Kautilya, also known as Chanakya or Vishnugupta, was an ancient Indian teacher, philosopher, economist, and jurist who served as the chief advisor to the Mauryan emperor Chandragupta Maurya (c. 340–c. 297 BCE). He is traditionally known as the author of the Arthashastra, a treatise on statecraft, economic policy, and military strategy.
Kautilyan diplomacy, as explained in the Arthashastra, is characterised by its pragmatism and nuanced approach to political relations and international affairs. It involves a range of strategies, both covert and overt, including alliances, negotiations, warfare, espionage, and realpolitik (a system of politics based on practical rather than moral or ideological considerations). In his diplomatic doctrine, Kautilya identifies a circle of states in which a king and his kingdom are at the center, surrounded by potential allies and enemies. The concept of a ‘circle of states’ (Rajamandala) emphasises the importance of geography and relationships with neighboring states. Kautilya advised the king to have a proactive foreign policy with an emphasis on strategic alliances based on common interests. He advocated for a balance of power and suggested that the enemy’s enemy should be considered a friend. His policy recommendations also extended to the use of espionage and a sophisticated intelligence network for the maintenance of state security.
However, it’s essential to note that although Kautilyan diplomacy appears cynical or amoral to some, it’s fundamentally based on Dharma (a complex concept encompassing duty, morality, justice, law, and righteousness). The ultimate objective of his statecraft was the promotion and protection of the welfare and prosperity of the state and its people, which, in his view, justified the use of any means necessary.
In modern context, Kautilya’s strategies continue to be studied for their relevance to international relations, political strategy, and diplomacy. They provide valuable insights into pragmatic and realist approaches to politics and foreign affairs.