, forests and the
like. But in the state capital, a man-made fort is regarded as essential. It
should have moats, ramparts and parapets for soldiers to shoot from.
Wooden walls are ruled but as a fire-hazard. In the approaches to the
fort, traps should be laid for the enemy. Inside it, it should be guarded by
four types of formations comprising elephants, chariots, cavalry and
infantry, each led by several commanders so that the loss of one or more to
the enemy does not leave the formations leaderless. The fort should, of
course, be well-stocked to withstand a siege but should have secret escape
routes if the situation became desperate. As we shall see, Sunzi’s
thinking is very different.
troops should, naturally, be from the warrior castes as far as possible.
Lower varna are acceptable but the highest varna,
Brahmins, are ruled out because of the peculiar Indian social system.
The enemy can put Brahmin troops out of action simply by prostrating before
them and prostrating persons, by law, could not be killed. The infantry can
be a standing force or it can be raised for the particular war. But other
branches, e.g., elephants, cavalry etc., must be standing formations led and
trained by specialists. The army of an ally can be used but captured enemy
soldiers should be used only with caution.
AS prescribes a detailed hierarchy of officers. The Senapati
or Chief-of-Staff is the highest officer, his station is at the rear. The
lower commanders (nayakas)
actually lead the troops in battle. Daily rigorous training must be the
norm. Frequent inspections are required to keep the troops fighting fit. As
for weapons, there should be a special office for acquiring them and storing
them safely. Each weapon is to be marked with the king’s insignia and
strict inventories must be maintained to guard against loss.
main types of weapons are prescribed and seem actually to have been
maintained in ordnance depots. The first category consisted of battlefield
weapons such as bows and arrows, spears, swords, daggers, shields etc. The
second type comprise those for defence of the fort such as stones, catapults
and bows and arrows. The third type is meant for attacking enemy
fortifications which includes scaling equipment as well as flaming arrows
and other incendiary weapons. The AS puts a great deal of faith in magical
practices such as casting spells.
In Kautilya’s time, warfare was limited only to certain seasons. Generally it was avoided during the rainy season. The AS generally upholds this practice but says that the time for launching a war should also depend cm the terrain which would become the battlefield.
also prescribes that the type of troops to be deployed should be determined
not only by the terrain but also by the disposition of enemy troops. The
book lays down elaborate rules for establishing camps during the march
against an enemy.
the AS puts a great deal of emphasis on devious warfare (kutayuddha),
it prescribes that if a king has a clearly superior force and other factors
are favorable, he should engage in open and rule-bound warfare (prakashayudha). Obviously in Kautilya’s mind, a certain amount of
odium continued to be associated with devious warfare. For it involved among
other things attacking the enemy when he was vulnerable, feigning retreat to
draw out the enemy into a trap, using elephants to break up closed ranks,
attacking one flank and then the other, tiring out the enemy with one’s
inferior troops first and then attacking with superior ones, laying
ambushes, attacking at night to deprive enemy soldiers of their sleep and
then attacking them during the day with fresh troops, attacking the enemy
troops when they were facing the sun and so forth. All such tactics are
routine now but they were regarded as exceptional in Kaulilya’s time.
AS, therefore, goes into great detail about the “conventional” warfare
of its time. It prescribes standard battle-arrays (vyuha)
which have a centre, two flanks and two wings. Each component of the vyuha
is conceived as being of equal strength containing between 9 and 21
units; each unit in turn, should be based on an elephant or a chariot with
five horsemen and 15 infantrymen in front and rear. There are four basic
types of battle-arrays: the staff (in-line) array, the serpent (wavy)
array, the circular array and the loose army. The choice is determined
by the terrain and the enemy’s troop disposition.
emphasis is placed on reserves behind every battle-ariay; this is where the
king stations himself. The AS shows preference for mountains or forts to
station the reserves. With the reserve force, there should be physicians and
medicaments to treat the wounded, and field kitchens run by women. The women
are also trusted with the task of “encouraging” the troops.
