Global outcasts join India to reject UN arms trade treaty


March 30, 2013

NEW DELHI: A UN arms trade treaty that India opposed was shot down by global outcasts like Iran, North Korea and Syria, giving New Delhi a breather.

March 30, 2013

NEW DELHI: A UN arms trade treaty that India opposed was shot down by global outcasts like Iran, North Korea and Syria, giving New Delhi a breather.

New Delhi felt the agreement is heavily loaded against weapons-importing countries like India, and let exporting countries such as US and China call the shots. The treaty — meant to regulate all transfers of conventional arms around the world — is likely to be passed by the UN general assembly (UNGA) next week. India's inability to establish an indigenous defence production industry may now become a strategic vulnerability.

Saying that the treaty did not meet Indian requirements, Sujata Mehta, India's lead negotiator for the pact, highlighted India's core concerns with the accord. "India had made clear that the ATT should make a real impact on illicit trafficking in conventional arms and their illicit use especially by terrorists and other unauthorized and unlawful non-state actors. The provisions in the final draft on terrorism and non-state actors are weak and diffused and find no mention in the specific prohibitions of the treaty.

"India has stressed consistently that the ATT should ensure a balance of obligations between exporting and importing states. India cannot accept that the treaty be used as an instrument in the hands of exporting states to take unilateral force majeure measures against importing states parties without consequences."

Indian negotiators fought long and hard over the text but virtually none of them have been incorporated by the co-authors of the treaty, led by Peter Woolacott of Australia. The current round of negotiations in New York is the second and final round — the first round last July didn't have an agreement largely because the US backed out.

India wanted the treaty to regulate arms transfers to non-state actors like terrorist groups. New Delhi focus was on terror groups that target India or even internal insurgent groups like the Maoists but this was shot down. Countries like the US and the UK who supply arms to opposition groups such as in Syria and Libya wanted to retain the flexibility to continue to do so. Terrorist groups do find mention, but only in the non-binding preamble, not in the main body. In her remarks, Mehta said, "Without such provisions, the ATT would in fact lower the bar on obligations of all states not to support terrorists and/or terrorists acts … We cannot allow such a loophole in the ATT." Iran's UN envoy Mohammad Khazaee said his country could not accept the treaty in its current form.

"The achievement of such a treaty has been rendered out of reach due to many legal flaws and loopholes… One of those flaws was its failure to ban sales of weapons to groups that commit acts of aggression," he said.

India wanted to preserve bilateral defence cooperation agreements (arms supplies are covered under such agreements) from ATT's purview. This hasn't found favour with the authors of the treaty either. Mehta said, "Such a loophole in the Treaty would have the effect of strengthening the hands of a few exporting states at the expense of the legitimate defense and national security interests of a large number of importing states." Once this treaty goes through bilateral arms supply agreements could come under this treaty if the exporting country makes an "export assessment" under article 7 that it feels warrants stoppage of supply. This would be disastrous for India, as was evident during the Kargil war in 1999.

India and China are the world top arms importers according to the latest figures by SIPRI. But China itself has climbed to the top five global arms exporters last year, and the bulk of its arms exports are to Pakistan.

A lot of international arms transfers are no longer outright sales, but incorporate leases, and even barter deals in exchange for resources etc. That should have been part of the treaty but it isn't — in fact the treaty absolves any state which transfers arms under its own control — if it states that it retains control of such arms. This means diversions and illicit transfers will continue to happen under different guises.

The treaty applies to transfers of battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, small and light weapons, while ammunition and parts and components are also brought under scrutiny.

Courtesy: TOI