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Evolution of Political Intelligence over Time


Intelligence Agencies are new but Intelligence is as old as time. How has Intelligence changed over time and what, if anything, about it has remained the same?

There is no gain stating the obvious fact that human intelligence, since the inception of mankind, has experienced a steady evolution over a course of thousand years. The general intelligence of any individual is defined as his ability to acquire as well as to apply his knowledge in life, foreseeing the possible outcome, and adopting necessary strategies to fulfil or combat the same. With the advent of technology and scientific advancement, the intelligence acquisition method has also largely improved with time, and with the presence of spy agencies and smart thinking robots, the transformation of intelligence architecture has undergone a rapid, profound transformation. However, while scientific advancement has facilitated the invention of new machines and robots that have helped in the development of various branches of intelligence science such as cognitive science, artificial intelligence and brain science it should be remembered that the origin of intelligence can be traced back to 100 years (Mitra and Liebig 2017). As the most powerful advisor and popular dictator in the court of Chandragupta Maurya, Kautilya was the ultimate realist and famous pragmatist, whose eminent political treatise Arthasastra, intended to enlighten a wise king how best to govern and administer the empire, in the most discreet way. Although the treatise concerning itself with war and diplomacy seems to be most relevant at a time of empires and kingdom, it should be remembered that Kautilya still remains relevant in today’s world. As one of the greatest and most popular political books of the ancient world, written back around the time of 300 BCE,  Arthasastra remains highly relevant today. This widely read and well-received treatise is the source of wisdom and intelligence even in the 21st century, and needless to state that his ideas of a welfare state, economic policies and administrative reforms, good governance as well as foreign trade are even applied today.        

Before explaining how Kautilya remains relevant even today, when one seeks to define intelligence, it is important to see how has intelligence evolved and progressed over the ages. In many aspects the political intelligence in present world aligns with the concepts in Kautiliyan Arthashastra. According to Gautam (2013) the concept of punishment and discipline in the political system, the manner of appointment of ministers in 21st century aligns with the Kautilya’s principles. Kautilya elucidated the method of recruitment of councilors, spies, priests, envoys and how to protect princes and educate them. Further, Arthashastra also highlighted how to keep the treatment of the prince under restrain. It explained the role and duties of the king towards state in detail, the personal safety of king and duties of king towards female quarters. In present world the recruitment of ministers based on certain educational qualifications and team of professionals hired for their protection and personal safety can be traced back to Kautilya’s Arthashastra (Shoham and Liebig 2016). It can be concluded that today’s political environment to a great extent is governed by the Kautilya’s principles.

Relevance of Kautilya's Principles in Modern Times

Intelligence in present is as old as time although the intelligent agencies are new. As per Liebig (2014) Arthashastra emphasise on keeping the conduct of the ministers and prince under confinement. It is the concept of vijigisu, where the king takes the responsibility to defend the state. Its application in present day can be related with the Obama’s overarching strategy in tracking Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The strategies used by Obama to protect the state were confined and were disclosed only to operation team. Gautam (2013) studied the relevance of Kautilya’s principles in modern India. First evidence of political intelligence originating from these principles in India comes from Jawaharlal Nehru studying Kautilya Arthashastra in Prison. Other evidences were given by the current President Pranab Mukherjee and NSA Shivshankar Menon who are discursively engaged with Kautilya’s thoughts. It gain indicates that the intelligence is as old as time. In contemporary Indian life, the symbolic representation of Kautiliyan thought in street names and names of educational institutions is found. The political strategic documents do not explicitly refer to Kautilya. It is argued that the latent presence of these principles in present day politics and primary socialisation due to its affinity with epics like Mahabharata. In Asia many countries like India are striving for great power status. The contemporary politico-strategic challenges in India seem to reuse the past as the political activities since 1947 appears to demonstrate, “Kautilyan-realist learning curve”. Not only India but the manner in which Japan, Germany, US and other countries are establishing the international relationships depicts the behaviour that aligns with the concept of Rajamandala theory in the Arthasastra. In this aspect the political intelligence has remained same (Warner 2014).