the beginning of action, the king should address his troops and emphasize
that he is one of them. Next the Chiet-of-Staff (senapatl)
should also address them and announce rewards for acts of bravery. (For
example, killing the enemy king earned the reward of 10,000 coins and there
were lesser rewards for other acts). Whatever loot the soldiers captured
would be theirs but the Chief should also announce gratuities at the end of
the war. It was the task of the officers to report acts of bravery by men
fighting under their charge.
the form of warfare, the AS is scrupulous about one principle: not to cause
harm to the subjects of the enemy king. So, when laying a siege to the fort,
the people inside must be assured of their safety and be allowed to leave
the fort for safe places. If territory must be annexed - it was usually not
annexed - only the king was forced to become an ally or a vassal - the
people are to be won over through all means. Their customs must be respected
and their gods must be revered by the new king. After the war, carrying away
loot is forbidden. If the king was reduced to vassalage, he still retained
control of the territory and the army and was not obliged to help his
needs to be emphasized that the AS does not only speak about making
conquests. It also discusses the strategies and tactics for the prevention
of conquest by others. This is why a large portion of the book is devoted to
statecraft and administration of the state.
whether in conquering others or in preventing conquest, the AS takes
conflictual relationship between states as the norm. So, management of these
occupies an important place in Kautilya’s thinking. It is almost certain
that a large number of ideas he propounds came to him as received wisdom.
And after him these ideas were appropriated by different texts as their own.
major contribution, in contrast with that of Sunzi. Comes from his sense of
political geography. The AS envisages the “international” arena, the
mandala, as comprising 12 types of kings/states. It classifies them as
follows: 1. The would-be conqueror, at the centre of the mandala. 2. The
enemy whose territory borders on that of the would-be conqueror, i.e., the
hostile neighbour. 3. The ally’s whose territory lies immediately beyond
that of the hostile neighbour. 4. The enemy’s ally who is the neighbour of
one’s won ally. 5. The ally’s ally who is territorially distant. 6. The
ally of the enemy’s ally who
is also territorially distant. Types 7 to 10 follow the same sequence but to
the rear of the would-be conqueror. The last two types are No. 11, a neutral
king/state neighbouring both the would-be conqueror and his/its enemy but is
stronger than both. And 12, the king is totally indifferent towards all
other kings/states but is more powerful than the would-be conqueror, his
enemy and the neutral king/ state.
the advice in the AS is directed to the would-be conqueror (vijigisu
or one desirous of victory). The underlying assumption is that neighbors
always turn hostile. Another assumption is that a common enemy creates
allies. But the categories of
enemy and ally are not fixed. Under
certain conditions, allies can become friends and vice-versa. The 12 types
classified by the AS are possible combinations; they are not to be taken as
the permanently existing actual situation in a mandala.
assumes that except for the neutral and “indifferent” kings/states, all
others in the mandala are of equal strength So, in a concrete situation, the
mandala gets divided into two more or less equal blocs, with one
blocs-leader seeking to establish hegemony over all the others. The
strengths of blocs being equal, diplomacy, strategy and tactics assume great
importance attaining hegemony.
The AS does emphasize the role of diplomacy but shows no preference for it over war. This is simply because one important component of the society of his time was the warrior group whose very existence was tied to fighting. Diplomacy, Kantilya was for winning allies, delaying war if one was vulnerable and for making postwar arrangements for a new order.
to the AS, relations with other kings/states are to be established and
carried out through dutaas or
ambassadors. It prescribes three types of ambassadors: the plenipotentiary,
envoy with limited negotiating powers, and one who is one messenger. It
recommends that ambassadors should be stationed in all foreign states on a
permanent basis and that they she enjoy what we call “diplomatic
immunity” in modern parlance. In contrast to modern diplomatic norms,
however, the AS expects the ambassadors to engage in spying, acts of
sabotage and most importantly be active in securing defections from the
distinguished between six major approaches to foreign policy. The first is a
policy of maintaining peace with another state which is based on a treaty
detailing the terms and conditions. The second is the policy of hostility
which she be followed if one is stronger than the enemy. The third approach
is one of inaction: It is most suitable when states are of equal strength.
