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Modern India’s Strategic Advantage to the United

States: Her Twin Strengths in Himsa and Ahimsa

United States Army War College
Carlisle, Pennsylvania, USA

The notions of just war (jus-in-bello1 ) and just peace (jus-in-pace2 ), with himsa (the use
of force) and ahimsa (nonviolence) are not new. They were conceptualized in Eastern
Philosophy in early Hindu texts like the Vedas3 and the Bhagavad Gita.4 The theoretical
concept of himsa and the Gandhian principle of ahimsa has been actualized in modern
India. Both streams of thinking are useful strategic options, alone and/or in tandem.
As India emerges as a valuable player in the global balance of power in the Middle
East and Asia, it is important to the United States as the global superpower to fully
recognize India’s strengths and potential as a regional ally in just war and just peace.
Both countries have more similarities than differences and their collaborative action
can lead to a more democratic and peaceful world society.

With the recent rapid rise of India in economic and technological arenas, her political power
in the region has also increased, making her a strong strategic partner for the United States in
many ways. Most important for the United States is India’s geographic location, surrounded
by Pakistan, Iran, and China. The U.S. relationship with Pakistan has not yet yielded the
desired security of the region, despite vast influxes of money and influence on the part
of the United States. Pakistan has proven herself to be a high-maintenance friend. In the
year 2007, Americans began to question whether General Pervez Musharraf’s policies in
Pakistan have turned his country into a shaky, if not dangerous, partnership. The relationship
of the U.S. and Iran continues to be more cantankerous of late with respect to both weapons
of mass destruction and terrorist activity. China’s reliability in the area of a trading partner
is becoming more and more questionable, as her goods and services to America fall short
of expected quality. The United States has favored the nations of China and Pakistan with
trade alliances. In actual fact, neither country has proven to be a reliable and trustworthy
partner to the United States. This leaves open the possibility that India—the world’s largest
democracy, and one with similar ideals and aspirations5 —could be the logical partner of
the U.S. in this region.
A period of cool relations between India and the U.S. during the Cold War has gradually
given way to entente and teamwork.6 As observed by President Bush,7 the rivalry has
diminished, “their two great democracies are united by opportunities that can lift their
people, and by threats that can bring down all their progress . . . The U.S. and India have
ambitious goals for their partnership. They have unprecedented opportunities in this world.
They can look to the future with confidence because their relationship has never been better.”
The relationship has been given a new boost due to cooperation between the two nations
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the
official policy or position of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Comparative Strategy, 27:133–147, 2008
Copyright © 2008 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
0149-5933/08 $12.00 + .00
DOI: 10.1080/01495930801944669
134 B. E. Coates

with the passage of the United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of
Given the above statement, and level of U.S. military deployment and economic invest-
ment in the region, it is important to understand India’s historical, centuries-old, commitment
to just peace and just war.8 America and world democracies need to know: a) How India
feels about using force (himsa) and/or peaceful negotiation (non-force—ahimsa) to bring
about just peace and stability in the region; b) under what conditions will India lend her
force—himsa—to bear on unjust regimes and underground transnational terrorist groups;
and, c) how it can correlate with its opposite value of (ahimsa)—both of which are present
in the ancient texts on warfare, India’s nationalist movement, and her current position as a
global power.
India’s history is peppered with war and so it is not surprising that the earliest Indo-
Aryan writings on man also include edicts on just war and peace. Some of the most famous
edicts may be found in the Bhagavad Gita (Gita), a philosophy of life stated in poetry form
and set on the stage of a war.9 On the occasion of the nuclear explosion on July 16, 1945
at Alamogordo, physicist Robert Oppenheimer, Director of the Manhattan Project, quoted
from the Gita10 about the awesome and mighty power of an atomic blast. While the writings
from the Gita were hypothetical and conceptual models of atomic (and other) weaponry that
were yet to be developed, the underlying vision was clear, and the power of the force stated
in the Gita and quoted by Oppenheimer accurately depicted the potency of such weapons:
“If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the
splendor of the mighty one.”
Another verse from the Gita related to the atom bomb also came to Oppenheimer’s
mind: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” indicating a cautionary stance
about the use of the weapon. It was this test explosion of the Manhattan Project that brought
the notion of “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) fully into the American military
lexicon and to the rest of the world. The subsequent bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki
led to a greater realization of the potency of such weaponry. After that nuclear explosion,
many societies around the world began to question the moral obligations of states in the
development and use of such devastating weaponry. While there is no doubt that the Indians
had conceptualized such massive instruments for deterrence centuries earlier, in the 1940s
there was strong opposition from the Gandhians to this atom bomb. We must remember that
at the time India was in the throes of her several nonviolent movements aimed at the goal
of Indian independence from Britain. Hence when the greatest proponent of non-violent
conflict resolution, the great Mohandas K. Gandhi, commented on destruction caused by
the atom bomb in Hiroshima, his comment was pessimistic: “Unless now the world adopts
non-violence, it will spell certain suicide for mankind.” Gandhi did not believe in the use
of force (himsa) to realize political and social ends. He revived another Indian paradigm
(ahimsa) for dissent—i.e., the use of nonviolent struggle to achieve nationalism.
In the decades following, gentle means of persuasion and deterrence were talked up at
length both in India and abroad, and by the late twentieth century a number of international
compacts, treaties, and policies had appeared that in various ways tried to curtail or limit
use of war, and in particular the use of WMD, to achieve peace.11 Not surprisingly, many
saw these limitations to force, however, as being placed arbitrarily and unfairly on selected
states and not on others. Be that as it may, each state obviously has its own visions, values,
norms, and beliefs, as well as assumptions and inferences about threats upon which to
base claims to the right to wage just war and the use of WMD.12 Curiously both these
paradigms—i.e., just war and nonviolent conflict resolution methodology—exist side-by-
side in India today. The nation has made strides in development of nuclear technology,
India’s Strategic Advantage to the United States 135

but also holds close to her heart the belief in nonviolent methods to achieve resolution of

