Opening remarks at the seminar on Culture of strategic thinking in India at Global Counter-Terrorism Council on 12 Jul 2022
Dr Arvind Gupta, Director VIF

Does India have a culture of strategic thinking? This debate has been raging in the strategic circles since at least the 90s when George Tanham of Rand Corporation wrote an essay on Indian strategic thinking concluding that India lacks the culture of strategic thinking; Indians are defensive; there is no policy of dealing with Pakistan and China challenges; their actions are mostly defensive; the government has not come out with any clear articulation of its strategic goals and action plans. He did accept that Indians had analytical mind and well suited to produce strategic thinking. However, their ideas or fragmented and haphazard.

While many Indian scholars agreed with these generalizations, there was also a push back. They pointed out that Indian civilisation is ancient. It could not have survived and achieved so much without a culture of strategic thinking. Indians had advanced ideas in philosophy and statecraft much before the Western civilisation thought of these Texts such as Ramayana, Mahabharata, Upanishads, and numerous commentaries written over the centuries continue to inform Indian thinking even today. India also has diversified regional thinking. Despite diversity and the existence of regional centres of power, the Indian subcontinent was united by a strong culture.

India has also produced thinkers in last 200 years who had a vision of a great India emerging. Indian freedom struggle produced outstanding thinking. Gandhiji’s idea of Ahimsa, truth and Satyagraha as political philosophies have guided subsequent generations. There are many examples of this nature.
In post-independent India, India has displayed strategic thinking on numerous occasions: the birth of Bangladesh, the merger of Sikkim, the testing of a nuclear device, the launch of space and atomic energy programmes, etc.

As Shankar Menon observed, India has a unique diplomatic style: there is fierce attachment to independence in foreign policy, engagement and not entanglements, multilateralism in values and bilateralism to secure interests; frugal diplomacy, and not hesitating to use force when required.

Critics point out that India lacks institutions for strategic thinking and that most decisions are taken by personalities at the helm of affairs after consultations. The government of India hesitates to publish strategy documents. There is some truth to this.

In the Modi years, lot of emphasis on engagement, strategic partnerships, active defence, economic and diplomacy. Several new ideas, rooted in culture and civilisation are regularly articulated. Examples: Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam, world is a family, Atmanirbharata are the key ideas of the Modi government’s foreign policy. The emphasis on culture and civilisation is a part of thinking strategic thinking.

National Security Council and its structures, set up in 1999, have emerged as institutions will strategic thinking takes place. In addition, several think tanks are also pursuing research in strategic issues. New institutions have also been established. Sooner or later India will come out strategic documents as well.

There is a clear articulation of the vision that India is emerging as a major power, that its rise will be benign and beneficial to all. At the same time, India will do all the protect its national interests.

The issue is not that India does not have significant culture of strategy. The issue is that one of strategic planning and execution. Finding resources and implementing the discussions in the key.

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