At arms’ length

Arms Trade Treaty does not address Delhi’s concerns. It must now deal with a fait accompli

Written by The Indian Express | Published: April 4, 2013 12:20:11 am

With 154 states voting in its favour,the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that will regulate the $70 billion global trade in conventional arms,is now a fait accompli. The three countries that opposed it — North Korea,Syria and Iran — constitute a gallery of pariah states. But India,which abstained from voting along with 20-odd countries,including Russia and China,has reasons to be unhappy with the final text. It did not take into account two of its primary concerns. One,there is a lack of balance between the interests of arms exporting and importing states — the treaty is tilted to favour the former. Two,it is weak on the prevention of illicit trafficking of arms and their use by terrorists and other non-state actors.

Currently the world’s leading arms importer,with an import bill totalling $3.5 billion in 2011,India stands to be adversely affected by the unpredictability the ATT threatens to bring to defence contracts and spare supplies. Exporting states will hold all the cards under the provision of unilateral termination of contracts. The only major exporters in disagreement with the ATT are Russia and China,although the latter benefits from the clause on arms transfers as “gifts or loans”. Similarly,the treaty’s loopholes can help Pakistan. The ATT,which doesn’t infringe on US domestic sales and arms possession,may even be said to be a deal struck between exporters that undermines a supposedly multilateral treaty by preserving the interests of a select few. Moreover,as India has pointed out,its lack of focus on terrorists and non-state actors could end up lowering the bar on arms supplies to them.

June 3 onwards,the ATT will await signatures and will become international law once 50 states ratify it. In the immediate term,Delhi needs to work on bilateral contract protection,an idea that France,as a major supplier,supports. India should leverage its status as one of the biggest markets for arms. In the long run,however,the imperative is to resuscitate and overhaul its domestic arms production. For that,it is necessary to bring in the private sector to participate in building the military-industrial complex India lacks.

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