On the contrary, the intelligence was also found to change overtime in some other aspects. The sixth book of Arthashastra deals with the seven factors of a commonwealth, which act as a source of the circle of kingdom. It is called the saptagna theory (Gautam 2013). The factors include the country, the minister, the king, the friend, the treasury, and the army. These factors also make the ideal of a well organised state in present world. This fact is less realised due to greater emphasis on political theory and thought put forward by Plato and Aristotle. Thus may have brought the deviation of modern day intelligence from the ancient time. There are seven constituent elements of the statecraft. However, only four of these elements are used in the western conception of state.  In many western countries the concept of economy is the basis of state is missing. In Arthasastra, this aspect is considered an important constituent of the state (Goria 2017). The western discourse on peace finds military security as the precondition. On the other Indian discourse emphasise on establishing peace without the primacy of military hardware. Unlike India, the western thinkers do not consider peace as both means and the end. In western countries, peace is considered a goal that can be attained by having a high degree of military self-reliance. The war and conflict in the world is due to this fallacy of belief. Even Kautilya does not highly focus on the importance of military for state.  It gives equal importance to all the seven constituents, where each one of them is interdependent (Crosston 2016).). The concept of war among neighbouring countries still exist today which accords to Warner (2014) may be misinterpretation of theory. It is argued that most people misinterpret this theory as “considering neighbouring states as enemy and enemy of an enemy as friend” (Shoham and Liebig 2016).  In this aspect it can be argued that the official thinking in India is not influenced by the Kautilya Arthasastra’s foreign policy theories. However, many countries in west Asia follow its tenets in a serious fashion.

Kautilya's Teachings on Governance, Warfare, Justice and Administration in Modern Times

It appears from the above discussion that intelligence is old as time in many aspects. It has evolved from the Kautilya Arthasastra. In present world this however differs from the Arthasastra in many aspects.  It can be concluded that the Kautilya’s principles are relevant in present times just like in ancient times. It continues to be relevant and may remain so in future generations. However, there is a need of   great amount of scholarship because the world is changing dramatically and it is difficult to establish the relevance to Kautilya’s work in terms of the present day intelligence completely.  

Kautilya has provided a detailed description about the responsibilities and duties of the king, ministers and the other state officials. Kautilya has also provided a detailed commentary on the state's political administration. He has explained how the political administration can be effectively undertaken and managed. He also gave instructions about the defense of the boundaries of the state, protection of the forts and the ways in which the infiltration of the enemies can be handled effectively. The Arthashastra of Kautilya differentiates legal issues into criminal and civil matters and gives importance over the specific guidelines for administering justice in terms of evidence, witness and procedures. Moreover, Kautilya strongly preached dignity. However, he maintained that the penalties must be fair and proportionate to the offence that has been committed. This principle of Kautilya is relevant even today's scenario because the need for comprehensive and sound administration for the state has been uplifted by the propensity of the strong to flout the law and to perform the same repeatedly (Gautam 2013). A government can only be acknowledged as good if it is administered in a structured manner. Kautilya suggested that good governance must dodge any kind of extreme decisions and extreme actions. According to him, soft and the harsh actions must be taken accordingly depending on the prevailing circumstances. According to him, sovereignty is only practicable when there lays co-operation with others. He also preached that the administrative measures are required to be taken only after proper deliberations (Singh 2012; Liebig 2013).

In present case political scenario, enemies are no longer a state actor but a non-state actor like terrorist so using a spy as stated by Kautilya is a good strategy to ascertain the motive of the enemies. Kautilya advocated of utilizing women as a weapon of war. He regarded women as source of sexual satisfaction for the enemies of the troops, participating in the war. According to him, women are a powerful addiction and a king must use them against an enemy (Prabhu and Dwivedi 2015). He proposed to use women as a source of assassination and thereby creating dispute among the enemies. Thus the prospective enemies end up killing each other as a result of lust against ravishing women. Kautilya also proposed to use women as spy (Vittal 2011). Women promised pleasure to the king or the higher authorities of the opposing enemies and at the time of the climax, the enemies would end up revealing their secret game plan to these women spies. These spy women then inform the same to the emperor, helping them to combat the attack of the enemy tactically (Vittal 2011).