Just War—The Dharma-Yuddha13 Principle

Ostensibly societies have always dreamed of the ultimate weapon and justifications for its
creation and use have been many. Politicians and philosophers have defended the use of
fearsome means such as use of WMD in language that extolled the justness of the cause, the
will of God (divine command), the need for deterrence, and other weighty arguments. In all
such discussions three concepts figure prominently: first, the nature of man—his needs and
wants; second, man’s relation to the political state—and how the state’s institutions serve
that need; third, what happens when those needs are threatened ignored or challenged; and,
finally, the moral dimensions within which these challenges and threats are adjudicated.
The discussion in this section focuses on the last two issues in the framework of the ancient
history and literature India to see how the issues have been conceptualized. The epics
which speak to these matters—the Vedas—are broad commentaries on moral life,14 that
include theses on war, leadership, and the management of the military organization. It
should be stated at the outset that the writings about the great epic battles and the use
of WMD are imagined scenarios in the Indian texts. They present several putative, but
nevertheless important, perspectives about how people thought about morality and killing.
In analyzing the concept of “just war” from the early Indian perspective, one notices that
it has two correlative parts: a) war was just when it was fought for “just” or righteous
ends—such as deterrence, threats to sovereignty, and risk to life or property; and, b) the
means by which war was fought had to be honorable means, these were prescribed in the

How was Dharma-Yuddha Justified?

Most cultures recognize killing as a major moral and social violation and see the preservation
of human life as a fundamental deontological principle. In this context, war is justified as
a utilitarian or teleological necessity to reach regional stability. This was one argument to
justify violation of the injunction against killing. However, not unlike arguments in other
cultures, Indians also believed that the best justification for war was to look to and follow
God’s commands—when followed correctly the outcome would be successful. Even though
God is presumed to be compassionate and impartial, his will and commands are invariably
invoked as a plea for engaging in killing to right wrongs in society—another teleological
argument for war. There are, or course, problems with the Divine Command theory, as this
belief is called. The logic of these and other arguments often have underlying self-serving
biases,16 thus causing a fundamental attribution error17 in argumentation for war. We know
that the imprimatur of “God’s Will” has been placed on various strategies for going to war,
and used as a rallying cry to followers, often to justify ends that are in fact cruel, inhumane,
and self-interested. Throughout history we have had instances of justifiable killing in the
name of God.18
The question also arises as to who is privy to hearing the expression of God’s will, and
how accurately the “voice of God” can be interpreted by fallible human beings and how
faithfully it can be disseminated to others. What we know by observation is that what is
conceived to be “truth,” or the will of God, is generally interpreted by the powerful elites
in the society, whose voices carry with them the strength of authority, such as politicians,
136 B. E. Coates

influential businessmen, and powerful clergymen.19 In the ancient Hindu writings we see
that the name of God is invoked in another way. There was the belief that war is not
necessarily effective due merely to superior power,20 but rather that victory is dependent on
God’s favor to the virtuous, or those who follow God’s commands. We also note that the
texts proclaiming the principle of daiva balam (power of the divine) say it is bestowed on
the army of the righteous. In India the cleric caste, the Brahamins, and the Kshatriyas—the
warrior caste, respectively, were the most influential. The former set forth the reasoning
for war (Divine Command) and the latter executed it. Indian society also articulated the
teleology—“the greatest good for the greatest number”—associated later with the ethicist
Jeremy Bentham. Another principle used then and now is that (good) ends justify the (bad)
means, a principle associated with Machiavellianism.21

Deontology and Teleology in the Bhagavad Gita

What does the Bhagavad Gita say about God’s commands in war? In the Gita, in the structure
of poetry and creative imagery, the divine actually speaks out the commands. It was believed
that the Logos descended from spirit22 into material form23 to become visible to Arjuna
(the commander of the army of the Pandavas). The Logos took the shape of Krishna,
who was Arjuna’s charioteer. Ostensibly through the voice of God divine philosophy and
advice on war is dispensed, in particular on military matters, leadership, and the justness
of the goal. The catalyst for God’s dicta arise from the fact that Arjuna faltered in his
conviction that the cause is honorable. At the very moment before the battle, he becomes
dismayed at the prospect of killing people in the opposing army—people who are kinsfolk,
teachers, and friends. He sets down his bow and refuses to move ahead. Krishna instructs
Arjuna on the moral obligations on the leader and the value of the ethical life. He urges the
general to embrace his dharma (duty), which is to perform acts of karma yoga—the yoga
of righteous action24 —that is to fight as is his duty as the leader of the warrior clan, the
There are several forms of controlling the body and mind, through the methodology of
yoga: a) Karma or action yoga—the yoga of righteous and purposeful deeds; b) Dhyana
yoga or yoga of meditation, which is the practice of controlling the mind to understand both
the inner self (soul) and the material world; and, c) Jnana yoga, the yoga of knowledge,
which requires a teacher.
In Chapter 3, verses 3:4, 3:5 and 3:8, Krishna spells out the notion that action is one of
the keys to salvation.25 Being moral in action will lead to knowledge and wisdom, which
are the righteous fruits of doing and becoming. Knowledge will strip away maya, that is
illusions (false assumptions, false images, and errors in reasoning, with which humans must
constantly struggle). The fulfillment of this dharma (duty), arisen out of Arjuna’s karma
(past actions), will result in his spiritual growth and emancipation from his present karmic
cycle.26 The Gita here, by showing that a spiritual life is also a life of action, puts a premium
on the value of pragmatism.
When the means and goals of war are evil—such as indiscriminate killing for one’s
own benefit, for greed and other selfish purposes—the texts have referred to that as kuta-
yuddha, or malevolent or unjust war.27 Here logical reasoning will question the interpretation
of what is good and honorable and what is malevolent, and argue that hidden motives
abound that fall short of disinterested action.28 Be that as it may, there are, nevertheless,
considerations given in the holy texts on what tests must be considered to wage a just war or
India’s Strategic Advantage to the United States 137