The fourth is outright invasion but this policy is recommended for the very
strong. For the very weak is prescribed fifth approach, i.e., seeking
shelter with another king and wait for better days, The sixth and the last
approach recommend policy of peace with one king/state while maintaining
hostility towards another; such a dual policy is possible if help is
available from another state to fight the enemy.
AS, naturally realizes that one may become the object of such policies by
another king/state. So the enemy may force peace by a treaty on oneself. If
that happens, Kautilya advises that one should drag one’s feet in
fulfilling the treaty obligations and wait for an opportunity to overthrow
the enemy. If the treaty demands a hostage, for example, one should offer an
inferior person. But if the enemy demands one’s son as a hostage, the king
should offer himself so that the son can plan to overthrow the enemy and
rescue the father.
AS describes many kinds of treaties, with or without various stipulations,
temporary and long-term ones, sincere and dishonest ones. The aim is always
to outsmart the adversary. It also discusses in great detail not only the
six broad approaches outlined above but also their combinations. Even the
necessity of surrender is not overlooked but it is always for buying time.
is only one among the means to attain one’s objective of hegemony. The
other means are friendship bribery to be employed against weak kings. Yet
another two means to be deployed against the strong are splitting (the
enemy’s strength and alliances) and coercion (which includes war). The
difference between the means and approaches/policies is that the means can
be employed against domestic as well as foreign opponents whereas the
policies can apply only to other kings/states.
way of broad strategy, the AS recommends that the would be conqueror should
first go at the hostile neighbour and with the new power acquired, he should
next tackle the neutral king/state. If he succeeds, he should proceed
against the most powerful “indifferent” king. That would complete his
hegemony over the mandala as a whole, for the rest would fall in line. if
there are no neutral or “indifferent” kings, the conqueror should first
tackle his enemies and then secure the allegiance of enemy’s allies. In
the event there are only two other states, one hostile and the other
friendly, the would-be conqueror should crush the neighbouring state
regardless of whether it is hostile or friendly and then proceed against the
other. Finally, if there are a number of neighbouring states, they should be
tackled one by one gaining strength in the process.
goes without saying that Kautilya underlines all his strategies with the
requirement that the would-be conqueror must satisfy himself that he enjoys
superiority in such essential aspects as troop morale, war materiel and
above all strategic advice. At the same time, the king must take precautions
against insurrection within his own kingdom while he is away at war. So the
AS recommends that a reliable Regent should be appointed and one-third of
the army left behind for internal security. The most likely rebel leader
should be taken by the king on his expedition. (The AS, as may be expected,
also discusses how an insurrection should be planned and executed.) Finally,
the AS elaborately discusses how gains and losses from an expedition against
others should be estimated beforehand. Kautilya wrote a practical handbook
and therefore does not indulge in any theory of a good society, good actions
etc. This is why to the modern
mind he comes across as a totally amoral and cynical practitioner of
strategies of war. Most Western comment on the AS is therefore negative in
the extreme. In India, however, the book has never evoked any such negative
response. This seems largely because despite the odium attached to kutayuddha,
in all epic wars, the righteous side always emerged victorious. Kutayuddha
always remained a kind of side-show. The second reason, I think, is that
the AS was appropriated by other shastras
and the puranas (or epics) in
which the moral/ethical side of all human actions was abundantly stressed;
so, devious and cynical practices came to be considered secondary,
situational and answering only the needs of exigencies.
was a product of the Warring States period (403.221 BC). At that time China
was divided into numerous states, each with its own standing army. There was
constant warfare among them. This allowed a number of “sages” (a) to
travel from one state to another to offer advice on military matters to the
kings. There is some doubt about whether such a person actually existed or
whether what has come down to us as Bingfa (BF) was a compilation of the
sayings of several strategists. For the purpose or this essay we will treat
the BF as having been authored by Sunzi who may have lived in the 4th
BF is to be summarized in one sentence, it would be: The supreme art of war
is to subdue the enemy without fighting”. Sunzi cautioned the kings and
their commanders not to place reliance on sheer military power. He exhorted
them to resort to minimum killing and destruction of the enemy. They were to
take all intact or as nearly intact as possible.
this called for very high level skills of diplomacy and devising stratagems
of deceit, bribery and extensive use of spies (one’s own, from among the
enemy’s subjects and double spies, i.e., the enemy’s spies won over).
