Arthashastra, compiled, edited and commented by Kautilya a.k.a. Chanakya a.k.a. Vishnugupta, speaks more about administration, organization, clandestine operations, economy and diplomacy than war. Considering this, many political and diplomatic commentators often consider(ed) Arthashastra to be of lesser significance than the likes of The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Now, could that be considered logical? Does it make Arthashastra “less significant” in modern times?
To answer this question, we need to understand the idea of war. War, as a noun, is a state of armed conflict between different countries or different groups within a country. The apparent objective of war is to uproot the cause of conflict. For example, if a ruler of a nation is creating too much of a nuisance and limited strikes prove futile, then it becomes essential to push that ruler into submission or, even, slay him. But, what if even his successor retorts similarly? Once you’ve won a war, you could install a handpicked ruler in his place or annex that nation. Annexing a foreign land is often mired in conflict and chaos. It gives rise to dissent and often results in rebellion. Therefore, even if you win the war, the solution is far from achieved.
Vyasa, in Mahabharata, speaks vehemently about the costs of war. Krishna, the principal advisor, and strategist of the Pandavas, too was against the war. He tried to avert the war, but when there was no viable solution at hand, it became increasingly necessary to wage war to attain a solution. Before the great battle of Mahabharata, Pandava prince Arjuna got cold feet. He argued with Krishna “I don’t need a kingdom soaked in the blood of my relatives… although they are up in arms against me.” Krishna, eventually, convinced Arjuna to rise and fight. Some may call Krishna a hypocrite – but they’ve certainly not understood his teachings compiled in Bhagavad-Gita.
War yields disastrous consequences, true, but it’s also the last resort. In the Arthashastra, Kautilya proposes three approaches before the war: साम: or Sam (implying patience to understand your adversary), दाम् or Dam (persuasion through gifts or material wealth) and दण्ड: or Dand (imposing apt punishments). When these three fail, a ruler is advised to use भेद: or Bhed (or brute force) to force the adversary into submission.