What Constituted A “Just” Means or Moral Methodology

for Waging War?
From the epic Mahabharatha, we see that early Hindu societies acknowledged the following
about war: First, human life is precious and the taking of life—especially innocent life—
demanded retribution. Second, persons are entitled to freedom and liberty, and that the
unlawful stealing of people for labor—slavery or servitude—must be avenged and the
liberty of those people be restored. Third, there is always a struggle to obtain resources,
and furthermore these resources being scarce, the unlawful stealing of these resources by
another group demands that restitution be made. These three universal concepts of life,
liberty, and property are notions that people have held through the ages to be reasons for
just war.
There were also a number of principles set forth for actual waging of a just war.
Negotiation had to be undertaken prior to actual waging of war. This involved parties
coming together face-to-face in discussion. As in Thucydides’ famous dialog between the
Athenians and Melians, the causal issues of conflict had to be clarified. Pre-negotiation
was a starting point; however, the more powerful party, then as now, had the advantage
of skewing the discussion in its own favor so as to bring about a bloodless surrender. The
dominant group would also have had the means to verbally threaten and intimidate the other
into surrender. Another method of pre-negotiation was for a monarch or political leader who
wanted to invade another’s territory to dispatch an ambassador with the message to the other
party to fight or submit. In the Indian writings, we note that person of the emissary was
considered to be inviolable. This early Indian edict set the tone for diplomatic privilege for
ambassadors up to the present day.
If after sincere discussion a resolution for peace could not be brokered and war became
inevitable, the Vedas required that the parties come to agreement on how the war was to be
conducted. Rules for engagement required at the minimum the following conditions. First,
there was a consideration of location. While writings about war in the western tradition,
most famously Clausewitz’s On War,30 suggest that destruction is a necessary outcome
of war,31 the Indian scriptures specifically urged that the war be restricted to areas where
damage could be contained. Care had to be exercised in finding such a location so as
to prevent negativities from the spillage to fall over and into the general population.32
Particular cautionary measures had to be taken to avoid the killing of innocents, priests,
the aged, women, children, prisoners and prisoners of war, and the sick and disabled. Wars
were forbidden to be held in areas developed by citizens for peaceful purposes, such as
agricultural areas, gardens, sites of worship, and educational institutions. Furthermore, war
had to be conducted by the light of day, so as to limit damage to innocents. When the
opposing armies retreated for the night, animosity had to be suspended until sunup the next
day. Second, the role of the warrior was identified. War was to be fought by professional
warriors and killing limited to enemy fighters. In India, within the societal division of castes,
traditionally it was the Kshatriya caste from which the warriors in India were drawn. It was
their obligation and duty (dharma) to fight, and to do so honorably and with integrity.
Third, there was the need for transparency. There were injunctions against deviousness and
underhand methods of fighting. Fourth, healing treatment to the wounded was expected,
and mercy had to be shown to prisoners. If prisoners were taken, there was a limit to how
long they could be held as working slaves—generally for a period of about a year, after
which they were to be returned to their homes. Fifth, the principles of justice and fairness
had to be applied. War had to be conducted in a manner that is true to the principle that one
should not do to others that which is unpleasant to oneself.
138 B. E. Coates

The above codes relate to our modern thinking about ethics in general and “just war”
in particular33 :
1. Compassion or karuna
2. Mercy or kripa daya
3. Justice or insaaf
4. Fairness or nishpaksh
5. Honesty or sachiyee
6. Integrity or sachpan
7. Promisekeeping or vishwas rakhna
Despite these cautions, there are many references to the use of overwhelming force or
WMD. While the abstract concepts of such weaponry in the Gita are described poetically,
the underpinning notion that sets forth the serious reasoning for this is important to note, and
should not to be taken as mere whimsy concocted to tell a powerful tale. Rather, it represents
the desire for some ultimate weaponry to right an evil situation. While the conditions extant
for determining what is actually right and what is wrong are subject to interpretation,
the potency of the weapons imagined are not. A number of mighty weapons are cited.
The bramastra, the atom bomb-like weapon used by the hero Rama as described in the
Ramayana, comes to life in 1945 at Almogordo—the event that led Oppenheimer to quote
the Gita in describing its huge power. The lethal nagastra, which spews out venomous snakes
instead of arrows or sprays multiple arrows dipped in snake venom, is an ancient conception
of the modern chemical weapon. The vayavasta, the weapon of the wind deity that when
used can cause climactic changes and bring on hurricanes and tornadoes of forces of 300
mph or greater, was the weapon of Vayu. The deity Varuna wields the mighty varunastra,
his water weapon that causes storms over water, massive tidal waves, and drought. These
weapons used in just war can wreak catastrophic destruction. However, these and many other
WMD were not to be used indiscriminately. Rather there were moral obligations placed
upon their correct usage. More importantly, a linked analysis from theoretical concepts
to their current tangible formulations relates to the larger denotological issues of life and
liberty, and the teleological issues of how to achieve these within a given society when the
situation demanded it.
India, as an old civilization going back 7,000 years, has had a history of internal warfare
among its many kingdoms.34 As a result, early on it developed its military apparatus. It
is not surprising to learn that India was one of the first societies to implement tactics,
division, and formations. They were sophisticated structures known as vyuhas—the most
famous being the chakra-vuyha35 —a virtually impenetrable formation, as profiled in the
The issue of himsa, or use of force, takes on greater meaning when one understands
that India was been ruled by outside invaders from the fourteenth century up through its
independence in 1947. Having succumbed to Muslim rule by the Moghul Emperors and then
to British colonization, modern Indians were anxious to find a useful paradigm of war to
create an independent nation. In the freedom struggle for Indian independence, the forces of
himsa and ahimsa were both present. However, after independence a growing movement of
more militant members of Hindu and indeed Indian society came to the belief that violence
had to be used to attain political and economic freedoms. The Gaddar Movement, begun
in Berkeley, California by University of California and Stanford University students, with
the cooperation of the Indian-American farming community in 1914, had the mission to
free India from British rule. It failed with the capture of the Kamagata Maru, the Japanese
ship used to transport weapons to India. The philosophy of Subhas Chandra Bose a freedom
India’s Strategic Advantage to the United States 139

