Igniting Strategic Culture in India

The Indian subcontinent is a diverse land of culture, a product of multiple negotiations and contracts, and historical institutions of civilizational knowledge. With its unique history of war and peace, it can most definitely offer scholars with non-western international relations perspectives.

 A dominant perspective in the study of international politics has been the realist approach that focuses on concepts such as capabilities and balance of power. However, it should also be recognized that the identities of nation-states also play an important role in defining their external engagement. The identity of a nation-state is a consequence of multiple societal conversations and larger cultural frameworks.

Culture impacts and is impacted by all aspects of human activity. Therefore, foreign policy is also impacted by culture(s) in a given nation-state. In addition to material capabilities and institutional frameworks, there is a need to study intellectual traditions and other cultural aspects to understand their impact on foreign policy. While nation-states encounter numerous external threats which are sometimes beyond their control, the strategies deployed by nation-states to such threats are contingent on geopolitical context, economic strength, military capability, and the cultural predictions of the policy-makers.

  11 am  11:30 am    Introduction to the theme and the Panelists
  11:30am – 12:50 pm   Panel discussion 
  12:50 pm – 1 pm    Course launch and Proceed for Lunch

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    Does India have a unique strategic culture which is also well rooted in its civilisational texts like Arthashastra by Kautiliya, Nitisara by Kamandaki, or Kural by Thiruvalluvar?

    It was argued in the recent past that the Indian state lacks a coherent, well-structured strategic culture. This famous critique came with the monograph, titled “India’s strategic culture” by George Tanham in 1992. In this paper, he argued that the Indian elites do not have a well established thinking in national security. He added that this lack of systemic thinking is due to the complexities of domestic politics of the land.

    The foreign policy strategy is not always a reactive process of responding to external developments, as it is also a consequence of proactive response rooted in domestic politics. Foreign policy strategies tend to be multilayered and ideally these varied strategies should seamlessly converge. While the structure of the international order impacts the foreign policy strategies of the countries, the nation-states also seek to redefine the structure of the international system. In the process, nation-states draw on cultural, economic, political, and military resources to project power in the international domain. 

    In the light of the above discussion, the proposed panel discussion will reflect on some of the following issues:

    1. How do we understand the relationship between foreign policy strategy and the culture of a nation-state?
    2. Do nation-states have strategic culture? If so, how does the strategic culture modulate a country’s response to geopolitical threats/opportunities?
    3. What has been the impact of culture on India’s external engagement? Given its history, does India have a unique diplomatic culture? 
    4. What are the major elements in India’s Grand Strategy? How has India’s grand strategy evolved over time? 
    5. Is there is a need for India to clearly enunciate a national security strategy? What is the interface between national security strategy and defense capability building? 
    6. What are the main features of India’s global/regional economic engagement? What are the ways in which India’s development experience impacts its attitudes towards trade policies and external economic engagement such as South-South Cooperation? Does culture impact India’s Trade and economic negotiation on the global platform? 

    In addition to the above themes, the panellists will have a free-wheeling conversation with the audience. 


    Modern Timeline of Strategic Culture

    Dr. Arvind Gupta (Director, VIF)

    Dr. Arvind Gupta is the Director of Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), Indian Foreign Service (1979; Retired); Former Deputy National Security Adviser and Secretary, National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), During 2012–2014, he was Director General of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA)

    Colonel P.K. Gautam (Retd.)

    Colonel P.K. Gautam (Retd.) is a veteran of the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War in Bangladesh and of Operation Meghdoot (Siachen glacier). He holds an MSc in Defence Studies and has been an Instructor-in-Gunnery. He last served in the faculty of studies at the School of Artillery, Devlali. Post premature retirement in 2000, Col. Gautam has 17 years of research experience. He joined IDSA in August 2005 as a Research Fellow. He has an abiding interest in Non-Traditional Security (NTS) including environmental security, water and climate change, as well as military affairs, issues relating to Tibet, and Kautilya’s Arthasastra.

    Amb. Rajiv Bhatia (Senior Fellow, Gateway House)

    Amb. Rajiv Bhatia is Dist. Fellow, Foreign Studies Programme at Gateway House. He is a member of CII’s International Advisory Council, Trade Policy Council and Africa Committee. He was also the Director General of the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) from 2012-15, he played a key role in strengthening India’s Track-II research and outreach activities.

    Sanjay Pulipaka (Senior Fellow DPG)

    Sanjay Pulipaka is an independent researcher on international politics and security issues. He was previously a Senior Fellow for Research Programmes and Strategic Neighbourhood at the Delhi Policy Group; Senior Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum Library; and Senior Consultant at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER).

    Sagar K. Chourasia

    Sagar K. Chourasia is the Programmes Lead at the Centre for Strategic and Foreign Relations. A graduate in international affairs with double masters from Jindal School of International Affairs and Geneva School of Diplomacy, his research focuses on international relations, international trade, technology, and policy.

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