The army was only an instrument to deliver the coup
de grace to an enemy previously made vulnerable through other means like
subversion and causing a rift between him Andy his allies. Sunzi himself did
not believe in magic weapons and asked the kings and commanders not to
resort to them. In contrast, Kautilya favored their use.
most kings in Sunzi’s time were prone to resort to war to satisfy their
whims and greed - they lived unbelievably luxurious lives - Sunzi repeatedly
asked them not to resort to military adventures. War was an important
element of statecraft and had to be studied with seriousness. No war should
be undertaken without drawing up detailed plans which were tailored to the
situation of the enemy. In any case, wars must be short, swift and decisive.
There never has been a protracted war which has benefited a country” he
said. He was especially aware of the economic consequence of war,
particularly the inflation of currency during and after a war.
firmly believed that only benevolent and righteous rulers could win wars.
Rulers had to have unstinted support of their subjects behind them. By
implication, he believed that such benevolent rulers had no fear of internal
insurrection, a subject on which Kautilya has much to say.
BF does not convey the impression that Sunzi had any imperial designs in
mind for the ruler he was advising. The BF does use the word ba
(hegemonic) but it seems to mean a more powerful ruler than others. In
fact, the Legalists (Shang Yang, Han Feizi and Xunzi) who were
empire-builders for the Qin state do not seem to have benefited much from
Sunzi’s teachings, except perhaps for battlefield tactics, When the Qin
state ultimately established the first empire, its Emperor ordered that all
classics before him (except works on technology) should be burnt. He did not
spare the BF.
contrast to AS, the BF has a very limited view of political geography. Sunzi
is aware that the enemy may have allies but he basically speaks of bilateral
responses to and initiatives vis-a-vis the enemy. He distinguishes between
overall strategy (what should one do about the enemy?) and military strategy
(how to win a war if one decides to wage one). He has little to say about
the former question but is extremely detailed and meticulous about the
BF and AS share the importance of the terrain and weather while they differ
sharply on the importance of numbers of soldiers and weapons, BF does
discuss the use of different kinds of weaponry in some detail but the
emphasis is clearly on tactics of mobile warfare China did not then have
cavalry, as India did, but AS nowhere speaks of using it for outflanking the
enemy. In contrast, BF treats the main (zheng)
force as a way of intimidating the enemy but actually resorting to the
extraordinary (qi) force for attacks on the flanks and the rear of the
primary target of the attack is the mind of the enemy commander. Is he rash?
Is he quick-tempered? Does he have too delicate a sense of honour? It so,
one must plan one’s strategy accordingly. Sunzi rules out sieges and
frontal attacks except to surprise and cause disarray. He always recommends
the “indirect approach.” One should attack only when one can win. But
one must never hesitate o withdraw to conserve oneself and to entice the
enemy to a battlefield favourable to oneself. Given enough rope, Sunzi seems
to say, the enemy will hang himself.
only constant thing about war is constant change of the situation. In fact,
a good commander must take the initiative to create change and then to
manipulate it. But the foremost method in warfare is deception. When
capable, feign incapacity, when active, feign inactivity, when near the
enemy, make it appear to him that you are far away. When you are far away,
lead him to believe that you are near. Feign disorder and strike the smug
enemy. Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance. When the enemy is
strong avoid him.
for tactics, when one has ten to the
enemy’s one, surround him and take him intact: when one has 51
superiority, attack and disperse him. But if only double his strength, seek
to divide him. If equal to the enemy’s strength, one can engage him but
this requires great skill. If weaker, withdraw. In no case attack his elite
troops. If you surround the enemy, leave an escape route; otherwise he will
fight desperately. Keep him under strain and wear him down. BF is full of
such aphorisms and modern commanders will at once recognize them. Kautilya
has also mentioned many of the same tactics. BF is much shorter than AS and
does not deal with “international relations” or administration of the
AS, BF (despite all known copies having been burnt by Emperor Qin Shihuangdi)
was studied and extensively commented upon almost continuously over the next
two millennia. Since late 19th century it has also been used as an important
text book in Japanese military academies. There are many scholars and
strategists in the West who believe that Mao Zedong’s military thinking
was based on Sunzi’s BF but Mao denied that he had read BF before he came
up with his own military doctrines. The two certainly differ on the subject
of protracted war although they agree on several tactics.