fighter for independence and a follower of Marxism, did not preclude violent struggle. There
were militant Hindu factions that sprang up in opposition to the ahimsa principle as well,
most notably the extremist Hindu Mahasabha.36 There was also the Jan Sangh Party, and
its follower entity, the Bharitya Janata Party.
Thus, although we see the twin precepts of himsa and ahmisa have existed simultane-
ously in India throughout the ages, we can also note that the recent perception of ahmisa
from the Indian national freedom struggle has come to be associated with India in general
and Gandhi in particular.

The Concept of Ahimsa

The notion of ahimsa (literally, the avoidance of violence) became familiar to the West as
the philosophy of nonviolent struggle for political purposes, as advocated by Mohandas
K. Gandhi in the nineteeth and twentieth centuries in South Africa and India. From Hindu
philosophy comes the notion that there are generally two polar opposites of the same
concept. Life can be taken as a combination of opposites, for example, birth and death. In
the same vein, where we generally see conflict as the destroyer, we can also see conflict as
a creator.37 Conflict for Gandhi was an opportunity to resolve differences to create a better
world for people.
The concept of ahimsa has two pillars. The first concerns itself with negotiation, and
the second is noncooperation. The empirical evidence for the value of both of these pillars,
used successfully for policy sea-changes in communities around the world in the twentieth
century, include: Indian independence in 1947, after a long period of noncooperation, satya-
graha, and negotiation in British India;38 the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of
1964 following Martin Luther King’s noncooperation and nonviolent struggle in America
against racism; and the end of apartheid in South Africa as a result of peaceful negotia-
tion and noncooperation under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, leading to democratic
elections in 1994.
Satyagraha, a term coined by Gandhi, is related to the concept of ahimsa. To create it he
combined two words: satya, or truth, and graha, or the act of grabbing onto, or truth seizure.
Gandhi himself called satyagraha the “truth force,” the “soul force,” and also referred to
it as the “force of love.”39 Gandhi drew the concept of satyagraha from the philosophy
of ahimsa from the Upanishads. He was also influenced by the teachings of Jesus in the
New Testament. In his years in England, South Africa, and India, Gandhi had read widely
pulling in the philosophies of writers like Ruskin,40 Tolstoy, and Thoreau. Working, in the
area of social and economic justice for those who were less advantaged, Gandhi also drew
his peace paradigm from his studies of Quaker philosophy.41 Thus, the concept of ahimsa
advocated by Gandhi lives on today in India, and is a combination of ideas, values, and
moral beliefs drawn from many religions, writers, and peace movements.42
The notion of satyagraha as associated with ahimsa has several important ethical
linkages. First, in deciding how to deal with conflict, Gandhi wanted us to be aware that the
first principle is truth. This truth, which he called “soul force,” one can take to mean the
force of one’s conscience. In arriving at truth Gandhi suggested participatory and democratic
dialogue and discussion. Second, by invoking the truth force Gandhi wanted us to think
critically about underlying motives behind behavior related to violence. He was asking for
an examination of assumptions, logical fallacies, and other misuses of reasoning that are
often used to justify war. Third, by calling for the “love force,” Gandhi may have been
referring to Christ’s teaching about love for one’s enemies. He was also suggesting that the
power of love brings patience (as a mother has for a recalcitrant child). This patience is
140 B. E. Coates

required to move the other to see that violence does not necessarily bring about peace. In
Gandhi’s thinking “an eye for an eye, makes everyone blind.” Gandhi noted, “I discovered
in the earliest stages that pursuit of truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one’s
opponent but that he must be weaned from error by patience and sympathy. For what appears
to be truth to the one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering.
So the doctrine came to vindication of truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent,
but on one’s self.”43 Time is a necessary element in this appeal. It is only through repetition
of the thesis and antithesis, in an iterated form of the Hegelian dialectic, that this outcome
can arise. Finally, if negotiation failed, Gandhi included resistance in the form of nonviolent
In examining all these messages from satyagraha, Gandhi brings about a synthesis of
what it means to think through disagreements, for only then can nonviolent conflict resolu-
tion come about. Closely related to ahimsa and satyagraha is the concept of samanvaya, or
harmonization, which has been offered to the world by a Gandhian follower known as Kela
Kalelkar. This identifies ways of resolving conflict by recognizing similarities in traditions,
such as parallel notions or analogous conceptions from different religions, and bringing
these comparable concepts to bear on conflict resolution.44
The founders of modern India, Motilal and Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarojni Naidu, Vallabhai
Patel, along with many others believed in the Ghandian principles satyagraha and ahimsa.
Despite having been met with violence, they pursued these principles that ultimately led the
mighty British Raj in India to agree to swaraj (home rule/independence) for India. What had
seemed unthinkable when Gandhi began his ahimsa journey had become a belief-system
for many around the world today.
As noted earlier, conflict for Gandhi was an opportunity to create viable alternatives
from challenges and threats, and to come to good ends through means that would not violate
human beings and their habitats. However, nonviolence as espoused by Gandhi was not taken
to be a form of helplessness, in which the believer was a passive receiver of violence done
to him/her. Rather, as Gandhi explained it, when confronted with brute force, a person is
permitted to use just enough force to repel the attack.45 Presumably, then, for Gandhi the
use of force could be permitted, but it also leaves open the issue of relativity. If the force
is lethal, the question is whether the victimized should respond in kind. This question is
clear to Gandhi. He does not advocate using the ultimate form of violence. Gandhi always
strongly opposed WMD and he made his views known to the world when the atom bomb was
exploded: “. . . [I] regard the employment of the atom bomb for the wholesale destruction of
men women and children to be the most diabolical use of science.”46 Gandhi was referring
to nuclear weaponry, but no doubt would have objected to the use of WMD of the chemical
or biological kind as well.
The modern pacifist principle in the twenty-first century reiterates that war is unjust,
and that differences should be negotiated through means other than violence.47 Just peace
theory suggests that “international structures of friendship, justice, and common security
from violence are both necessary and possible, and can help eliminate the institution of
war. Just peace suggests the Gandhian notion of looking for the truth, or the “truth force”
of satyagraha.

