Friday, April 12, 2013

India and ATT: A Contrarian View

Should India be paranoid about the ATT? Could India have voted for a global measure governing transfer of arms? Here's my short essay on the ATT....

India should look at ways to become an active party in arms trade treaty debates if it has to prove its credentials in global governance. While advancing its global governance role, India will have to also ensure that its arms procurement is not adversely affected.

Developing the first ever instrument to regulate the sale of conventional weapons, the UN General Assembly adopted Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) on April 02, 2013. And the treaty will be opened for signature on June 03, 2013.

There have been efforts for some time to bring the global arms trade under some regulatory framework. Negotiations over the ATT in the last several years did not produce any agreement, given the difficulties in producing a consensual decision at the Conference on Disarmament (CD). Despite the lack of agreement, the treaty was put to vote at the UN General Assembly on April 02, 2013. While the treaty found favour among 154 countries, 3 countries (Iran, North Korea and Syria) voted against it at the CD and 23 countries including Russia, China and India abstained. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon hailed the treaty as a major achievement saying, "It is a historic diplomatic achievement - the culmination of long-held dreams and many years of effort. This is a victory for the world's people."

The ATT is a good measure that will bring about the much-needed regulation in the field of arms transfer from one country to another. It brings arms transfers of a variety of weapons under its purview, including battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers. The ATT, however, has come under criticism for being concluded in haste. Any arms control measure should be carried on at a comfortable pace to all that can potentially ensure greater participation, and thereby greater compliance.

India, in its statement, pointed out two major flaws with the ATT: the treaty gives an upper hand to arms exporting countries and ignores the needs of the arms importing states; and two, arms sales to terrorist and insurgent groups do not fall within the purview of the treaty.

The principal fear within India is that the ATT would give external arms manufactures the license to cancel bilateral contracts at will, based on political reasons, which could seriously affect India's military preparedness, especially if it were to happen during crises. What then happens to contractual obligations?

On the other hand, it could be argued that neither of these are very serious concerns. On the terrorist issue, while it is nice to have state control on supply of arms to terrorist groups, it is not particularly practical. No international treaty is likely to stop states like Pakistan from supplying arms to terrorist groups.

On supplier obligations, any country that reneges on an arms supply contract with India would lose access to the Indian arms market, which is a huge and growing market.

Nevertheless, this is a threat. If countries were to decide and cancel the contract, how seriously is India likely to be affected? With India's reliance on foreign suppliers continuing to be at around 70%, several procurements could indeed get affected. However, India could find ways to get around these measures by demanding guarantees in future contracts.

In this regard, India should be more concerned about some of the western suppliers, in particular the US and the UK, because they are also some of the key supporters of the treaty. Of particular concern has been the inclusion of ammunition, parts and components of weapon systems as part of the ATT that could potentially squeeze recipient countries during crises.

But India continues to buy a large chunk of arms and weapon systems from Russia which is not a subscriber to ATT. France is a country that has subscribed to the treaty and is also a major supplier of arms to India. Nevertheless, going by India's past experience, France will find a political solution to deal with such situation.

Therefore, India should carefully choose the countries from whom it is seeking to buy weapons and other advanced systems. It should ensure that it finds partners that are not necessarily subscribers to ATT or those that will find political modus vivendi should a problem arise. India could also seek political guarantees from supplier countries that will ensure steady supply of arms. India can also enter into joint ventures as a way of safeguarding its interests. Under such circumstances, the impact is likely to be minimal.

Lastly, India should look at ways to become an active party in these debates if it has to prove its credentials in global governance. While advancing its global governance role, India will have to also ensure that its arms procurement is not adversely affected.

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