finally come to an overall comparison between Bingfa
and the Arthashastra. Both works
display great clarity of thought and a strong sense of realism. Neither
advocates protracted war or total war although both are convinced that war
is a constant reality for (he state and therefore must be studied and
executed seriously. At the same time, both Sunzi and Kautilya make it
abundantly clear that war is much more than just a fight among men: reliance
on sheer military power does not assure victory. What we today call
“software” is much more important than the “hardware”. Thus strategy
and tactics become supremely important elements and they must be practised
in tandem with diplomacy.
authors of both works were great
practitioners of realpolitik, As
such they do not indulge in moralizing or
theorizing about the ends of power. Kautilya does pay lip service to the
upholding of a righteous social and political order, but Sunzi does not do
that beyond saying that popular and just rulers can mobilize their subjects
for victory more successfully than unpopular and unjust ones. Beyond this
concession to righteous principle, both focus their attention on the goal:
the achievement of victory over others through any means appropriate for the
occasion. These include obtaining accurate information about the enemy’s
plans and actions to frustrate them. Both strongly advocate measures to
break up the enemy’s alliances and his internal structure in order to
isolate and demoralize him. Both recommend indirect and devious approaches
with deception at all levels playing the central role. Oddly enough, despite
such single mindedness in achieving victory/hegemony, both Kautilya and
Sunzi are.concerned about minimizing the economic costs of war as well as
minimizing civilian casualities.
closer comparison will, no doubt, bring out more similarities as well as
differences between the two thinkers. Kautilya, it appears, is far more
concerned about preventing conquest by others and far more in acquiring
vassals than is Sunzi. Similarly, he also shows more sensitivity about
internal security than does Sunzi. Above all, whereas Sunzi focuses somewhat
narrowly on war, Kautilya has a much broader set of concerns taking in all
aspects of statecraft, of which war is just one. But he applies himself to
that one aspect with just as much concentration as Sunzi does.
the great similarities -- almost identities -- between the two, there
remains one major difference which has to do with the different social
systems of India and China. As mentioned earlier, SW’s thinking may be
summed up in one sentence: The victory is one where the enemy is subdued
without fighting. Such a sweeping doctrine would have been inconceivable for
Kautilya because that would have devalued the entire hereditary warrior varna.
For this class, it was a disgrace to die anywhere except on the battlefield.
So, a world without war was even theoretically inconceivable so long as one
was within the established order. But a world without war was not only
conceivable but eminently desirable for those outside the fold i.e., the
Buddhists and the Jainas. Emperor Ashoka established the Magadha empire as a
warrior informed by the thinking embodied in the Arthashastra,
but having done that he saw the futility of it all. That wisdom made it
impossible for him to continue as a warrior. And since he ceased to believe
in the creed of warriors, his rightful place was outside the “Hindu”
fold, in the path of the Buddha.
among the rulers in India, Ashoka was an exception. China did not produce an
Ashoka. The Indian rulers after Ashoka, Buddhists and Jaina ones included,
waged wars as did the different rulers in China when the empire split up
from time to time and they applied the concepts of AS and BE However, in our
own century, the Kuomintang in China and the armed forces in India wholly
copied the western concepts of warfare almost to the last detail.
Mercifully, they ignored one commandment of Clausewitz: “To introduce in
the philosophy of war a principle of moderation would be an absurdity. War
is an act of violence pushed to its utmost bounds”. In our own times
neither India, nor Pakistan nor China has resorted to Clausewitz’s concept
of “total war”. Is there a civilizational lesson in this?
©1998 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without written permission of the publisher.
Published in 1998 by
Gyan Publishing House
5, Ansari Road, Darya Ganj,
New Delhi - 110 002.