War and Peace Strategy in Modern India

The argument for ahimsa as a political tool in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, and
complex world lost some of its enormous momentum in India with the assassination of
Gandhi in 1947, and moreso after the death of Prime Minister Nehru, who had favored
India’s Strategic Advantage to the United States 141

Gandhian nonviolent means of conflict resolution. The himsa stream of thought grew.
Following independence, India was helped at first by Canada and the United States, and
later by the Soviet Union, with technical knowledge. It is interesting to speculate whether
her nuclear development phase may not have begun quite so early had Gandhi lived for
another decade. India conducted her first nuclear test in 1974. This resulted in the isolation
of India from the community of “responsible” nuclear states, and India was also denied
cooperation in civil nuclear development.48 The nuclear disagreement began to lessen in
the early twenty-first century. India’s economic and technological growth were obvious to
America and the West by the late twenthieth century. Finally, a meeting between President
George W. Bush and Indian President Manmohan Singh in March 2006 formally recognized
the global partnership between the two nations. This was followed in December by the
signing of the United States-India Atomic Cooperation Act of 2006 (USIPAECA). This
landmark legislation represents an endorsement of India as a nuclear power and signaled
the beginning of cooperation between the two countries in civilian nuclear developments.
By contrast, Iran’s nuclear program is a troubling problem for the Western world.
Lying as she does on India’s western border, this is also an issue that India must deal with.
Although New Delhi and Teheran have full diplomatic relationships, increased jihadist
political ideology of terrorist groups within that nation poses a threat to India’s capital
city of New Delhi and financial capital of Mumbai. The probability that India will be
attacked by jihadist terrorists likely falls immediately behind that of the United States,
the United Kingdom, and Israel. With the nuclear powers of Pakistan to the north and
China to the east, and Iran to the west, India’s approach to WMD development has been
focused on deterrence, security, and restorative justice as well as energy production. India’s
approach to biological and chemical weapons has been limited also to prevention of their
India’s stance on just war derives from the ancient roots discussed earlier in this paper.
Indian thought on war has always been a combination of niti and saurya—ethical principles
and valor.49 This ethic recognizes that unjust war, or war waged with no regard to moral
standards, is “mere animal ferocity.” In modern terms this falls within the concept of limited
war, with weapons of mass destruction to be used in the context of “supreme emergency.”50
In this perspective, the principles of discrimination, proportionality, and human rights are
important and include such matters as containment and limited collateral damage to civil-
ians and to nonmilitary areas. Other values such as compassion, fairness, and the like, all
discussed earlier, apply. In the meantime, through her developments in business and infor-
mational technology, India continues to build global relationships outside of her military
strengths, which also fosters national security.51 There also exists simultaneously a more
radical concept fostered by small groups of political Hindus of the need to be proactive
to ensure that Indians need no longer fear being assaulted and conquered by invaders and
colonizers, as in the past.52
The other stream of thought, the Gandhian ahimsa principle, lives on in the strong
belief held by most Indians that a “just peace,” or a truthful, satyagrahic peace, is possible.
As observed by Thistlethwaithe,53 “it is not, according to just peace theory, inevitable that
human beings while sinful, fallen and prone to conflict, will inevitably go to war because
of that fallenness. How human societies regard war is a product of our social reflection.”
It is through reflection, as Gandhi urged in his “truth force” and his appeal to patience,
under which lies the belief that human beings are ethical and logical, that the telios of the
dirty-hands dilemma54 that leads to war does not necessarily have to arise when parties
142 B. E. Coates

Despite earlier misunderstandings and strained relations with the United States, India’s
relationship with America was bolstered in July 2005, with the nuclear compact to share
civilian nuclear technology, ratified in the U.S. Congress in December 2006. As noted by
Brigadier General Selva Johnson, “the United States has underlined its intentions to pursue
its relations with New Delhi based on an acknowledgement of India’s rising global status,
military might, and economic prowess”55 India’s rising global status has been helped by
the 1.7 million Americans of Indian ethnicity who live in the United States. This represents
a vast resource of brain power that has produced scientific and social inventions, having
global economic impact. Indians are establishing research and development facilities in
India. India’s large middle-class population today represents a vast untapped market for
American goods and services. America remains India’s largest trading partner.