This game plan in warfare of using women is relevant in present day scenario as well. United States and United Kingdom intelligence agencies promote recruitment of female staffs and target middle-aged women for these jobs. However, the reason behind the use of the women as a spy in the political warfare has changed its perspective. Now-a-days, in the era of feminism, women are no longer treated as a symbol of sex or objectified as a symbol of sexual desire. On contrary women are recruited on the basis of high emotional intelligence and to create work place diversity (BBC News 2017). They now are provided with more flexible work environment in order to provide them career support and to encourage more women to join the council of foreign intelligence (Bhadu and Singh 2012).Kautilya believed that the heredity troops are more dedicated when comes to patriotism than that of hired troops. In other words, troops consisting of men born in the same kingdom are claimed to remain loyal to the king. However, this concept of Kautilya though stands strong on the psychological grounds but fails to stand out in present day socio-political scenario. Now the countries are separated as developed, developing or third world countries. With the advancement of the concept of outsourcing, increase in population, need for cheap labor and increase in the number of detention refuges, the developed countries are now using the citizens of the third world countries as the soldiers of war fare. For example, more than 100, 00 people of Iraq are working on a contractual basis with the United States Department of Defense. Two of the most common out sourced militant troops of US is Black water and Armor group. However, there are reports that these private armies are working as security agents in the day time and serving as terrorist at night, thus once again proving Kautilya's hypothesis as a true statement (Sihag 2017).

A far-sighted visionary that Kautilya was, it is no wonder that his political treatise has withstood the test of time, and has proved to be crucial and useful in framing the administrative and military reforms of the present era. It is important to note how the Western thinkers and sociologists had expressed various views and ideas regarding political administration that had already been shared by Kautilya in Arthasastra. It should be remembered that Arthasastra spoke of practical realism, rather than mere political philosophy as spoken by Plato and Aristotle. It should be noted that although the ‘Prince’ written by Machiavelli is also a remarkable political treatise, advising a king to follow steps that would help him in perpetuating his rule, Arthasastra is different as it enlightens one about how to create a sustainable, and productive state. This is precisely the reason why the ideas expressed in Arthasastra are even relevant today. The German sociologist Max Weber is always praised for his theory of Bureaucracy,  where he propounded that the key to running an efficient and highly productive state is to create a government administration system run, controlled and managed by the departments staffed with the non-elected officials, that will ensure maximum transparency and integrity in action (Malhotra 2014). Weber believed that organized hierarchies can only ensure the most efficient and rational form of administration and this systematic process of administration will only help in maintaining order as well as maximizing efficiency. Since the 18th Century, the international political system has witnessed a modern form of bureaucracy, whereby the inefficient and unfair practice of tax farming as was prevalent at earlier times, soon got replaced by an organized method of tax collection, whereby the Exchequers being enrolled to raise taxes, by exerting control over the system of tax revenue and government expenditure (Gautam 2013). Further, by the advent of 20th century, bureaucratic form of administration became highly popular amongst all the nations, with the public sector of almost all the countries employing over 5% of its workforce for working for the government. It is no wonder that some of the greatest critics and theorists of all time, such as J.S Mill has claimed that most of the successful monarchies of the world were based on the notion of bureaucracy, and he stated the chef reason behind the success of bureaucracy lies in the fact that its representatives are chosen solely on the basis of appointment, rather than direct, unfair election (Smith 2016). However, although the term bureaucracy is a recent one, coined in the 18th century only, Kautilya had already spoken about the importance of exercising control on the people of the state, even on the importance of creating a spy-network to keep surveillance over the whereabouts of the officials, and the ultimate aim behind the same was fair and transparent administration. Further, it is important to note that Kautilya’s maxims of administration already included features such as hierarchy, defined competence of each office, selection and appointment of employees by merit, promotion by seniority-cum-merit, compensation, training and discipline, which were later being discussed by Weber. However, it should be remembered at present, many countries are trying to shift focus away from bureaucratic system of administration, and make their ways towards privatization, as the former is often being accused of paralysing individual initiative resulting in stagnation, while the latter allowing sufficient room for progress and improvement (Gautam 2013). Hence, considering the problem of suppressed creativity, many countries are however moving away from bureaucracy. However, even today in many countries, bureaucracy is the most acceptable form of public administration.

