India Preps for Arms Sales

As the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) heads for its final week of discussions, India is trying to leverage its position as one of the world’s largest weapons importers to craft the agreement to its liking.

Some of its positions are uniquely drawn from India’s own domestic experience. India wants strong wording on terrorism even though the treaty is unlikely to impact the likes of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. It also wants a ban on arms brokers, which is even more impractical than attempts to rid the industry of middlemen at home.

But these harmless idiosyncrasies aside, India is taking a relatively farsighted view of the treaty.

One, India has proposed the treaty’s scope covers a 7-plus-1 list of weapons, including battle tanks, armed combat vehicles, large caliber artillery, fighting aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, small arms and light weaponry. Other than the last few items, this is a practical list of the sort of weapons by the government, for the government and of the government to which the regulatory controls envisaged by this treaty best apply. Small arms, a popular recurring demand of NGOs, are probably beyond the UN’s ability to handle.

Two, India has discovered, as is the case in most international negotiations of a slightly hard-nosed nature, that its stance is close to that of the United States. This is not a surprise: the worldviews of the two countries are much closer than most realize — tactics differ, not strategy. India has more differences with the European Union, also not a surprise.

Three, India wants to keep the door open for its own exporting of arms. It has joined China in calling for the exemption of ammunition, the type of ordnance that a nascent Indian arms industry could take a stab at making and selling. India is also seeking to leverage its status as a net importer to impose obligations on exporters as well. India has accepted relatively mild strictures on exporters in part because it believes it will be peddling the stuff one day.

It will have to. India has been shocked by reports that it has become the world’s largest arms importer and will be for some years to come. Officials now talk of buying even inferior weapons so long as the purchase helps India build its domestic arms industry. But it is crucial for India to export weapons, as its domestic demand is insufficient to sustain a military-industrial complex.

I am skeptical about the ATT, if only because the arms bazaar is simply too much for any treaty to successfully manage. The market will always prevail, except in nukes and wars. But it does give a sense of what governments have in mind about the arms business and raise transaction costs for the baddies, however slightly.

Copyright © 2012 the Hindustan Times.

Back to Top Back to Top