July 27, 2008Arthashastracounter-terrorismForeign AffairshistoryIndiainternal securityRealismrealpolitikSecurity

Reading the Arthashastra: On internal security

Conciliation, dissension and coercion

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

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”.

In fact, taking out the leaders is Kautilya’s central prescription for handling discontented and disaffected people.

Disaffection or disloyalty (viraga) can be got rid of by putting down the leaders; for in the absence of a leader or leaders, the people are easily governed (bhogya) and they will not take part in the intrigues of enemies. [Arthashastra VII:5]

When the threat is purely external, Kautilya advocates a policy of sowing dissension and coercion—essentially through the use of covert means. This entails the use of double agents to create splits among the conspirators and assassins to kill them.

In the other two contexts involving a combination of internal and external actors, Kautilya proposes the use of the dissension and coercion against the foreign element, and conciliation to suppress the local.

When local persons are abetting (with foreigners), the means to be employed to suppress them are conciliation (sama) and gifts (dana). The act of pleasing a man with a high rank and honour is conciliation; favour and remission of taxes or employment to conduct state-works is what is termed gifts.[Arthashastra IX:5]

Kautilya’s approach makes a clear distinction between leaders and sympathisers of internal threats. Leaders are to be neutralised, either by co-opting them or by eliminating them. Sympathisers, on the other hand, are to be offered conciliation. The foreign element relies heavily on the use of spies and assumes that the state has the requisite covert action capability to execute disinformation, defections and assassinations.

Related Links: The reading the Arthashastra series archive.

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