Arms Trade Treaty:
Implications for India
OOn April 2, 2013, the 193-member United Nations approved the first-ever global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) with an aim to regulate the $70 billion arms trade. The official UN tally showed 154 votes in favour, three against and 23 abstentions. Iraq, Syria and North Korea opposed. China, Russia, India, Cuba, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Egypt were among those who abstained.
The treaty is based on the Article 26 of Charter of United Nations that seeks to promote international peace and security and least diversion of armaments, with the explicit aim of preventing and eradicating illicit trade in conventional arms. Arms and ammunition transfer costs vastly exceed the initial financial profits of selling weapons. The United Nations Peacekeeping costs the world $7 billion per year and the global annual burden of armed violence stands at $400 billion. Targeted at terrorists, the treaty recognises the legitimate political, security, economic and commercial interests of states, including sporting and recreational activities. The treaty expects all to respect Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reduce human suffering. Each state is expected to regulate arms trade. The Treaty shall apply to all conventional arms including battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large calibre artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, and small arms. There is no restriction of movement of arms for use by owner nation as is the case in international peacekeeping or enforcement operations including Iraq and Afghanistan.
There are restrictions on transfer/sale also of parts and components that can be assembled to make arms. Diversion of arms for use against civilians is also prohibited. The treaty prohibits states from transferring conventional weapons if they violate arms embargoes or if they promote acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. Each signatory country is expected to make national legislation on these lines. The treaty will be ready for signatures by individual states from June 3, 2013 onwards. Members have the right to record reservations on individual points without countering the basic purpose of the treaty. The treaty will come into force when 50 countries ratify it.
Many countries, led by India, which also abstained, felt that the treaty gives undue leverage to exporting over importing states. USA, the world’s biggest arms exporter, drove the treaty against major opposition from its powerful ‘National Rifle Association’ which feels the domestic sales would get affected in spite government assurance to the contrary. China and Russia, two major arms exporters, who also arm some rouge states, are not part of the treaty yet. With such significant players not keen to join it, the treaty’s effectiveness could be in question.
India, the world’s largest importer of military equipment, is worried that the treaty could complicate its efforts to import military equipment. Apprehension is that arms exporters could use the treaty as a pretext not to provide equipment in case they fail to fulfill conditions of a contract. Although implementation is years away and there is no specific enforcement mechanism, proponents say the treaty would for the first time force sellers to consider how their customers will use the weapons and to make that information public. Interestingly the major thrust for defence indigenisation in India coincided with the finalisation of this treaty. In spite of years of effort, the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty is yet to succeed. Treaties for greater threats like global environmental treaty have still to get acceptance. The US has unilaterally run arms embargoes in the past and also armed insurgency movements including the Taliban. In spite of very good intentions, many feel the treaty will succeed in the breach.
India’s Ambassador Sujata Mehta, argued in the UN General Assembly that the treaty falls short on many counts and will not attract universal adherence. India stressed that the ATT should ensure a balance of obligations between exporting and importing states. The treaty was weak on terrorism and non-state actors. Further, India could not accept the treaty as it could be used as an instrument in the hands of exporting states to take unilateral force majeure measures against importing states without consequences. Moreover, importing states were liable to fairly intrusive questioning relating to end use of the imported weapons. The treaty will not hinder Pakistan’s supply of arms to terrorist outfits within the country. Mehta highlighted that there are no curbs on arms flow to religious extremists. As a result, even if the ATT is signed and ratified by the members of UNGA, it will not help control the menace of religious extremism and terrorism. Russia and China too have suffered this menace. India’s concerns have been put forth. Physical positions will emerge in due course.
The knotted gun (non-violence) sculpture by Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd on
display at the UN visitors’ plaza.