Diplomatic Theory of Kautilya and Sun Tzu

Date01 January 2014
Published date01 January 2014
Subject MatterArticles
Diplomatic Theory of
Kautilya and Sun Tzu:
Assessing Interpretations
Anusmita Dutta1
Manish S. Dabhade2
In the changing sphere of world politics, or more specifically in a multi-polar
world, there has been a process of re-territorialization of the theory and practice
of diplomacy. The discipline attempts to move away from the dominant Western
influences and revive the non-Western understanding. The reading of Kautilya’s
Arthashastra and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War in this context seems relevant, as these
two ancient texts reinforce this understanding in an extensive manner.
This article in its first part deals with the aspect of the diplomatic theory
of international relations (IR) and traces its shift. The second part deals with
the non-Western understanding of the diplomatic theory. Since this viewpoint
is read with respect to the two ancient texts, the third part attempts to give
justification of how the historical texts can be approached at without commit-
ting the fallacy attached to the study of old historical texts. The fourth and fifth
parts of the article deal extensively with the diplomacy enunciated in the texts
of Kautilya and Sun Tzu, respectively. The relevance of these two texts in the
contemporary period is also evaluated. Thus, the study of the texts further rein-
forces the view of the presence of alternative understanding to the dominant
Eurocentric perspective.
Diplomatic theory, non-Western thinking, intellectual neocolonialism, Kautilya,
Sun Tzu
International Studies
51(1–4) 162–179
2017 Jawaharlal Nehru University
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0020881717721758
1 Doctoral Candidate, Diplomacy and Disarmament Division, Centre For International Politics,
Organisation and Disarmament, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University,
New Delhi, India.
2 Assistant Professor, Diplomacy and Disarmament Division, Centre For International Politics,
Organisation and Disarmament, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi,
Corresponding author:
Manish S. Dabhade, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.
E-mails: mdmanish@jnu.ac.in; anusmitadutta.jnu@gmail.com
Dutta and Dabhade 163
In contemporary international studies, there has been a growing literature on
diplomacy due to the pivotal role played by it in the affairs of the international
state system. It is considered as a valuable ‘instrument’ to conduct the foreign
policy of a nation. However, there is a biased interpretation in the way the diplo-
macy is conceptualized. There is the aspect of ethnocentrism present in the study
of the discipline, in which the tendency is to look towards Western ideas in order
to gain an understanding of the strategic thinking in general and inter-state rela-
tions in particular. This may either be due to the dominance of the Western per-
spective or a general lack of familiarity with the ancient thinking of own tradition.
The underlying reason of this perspective may very well lie in the fact that the
intellectual domain is being dominated by the socialization which was mainly the
result of the dominance by these Western countries in the continent of Asia for
almost two centuries.
So there is a clarion call on the part of various scholars to reinvent the ancient
strategic doctrines and vocabulary present in our traditions that are non-Western
in its orientation. Shivshankar Menon (2013) in a speech delivered at the Third
International Studies Convention eloquently argued that, in the twenty-first century,
to deal with the emerging new issues, it is essential that the strategic thought
inbuilt in our culture and tradition be developed. He enunciated that in the present
strategic environment of India the mixture of idealism as propounded by Mahatma
Gandhi and of the political rationalism of Kautilya and Ashoka could play a
significant role. For Derek M. C. Yuen (2008), there is a global appeal that Chinese
thinker like Sun Tzu has not been clearly understood in diplomatic practices.
Taking this into account, this article proposes to deal extensively with
Kautilya’s Arthashastra and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, the two prominent non-
Western ancient thinkers and analyse the diplomatic practices enunciated by their
texts. The relevance of the two texts in the study of diplomatic theory and history
and more generally international relations (IR) lies in the fact that the study of
their texts gives the present-day diplomatic historians an understanding, on one
hand, of dimensions of diplomacy that were present in ancient period and, on the
other hand, the instruments which are used in foreign policy. The two texts
although significant, are not well incorporated into the diplomatic theory building
in the existing literature that is dominated by the West. So, the article brings forth
the question of—How viable is the concept of non-Western perspective over the
dominant Western thinking? Can the intellectual dependence of IR theory on
Western philosophers be reduced through a focus on the India and China’s philo-
sophical traditions and interstate relations? Is the backwardness of Asian thinking
the result of ‘intellectual neocolonialism’ of Western thinkers?
The first part of the article seeks to deal with the diplomatic theory of IR, an
attempt to study the shift in the relevance of diplomacy, from ‘handmaiden of
war’ to its present position. In the globalized world, there has been a re-territori-
alization of the discipline. So, the second part deals with the non-Western under-
standing of the diplomatic theory. Along with it the categorization of diplomacy
into West and non-West is articulated. Since this non-Western viewpoint is read

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