India’s Strategic Culture: The Making Of National Security Policy, by Shrikant Paranjpe

Book summary by Ms. Koena Lahiri, Policy Research Associate, PIC

India’s Strategic Culture: The Making of National Security Policy by Shrikant Paranjpe is a comprehensive exploration of India’s strategic culture and how it has evolved over time. This summary will provide an overview of the key themes and chapters in the book.

The book begins by defining national security as the protection of core values through the use of national power. It emphasises that if a nation can safeguard its legitimate national interests without having to sacrifice them to avoid war, and it maintains these interests even if it must engage in war, then the nation can be said to possess national security. The introductory section sets the stage for a deep dive into India’s strategic culture.

In the first chapter titled The Historical Roots of India’s Strategic Culture, the author explores the relationship between a state’s political culture and its strategic culture. Paranjpe argues that India’s strategic thinking is deeply influenced by its historical, cultural, geopolitical, socio-economic factors, and considerations. He presents India as a “civilization-state” with an uninterrupted history spanning thousands of years. The chapter delves into South Asia’s history, beginning with the Indus civilizations, and highlights the major cultural influences that have shaped Indian society.

Paranjpe also discusses the historical empires that emerged in India, shedding light on their geographical limits and how these empires influenced strategic thinking. He particularly emphasizes the significance of the Mauryan empire and its contributions to Indian strategic thought through Emperor Ashoka’s reign and Kautilya’s Arthashastra. The chapter also links India’s Panchsheel principles on inter-state relations to Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism and his cooperative approach to other states. Additionally, the author mentions the text “Shukranitisara” by Shukracharya, which outlines strategies for weaker states to survive. The Mughal empire under Akbar’s rule is also examined, emphasising the development of a “composite culture” and Akbar’s efforts to assimilate non-Muslims into society and government. The author also discusses the Maratha empire, the nature of its polity and the extent of its rule.

The chapter identifies seven key perspectives that have shaped India’s strategic culture, including the idea of a unified state, defensive orientation, perception of frontiers, the role of borders, vulnerability of the North West frontier, sea frontiers as trade routes, and the importance of rulers’ security over territories. The author also highlights the impact of British colonialism on India’s strategic culture, including the British institutionalized military and the disorder during the decline of the Mughal rule.

The second chapter titled India’s Post-Independence Vision explores India’s transition from an anti-colonial focus to the challenges of nation-building after gaining independence. It also addresses the role of force in international relations and its relevance in Indian strategic thinking.

The third chapter titled India’s Strategic Concerns (1947-1991) delves into three dominant factors that have shaped India’s strategic concerns since independence: regional threat perception (with a focus on neighbours Pakistan and China), the pursuit of self-reliance, and the debate over ethnic nationalism’s validity.

The fourth chapter titled India’s Strategic Perspective (post-1991) discusses four transformative events in India’s post-Cold War strategic perspective, including economic liberalisation in 1991, the “Look East” policy, nuclear tests in 1998, and the shift in Indo-US relations.

In the fifth chapter titled Internal Security and the Role of the State, the author examines India’s approach to internal security, addressing dimensions such as the escalation ladder of demands, state goals, and issue areas of crisis. This includes a discussion of political, economic, and socio-cultural aspects of internal security.

The sixth chapter titled Beyond Strategic Autonomy: The Modi Era discusses India’s strategic autonomy and its role in navigating a multipolar world. The chapter also describes the author’s perspective on the tenure of Prime Minister Modi and its influence on India’s strategic culture.

The final chapter titled India: Strategic Culture and National Security Policy, reflects on the impact of culture on strategic behaviour and how historical conflicts and geographic settings have influenced India’s strategic thinking. It emphasises the need for India to manage its power capabilities effectively in the contemporary world order.

In summary, the book provides a comprehensive examination of India’s strategic culture and its evolution. It traces the historical, cultural, and geopolitical factors that have shaped India’s approach to national security. The book also highlights key events and policy shifts that have influenced India’s strategic thinking, offering insights into its national security policy.