Strategic Benefits to the U.S.-India Partnership

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sees India as a “reliable partner” of the United States as
it melds its interests with America in promoting democracy, limiting nuclear proliferation,
and defeating terrorism.56 Both past Indian President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam and current Indian
President Pratibha Patel, and President George W. Bush are in agreement that terrorism
poses a threat to democracies around the world, and it must be overcome. Having been on
the receiving end of terrorism, particularly in her northern area of Kashmir, India will be
watching to see how much the renewed partnership with the United States will move it to
assist in eradicating such a menace. This menace arises from the influx of terrorists from
Pakistan. In fact, the United States has made the move to show her support against terrorist
attacks upon India. When two Pakistan-based terrorist groups, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and
Lashkar-e-Toiba, were placed on the list of terrorist organizations by the United States, this
was taken as a sign of good faith between the two countries.
The United States has used India’s key position in Southeast Asia to launch its early
attacks against the Taliban and terrorist organizations in Afghanistan. Friendship with India
provides the United States with military bases from which to manage instability in the
Middle East and near Far East as well as a pedestal from which to launch both countries’
beliefs in the value of democracy for economic and social well-being of the people of the
area. India’s policy of restraint in the use of military force is an example of her commitment
to peaceful negotiation. India has made it known that she is amenable to complete nuclear
disarmament, provided others do so as well. If her nearest neighbors, however, continue to
be hegemonic, or committed to clandestine terrorist attacks, India can and will preserve her
sovereignty with force as needed.
Indian philosophy drawn from early writings, however, makes it clear that war was
to be waged only after negotiation and diplomacy fail. India’s history of recent conflict—
for example the India-China War, Bharat-Chin Yuddh, November 1962, and the ongoing
conflicts with Pakistan have shown this to be true. India brings from her ancient past two
distinct policies to be followed depending upon the circumstances of the aggressor so as
to achieve the desired goal and limit destruction in the process. Against powers that do
not have the weapons technology or skills, the texts advise the policy of sama and dana;
whereas against equals and superior powers and aggressors, the use of stronger methods
(bandnook and danda) can be used.57
This paper has spent considerable time analyzing the old Indian texts on war and peace.
The question might arise as to the value of the ancient philosophies to modern thinking in
a complex globalized world. In the last five years, the Hindu spiritual teachings of the
Bhagavad Gita and its directives on what constitutes just management principles and moral
India’s Strategic Advantage to the United States 143

leadership58 has come into favor in management circles.59 However, in the last few years,
the Gita is catching up to The Art of War as a management text in such prestigious business
colleges as the Wharton School, Harvard Business School, the Kellogg School of Business,
and others.60 Respected scholars of business, like Peter Senge, have also endorsed the
spiritual values of the Gita as a model for moral leadership in modern business institutions.61
Indian scholarship has proved to be universally applicable from its early days until now in
many diverse disciplines. Furthermore, India’s rising economy, which is expected to grow
at 8% until 2020,62 now threatens to overtake the United States economy by 2042 as the
second largest. Thus it is natural for international scholars and practitioners to be interested
in the Indian subcontinent.63
India has been a valuable ally to the United States in the following ways: Subsequent
to the September 11, 2001 on the United States, India offered support for the antiterrorism
campaign in Afghanistan, including the use of her military bases. She is also one of the
largest donors to Afghani reconstruction. She has protected valuable U.S. cargoes in the
Malacca Straits during the early part of the global war on terror. She refrained from opposing
the international protests against U.S. involvement in Iraq. And, despite her own interests
in Iran, India has voted with the United States in 2005 at the IAEA Board of Governors
meeting to declare Iran as noncompliant with the Non-Proliferation Treaty.64

Strategic Convergences and Mutual Values

To summarize, India’s partnership advantages to the United States in the Indo-Middle East,
and Indo-Asian regions, are convergent:

First, she is a buffer against domination of Asia by a single regime, and a resource against
terrorism, both of which are detrimental to American sea and land security interests in
the subcontinental commons of Southeast and the Middle East.
Second, as the largest democracy in the world, she shares the ideals, visions and values
from the Founding Fathers to current policies from the United States.65
Third, India is a multiethnic nation, like the United States. Indian policies, like American
policies, attempt to equalize the playing field, particularly in relation to the prejudices
associated with the caste system, that prevent minorities from enjoying the full benefits
of the state.
Fourth, India also has a common official language, English, which she shares with the
United States. This mutual instrument of communication is helpful to the U.S. in the
surrounding region where communication is often difficult and hard to interpret.
Fifth, India is a nation devoted to peace, believing, as does the United States, that it is
only through peace and beneficence that prosperity can be brought to disadvantaged
people. As a partner who seeks peaceful negotiations first, under the powerful ahimsa
philosophy ingrained in her national psyche, India mirrors the lofty ideals of just peace
and democracy for all people embraced in the United States.
Sixth, as a powerful technology innovator, with her sons and daughters in America at the
forefront of scientific advances, and her gifted scientists at home, India is an able
associate in the use of deterrence leading to just peace. Her temperate and moral
attitudes toward just war as depicted in her earliest writings make her a reliable force,
but also a humanitarian partner in conflict.
Seventh, India’s intellectual capital is high. As an influential contributor to the bodies of
knowledge in all fields of endeavor, as evidenced by the numbers of Americans of
144 B. E. Coates

Indian origin in academia, professional fields, and the arts, India is possibly the most
valuable intellectual ally to the United States.
Eighth, India’s future is bright as a growing economic power. For this reason alone, she
is a nation to be taken even seriously when the United States formulates strategies for
peace in the India-Middle East and India-Asia region.
Ninth, India is dedicated to keeping the global environment safe through development of
cleaner energy sources and through strategies for climate control.
Tenth, both India and the United States face similar reliance on Middle East oil supplies—
in the case of India, 75% of its crude supply is from this source, thus both can benefit
from technology development in areas other than oil for their civilian energy purposes.
India’s greatest political and military challenge for the immediate future will be balanc-
ing her strategic interests with Iran, even as she moves closer to the United States,66 and her
economic challenge will be to proactively shape her domestic and regional environment67
in terms of eliminating poverty and health problems.

