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How India sees the world: A discussion with Shyam Saran

Event Report

Brookings India hosted a private discussion on “How India Sees the World: Kautilya to the 21st Century” with Ambassador Shyam Saran, who has served as Indian foreign secretary, Chairman of the National Security Advisory Board and Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Nuclear Affairs and Climate Change.

According to Ambassador Saran, Kautilya’s Arthashashtra provides a useful template or a historical reference for India Foreign Policy. He argued that Kautilya’s advice is meant for a rising state seeking to establish itself in a system of competing states i.e. the template of Arthashastra is consistent with the notion of a multipolar world. However, he asserts that foreign policy practitioners must not mechanically apply Kautilya’s teachings to India’s external relations. Globalization requires modern diplomats to be more precise and have expertise on issues such as nuclear diplomacy, cyber security and climate change. Ambassador Saran also provided a robust defense of strategic autonomy, arguing that India continues to pursue those foreign policy goals that enable it to have relative autonomy in its decision-making, based on its national interests.

Some of the other issues discussed included India’s relations with its smaller neighbours like Nepal as well as other more difficult relationships with China and Pakistan. Ambassador Saran argued that India should not hope for a resolution of its border disputes with China and Pakistan in the foreseeable future but should focus instead on managing those relationships based on mutual areas of convergence. He also asserted that Indian diplomacy lacks the physical and intellectual resources for sustained dialogue and interaction with its neighbours and beyond, which can be a serious challenge going forward.

Keshav Kelkar, a research intern at Brookings India, contributed to this report. The views are of the author(s), panelist(s), discussant(s).

Event Announcement

A private discussion on “How India Sees the World: Kautilya to the 21st Century” with Ambassador Shyam Saran, who has served as Indian foreign secretary, Chairman of the National Security Advisory Board and Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Nuclear Affairs and Climate Change.

Using the prism of Kautilya’s Arthashastra and other ancient treatises on statecraft, Ambassador Saran shows the historical sources of India’s worldview in his book. He looks at India’s neighbourhood and the changing wider world through this lens and arrives at some interesting conclusions – the claims that the world is hurtling towards Chinese unipolarity are overblown; international borders are becoming irrelevant as climate change and cyber terror bypass them; and India shouldn’t hold its breath for a resolution to its border disputes with China and Pakistan in the foreseeable future.

This discussion is private and off-the-record.

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