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Why the Arms Trade Treaty matters

The UN Register of Conventional Arms is outdated. India must actively pursue the ATT

Written by Prashant Dikshit |
July 23, 2012 2:55:21 am

The UN Register of Conventional Arms is outdated. India must actively pursue the ATT

The stance of the Indian government on the forthcoming Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) leaves us somewhat uncertain. The first discordant note had come from India in 2006 when it abstained from voting on Resolution 61/89 along with a motley group of 24 nations when 153 nations had voted for the resolution.

Its antipathy was clearly manifest subsequently. In February 2012,the Indian delegate reminded the chairman of the preparatory committee that,as stated in Resolution 61/89,the treaty document should be progressed in an open and transparent manner and on the basis of consensus. This has been seen as declining confidence in the proceedings.

Many Indian misgivings are in sync with the country’s security woes,wherein the illicit transfer of weapons remains the focal syndrome. What continues to disturb the Indian establishment is not recognising the non-state actor as the likely recipient of illicit arms. This is crucial to its interests; it is also a valid global anxiety. Similarly,including technology transfer and manufacture under licence in the document would have no meaningful objective,as they do not impinge on the basic theme.

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However,the Indian position on sticking to the antiquated UN Register of Conventional Arms yardsticks evades reality. This does not consider new weapon systems developed since; consequently,there are some glaring omissions which need to be seriously looked at by India.

Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (MUAVs) are one such category which has taken military power to a different level. There is a burgeoning arms market and arms manufacturers from China are pedalling mass-produced products to underdeveloped countries,for whom Western products would be difficult to procure. There is rapid advancement in this technology and soon a Micro Air Vehicle (MAV),weighing less than one pound,may be produced for as little as a few thousand dollars. The fear is that non-state actors would engage manufacturers though an illicit market. We must,therefore,bring these within the ambit of the ATT.

The omission of anti-personnel mines is alarming. The belief that these may be contained in some other generic grouping is misplaced. The current description of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) does not include them. And worse,even in the vaguest definition of SALW,given by the UN,mines do not feature. Therefore,there is a potent case for specially mentioning mines as a grouping. States should have no objection because the ATT’s premise is to merely identify and bring all weapons within its ambit,and with only an intent to list them. The Indian position on this score is positive,with India’s successful endeavour to use only detectable devices and its principled stand of refraining from the use of anti-personnel mines.

Last,leaving Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) to conjecture is dangerous. They need to be clearly spelt out. IEDs,specially triggered by a distant source as against ones that explode on contact,have never been included in any global protocol. India’s own experiences are extremely material in this realm and a way needs to be found for their inclusion.

Similarly,the prospect of space vehicles being equipped with derivatives of current conventional weapon systems must be noted because the “Outer Space Treaty of 1967” does not prohibit space-faring nations from placing conventional weapons in orbit.

In conclusion,to disregard a treaty process because it refrains from certain elements of our policy formulation would be escapist. What needs to be recalled is that all so-called “control measures” in the past,despite being half-way,had undoubtedly succeeded in regulating the proliferation of weapon systems. India,therefore,must actively pursue the treaty process.

The writer,a retired air commodore,works on the proliferation of SALW and their impact on societies. He is currently editor of ‘Salute’

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