Though it is a less acknowledged fact, but the mass surveillance policy of the government is of indispensible importance in smoothly administering a nation. In order to ensure national security, and offer protection to the residents of a country from the terrorists, the government of various countries has also initiated various surveillance programs. For example, only a very few days back, the US government was in news for collecting highly confidential data from the  phone logs and Internet data from millions of Americans as part of its mission to keep the United States safe, and with the advent of technology, the domestic spying technique has already reached another level. However, it is less known a fact that Kautilya’s Arthasastra had already spoken about the importance of mass surveillance program, considering it to be a key component of any efficient administrative system. Kautilya sternly believed that the spies should keep a close eye on the high officials of the country to examine their loyalty and commitment towards the government, as well as the citizens of the country to know their reaction towards the abilities and competence of the administrator. Kautilya believed that this would help the ruler gain comprehensive knowledge about the functioning of the administrative staffs as well as the loyalty of the employees working there (Kumar 2016). At present, in order to tighten up the vigilance system, the government of many countries is not only monitoring the whereabouts of its people through recording systems, but also monitoring and evaluating the performance of the government representatives by installing CCTV cameras in office rooms as well as across the streets. A large number of mass surveillance programs as carried on by the government of various countries such as BULLRUN (USA), Magic Lantern (USA), GhostNet (China), Frenchelon (France) make use of advanced technology, including commercial software such as NarusInsight, that helps in instant identification of the culprits, or flaws in the system, and as a system is much more time-saving and effective (Tanwar 2014). However, all these government bodies, while monitoring the internet and telephone communication or supervising staff performance, are necessarily employing the use of the time-tested statecraft intelligence designed by Kautilya in his Arthasastra.

One of the most impressive aspects of Arthasastra is its detailed account of the importance of effective fiscal management, which alone can ensure the creation of a highly productive and financially sound nation. At present, the economists believe in increasing the tax base as it is the only way of creating more assets on the tax rolls (e.g., new or improved business properties, homes, and rental properties) to spread the cost of operations across more entities (Murthy and Rooney 2016). There is no gain stating the fact that this will result in more money to enhance government-funded community features that in turn can add to higher quality of life. However, this is not a new concept, and such scientifically proven techniques have already been discussed by Kautilya as he was the first one to advocate that the tax base should be increased, rather than the tax rate. An efficient and financially sound fiscal management policy was initiated by Kautilya who deeply believed that the function of a ruler or an administrator is to collect sufficient taxes to sustain the kingdom, rather than collecting too much tax that end up overburdening and destroying its people. Further, it is equally important to note here that Arthasastra was the first book that spoke about the importance of creating distinct tax structures for people belonging to different financial backgrounds, whereby the wealthy persons should always pay higher tax than the poorer people (Manrai and Goel 2017). At present, the tax policy of the government of all the countries is completely based on this idea, whereby the federal tax rate is based on the income level of the citizen, and exemption is provided to an employee earning below a certain level.

Unlike former times, when the ruler of a kingdom followed a set of administrative rules and policies, duly communicated to the ministers, at present a well-written constitution states the laws of the country, and lays forth the roles and responsibilities of the government and each of its representatives in serving the nation. Although a well-written Constitution is a unique addition to this, it is important that the essential content of the Constitution of most of the countries is derived from Kautilya’s Arthasastra. First of all, akin to the function of the President in today’s administration, Kautilya stated that the functions of a king are to act as the military, legislative, executive and judicial head of the State. At present, most of the economists speak of the importance of a Welfare State, and yet it is important to note that Kautilya was the first one to have stated that the king was like the Father and all the people or subjects of his country were his children. That is how he is supposed to take care of them. Again, it is no less important that the three important internal issues for the ruler to attend, as mentioned in Arthasastra are:  Raksha—which literally implies the king’s duty to protect life and liberty within his state; Palana that states the king’s commitment to ensure national law and justice; and,  Yogakshema or to ensure absolute welfare of the people.  In today’s world, as absolute monarchy has got replaced by democracy, these three characteristics are found to be subsumed in the constitutions of all modern states in the form of preservation of Life, Liberty, Justice, Equality and Property.  

Kautilya’s Arthasastra was composed long back in the year of 321 BCE, and yet it has not lost its relevance, as the oldest and most exhaustive political treatise enlightening the modern administrators on a variety of issues, right from diplomacy, war and peace, to military statecraft and political intelligence. As a classical work of political theory, Arthasastra has kept on shedding light on important military policies and administrative systems that have helped countries to improve the art of their governance. It is indeed important to state that much of the scientific management concepts of today’s world is indebted to this book of 15 chapters, 380 Slokas and 4968 Sutras.

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