1. Just war.
2. Just peace.
3. The Vedas are the sacred books of ancient India, and contain early philosophies about God
and man and their relationship to each other. They were supposed to have originated from God and
then passed down by word of mouth, but there is no concurrence about the date when they began in oral
form. Around approximately the eighth century B.C.E the oral tradition gave way to the written form.
The Vedas provide guidance on human life in terms of moral, social, legal, and domestic teachings.
There are four parts to the Vedas: The Rig, Sama, Yajur and Athaveda. Each of these Vedas are divided
into four sections: the Aranyakas which contain the theology, the Samhitas, or songs, the rituals, or
the Brahamanas, and the Upanishads or the philosophies.
4. The moral dilemma between violence and nonviolence is argued in the Bhagavad Gita (Gita).
The Gita forms a part of a larger text, the Mahabharata. The Gita, written around the first century B.C.E.,
is a philosophical work that is a commentary on many aspects of being human, such as: the ontology
of man, his epistemological relationship to the world around him, and the means (methodology) he
uses to survive. The dialog takes place on the battlefield between two warring factions—the Pandavas
and Kauravas. One can draw lessons from the Gita for many aspects of managing life in general terms
or life in a more particularistic and contextual frame, such as military leadership and organizational
5. India’s Constitution borrows its abstract ideals from those in the United States’ Bill of Rights
(those first 10 Amendments to the United States Constitution).
6. R.N. Burns (2005). “The U.S. & India: An Emerging Entene?” Remarks for the House
International Committee, Washington, D.C., September 8, 2005.
7. G. W. Bush, “U.S. India Partnership, Vital Speeches of the Day, 15 March 2006.
8. T. Nardin, ed. (1996). The Ethics of War and Peace: Religious and Secular Perspectives,
(Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1996)
9. A. Harvey, ed. Bhagavad Gita: Annotated and Explained (Vermont: Skylight Paths Publish-
ers, 2002).
10. Oppenheimer learned Sanskrit in 1933 and read the Gita in its original version.
11. It should be noted that by this time the term WMD had been enlarged to include not only
nuclear, but chemical and biological weapons as well.
12. See S. S. Hashimi and S. P. Lee, Ethics and Weapons of Mass Destruction: Religious and
Secular Perspectives (Cambridge University Press, 2004).
13. The term Dharma-Yuddha denotes “Just War.”
14. See D. Goodall, Hindu Scriptures (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).
India’s Strategic Advantage to the United States 145

15. V. R. Dikshitar, War in Ancient India (New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1987).
16. The self-serving bias is an attribution error where one attributes good things to one’s own
self, and bad things to external causes. See also the next footnote on the fundamental attribution error.
See D. Nelson and J. C. Quick (Organizational Behavior: Foundations, Realities and Challenges,
(5th ed., Thompson Publishers, 2006).
17. One of the forms of attribution biases is known as the Fundamental Attribution Error, and
it refers to the human tendency of making attributions to someone’s behavior as linked to internal
causes, whereas the reasons for one’s own behavior are linked to external causes. This manifests even
more so when something happens that is “bad”—we might blame others for our actions, whereas in a
situation dealing with someone else’s bad behavior, one might say that they have some sort of internal
failure. See Nelson and Quick, Organizational Behavior.
18. The Crusaders, for example, felt morally justified to kill or torture nonbelievers, as the
right thing to do. In modern times, extremist ideologies, such as political Islam in the form of “holy
warrior” (jihadists) use the same rationalization.
19. Another related inconsistency with this theory is what James Rachels brought forth in
discussion of Socrates’ famous question: “Is conduct right because the gods command it, or do the
gods command it because it is right? As Rachels notes, both parts of the question are logically
inconsistent with the belief of an all-powerful and compassionate deity (J. Rachels (1993). Elements
of Moral Philosophy, 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, pp. 51–52).
20. V. R. Dikshitar (1987). War in Ancient India (New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers,
1987), p. 63.
21. Niccolo Machiavelli was a statesman in the sixteenth century. He wrote The Prince, which
was essentially a guide for the ruler. Machiavelli advised that power could be achieved and held by
doing whatever is necessary to achieve the goal, even if it meant manipulating others. The phrase
the ends justify the means is often associated with Machiavellianism. See N. Machiavelli, The Prince
(translated by G. Bull, Middlesex, U.K.: Penguin Books, 1961).
22. Purusha—the unmanifest form.
23. Prakriti—the material form of man, and other sentient and nonsentient matter.
24. S. Chinmaya (n.d.). Commentary on The Holy Geeta Central Chinmaya Mission, Bombay,
25. In the case of a Hindu here salvation means freedom from the continuous cycles of births
and deaths so that one can reside permanently in a state of highest consciousness—i.e., become part
of the divine consciousness. One way this can be done is through “right” action in the world.
26. Emancipation from karma, which causes the cycles of birth and rebirth, is to reach eternal
bliss—this notion is similar to salvation by doing good deeds as espoused in other faiths.
27. V. R. Dikshitar, War in Ancient India, p. 59.
28. M. See Cook, The Moral Warrior (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004).
29. Also known as prakasayuddha, or battle carried out in an open manner rather than an
underhanded or secret battle.
30. C. Clausewitz, On War, (edited by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, eds., Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 1979).
31. Dikshitar notes: “We have the testimony of a foreign ambassador to this country in the
fourth century B.C. Megasthenes says: ‘Whereas among other nations it is usual in the contests of
war to ravage the soil and thus reduce it to an uncultivated waste, among the Indians, on the contrary,
by whom husbandmen are regarded as a class that is sacred and inviolable, the tillers of the soil, when
battle is raging in their neighborhood, are undisturbed by any sense of danger, for the combatants on
either side in waging the conflict make carnage of each other, but allow those engaged in husbandry
to remain quite unmolested. Besides they neither ravage an enemy’s land with fire, nor cut down its
trees (p. 71).”
32. The limitation of collateral damage. See D. Perry, “Ethics and Warfare: An Introduction,”
unpublished paper, United States Army War College, 2007: 345–346; and D. Perry “Ethics and War
in Comparative Religious Perspective,” United States Army War College Guide to National Security
Policy and Strategy (Bartholomeees 3rd ed., Carlisle, PA: 2008).
146 B. E. Coates

