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Building A ‘Strategic Culture’ In India Needs To Start From School

The study of political science is not enough.

31/08/2017 8:37 AM IST | Updated 31/08/2017 8:37 AM IST
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"Strategy" and "culture" are generally viewed as entirely disparate concepts. However, they can, and indeed should be brought together. According to the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, "The strategic culture of any given country has numerous sources and it is bound to remain an 'elastic' term given that there are various factors that influence the formation of national culture and a subsequent rationality for security policy and strategic thinking."

Strategic culture studies has its origins in the second world war era, when it was inter-related with the concept of "national character." While military strategy is an important part of it, strategic culture includes civilians too. All the great powers have historically evolved their own "strategic cultures", where the masses have a know-how of the place of their country in the comity of nations.

Since concepts such as nationhood, nationalism and so on are taught vis-à-vis our domestic politics, the independence struggle and wars with our neighbours, a comprehensive "strategic culture" hasn't evolved in India yet.

This knowledge differs from person to person but its seeds are sown in an early age, mostly when they are students, which is when concepts of "nation", "sovereignty" and "statehood" are introduced to them. In fact, citizens constantly define the "national character" of a country—something which is inter-related with the concept of strategic culture.

In India, these concepts are introduced in the backdrop of the freedom movement and Independence, after which we became a sovereign nation-state. All this is covered under "political science" in schools as well as colleges. Now, here is the problem: these concepts of nation and nationhood are just taught within a specific historical context which is "inward looking"—the framework of international relations is frequently bypassed.

Since concepts such as nationhood, nationalism and so on are taught vis-à-vis our domestic politics, the independence struggle and wars we have fought with our neighbours, a comprehensive "strategic culture" hasn't evolved in India yet. Political science as a subject is inadequate to develop "strategic thinking" among individuals. That is why we see a lot of differences between a military thinker and an academic thinker even on a basic understanding of these concepts.

All great powers have produced great institutions that also provide for military and national security studies. They have full-fledged departments focused on producing quality research in these areas. This helps produce quality "intellectuals" specialising in these issues—such scholars are able to engage meaningfully and in a nuanced way with issues related to conflict, geo-politics, foreign policy, war, violence, national security and terrorism. In fact, each of the above-mentioned areas make for specialised areas of study, contributing towards developing a "strategic culture." are dealt separately under separate subjects in higher educational institutions. Though it is one of the many aspects behind the development of strategic culture, it's a very crucial one.

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Unfortunately, the policymakers in the early decades after independence didn't find it feasible to develop a "strategic culture." (Perhaps, as the country of Gandhi and Buddha, India's commitment to "non-violence" and "peace" may have had something to do with this.) Our military educational institutions are completely different from our civilian institutions. There is a water-tight separation between them and therefore ideas can't be exchanged between the two.

Institution-building is a precursor to great power-making, and therefore our policymakers need to promote subjects like national security studies to fill the gaps left by "political science."

A National Defence University as a proposed institution might prove helpful in reducing that gap but it can't be entirely filled until subjects like defence, strategic studies, international relations and foreign policy are introduced from the school level itself. India needs to build quality institutions devoted to these fields. Apart from that, every university dealing in humanities should have a separate department of international relations and defence studies. In our textbooks, we need to introduce our military history in far greater detail than is currently done.

Most students of political science do not know about this history—if they did they would have a better rounded view of India's history and perhaps greater pride in our military prowess over the centuries. This is how values pertaining to nation-building are inculcated in the masses. Awareness of a nation's history—including military history— is a very important part in developing a "culture." This is because militaries owe their existence to defend the nation against external threats.

Greater knowledge of military history will be a stepping stone in the direction of building a "strategic culture." To sum up, institution-building is a precursor to great power-making, and therefore our policymakers need to promote subjects like national security studies to fill the gaps left by "political science."

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