33. See D. Perry, “Ethics and Warfare” “Ethics and War in Comparative Religious Perspective”.
34. The kingdoms of India were integrated into the Indian democratic republic in the Consti-
tution of India, crafted after Indian independence in 1947.
35. The wheel formation (chakra=wheel).
36. Gandhi was shot to death by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu radical with links to the extremist
Hindu Mahasabha, who held Gandhi responsible for weakening India by insisting upon a payment
to Pakistan. Godse and his coconspirator, Narayan Apte, were tried and convicted and executed in
November 1949.
37. Frithjof Branch-Jacobsen, In Searching for Peace: The Road to Transcend (J. Galtung et al.,
ed., Pluto Press, London: Pluto press, 2002).
38. Many instances of noncooperation can be cited. One of the earliest and bloodiest was the
Dandi Salt March in 1930, and the seminal “Quit India” movement was launched in 1942.
39. Gandhi also explained more a subtle meaning for the term: “I discovered in the earliest
stages that pursuit of truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one’s opponent but that he must
be weaned from error by patience and sympathy. For what appears to be truth to the one may appear
to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication
of truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent, but on one’s self” (M. Gandhi (1998). The
Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. New Delhi Government of India, Ministry of Information and
40. The economist John Ruskin’s book, Unto this Last (1860), published in the journal Cornhill
Magazine, had a profound impact on Gandhi’s social philosophy when he read it in 1904 in South
Africa. Gandhi used the philosophy of Ruskin in his own book, Sarvodaya (the well-being of all),
which he wrote in Gujarati in 1990.
41. H. Dyck, ed. The Pacifist Impulse in Historical Perspective (University of Toronto Press,
42. R. K. See Prabhu, et al. The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi (Ahmedabad, India: Navajivan
Mudranalaya, 1946).
43. M. K. Gandhi, “Statement to Disorders Inquiry,” (The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi,
vol. 19, 1920) and Gandhi, M. K. The Story of My Experiments with Truth (Mahadev Desai, trans,
Ahmedabad, India: Navajivan Press, 1927).
44. Dyck, The Pacifist Impulse in Historical Perspective.
45. Nair Pyrelal, The Santiniketan Pilgrimage (Ahmedabad, India: Navijivan Press, 1958).
46. K. Subramaniam (16 June 1998). Hedging Against Hegemony, The Times of India.
47. D. Smock, Religious Perspectives on War (Washington, D.C: United States Institute of
Peace, 2002).
48. Harvard Law Review Association (5 May 2007). Vol. 120, no. 5.
49. Dikshitar, War in Ancient India.
50. On just and unjust wars, see M. Walzer, Arguing About War (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 2005).
51. The term “just peace” was introduced by the Federal Council of Churches (Smock, 33–49,
2002), and embodies reflection and discussion as its central precepts.
52. Muslim invaders, and Portuguese, French, and British colonizers.
53. In Smock, Religious Perspectives on War.
54. The “dirty-hands dilemma” is the utilitarian principle that comes to us from a play Sartre
and denotes using bad means to achieve good ends. J. P. Sartre (1947). Dirty Hands, in No Exit &
Three Other Plays, translated by Lionel Abel. Paris: Gallimard.
55. Selva K. H. Johnson, India-U.S. Relations: A Road Map for the 21st Century, (Carlisle,
PA: United States Army War College, 2007).
56. A. J. Tellis, “What Should We Expect From India as a Strategic Partner?” in H. Sokolski
ed., Gauging U.S.-India Strategic Cooperation (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2007).
57. Danda = tool for beating; Sama = music, song, and learning by song; Dana = generosity,
giving, and sharing; Bandnook = gun.
58. P. Roka, Bhagavad Gita on Effective Leadership (Lincoln, NE: Universe Press, 2006).
India’s Strategic Advantage to the United States 147

59. The value of spiritual and moral leadership has been a reaction to the “Gordon Gekko”
management style of the 1980s and 1990s and its mantra of “greed is good.” The fictional Gekko, in
the film Wall Street, 1987, was also fond of citing from Sun Tzu’s famous text, The Art of War, imbuing
corporate life with a military flavor. The focus on pure materialism caused the downfall of several
American corporations (B.E. Coates (2004). Corporate culture, corporate mischief, and legislated
ethics: The Sarbanes-Oxley Act 2002, The Journal of Public Affairs, 6(1).) (B.E. Coates (2007).
Market control on corporate social responsibility: Investment and banking policies, The Journal of
the American Academy of Business, 11(1)). and has made corporate America take another look at its
ethics, values, and principles.
60. Business Week, 2006, available at www.businessweek.com.
61. Peter Senge has noted that global complexity has created a need in leaders of all kinds of
organizations to develop deeper levels of clarity and critical thinking, and he suggests that one way
to achieve this is through connection with their higher natures—“so, it is not surprising that many
are renewing serious study of ancient wisdom traditions of all sorts, including timeless texts like the
Bhagavad Gita.” P. Senge, The Fifth Discipline, (New York: Doubleday, 1990).
62. S. Ganguly, et al. U.S.-India Strategic Cooperation in the 21st Century (London, Routledge)
63. See G. Perkovich, (2003) “Is India a Major Power? Washington Quarterly, vol. 27(1)
(Winter 2003–2004).
64. H. Sokolski ed., Gauging U.S.-India Strategic Cooperation (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies
Institute, 2007).
65. Indeed, the American Bill of Rights (the first ten Amendments to the United States Con-
stitution) was the background for framing the Indian Constitution.
66. H.V. Pant, “A Fine Balance: India Walks a Tightrope between Iran and the United States,”
Orbis, vol. 51:3 (Summer 2007).
67. S. Ganguly, et al. U.S.-India Strategic Cooperation in the 21st Century (London:
Routeledge, 2006).