Cartel game: The international arms trade treaty

The arms exporting countries, who once during Cold War, selectively exported arms to their allies and dependent regimes, however tyrannical they may be, have now made a successful bid to exercise control over the use of arms sold to the third world.

Now in the post Cold War days, it does not hurt their conscience, whether they sell arms worth billions of dollar, of similar nature to two warring nations at the same time.  But in case they actually start fighting, they intend to ask one of the nations to surrender to the dictates of other in the name of protecting the rights of civilians and respect of human rights.

Hence the developed world ganged up and proposed an international arms trade treaty, through which they want not only to promote their arms industry but also to retain their authority over the arms sold.

In case the recipient nation does not follow the dictates, the arms exporting nation may pull the plug and put a ban on their arms companies for supplying the spare parts and support systems to that particular country, in order to render the particular weapon system   impotent.

The treaty was passed on 2nd April, which the United States has described as implementable, with only three opposing and 154 in favor, though 23 countries including India abstained.

The treaty, which the UK has described as legally binding, will control US$ 70 billion worth of global arms trade, but interestingly, has put grenades and predator drones out of its ambit. The treaty will come into effect 90 days after 50 countries ratify the treaty, but India has said that it will study the implications of the treaty on India’s defence and foreign policy.

Regulating trade

According to the promoters of the treaty, virtually all international trade in goods is regulated. But no globally agreed standards exist for the international arms trade. The result can be the misuse of transferred weaponry by government forces, or diversion of arms into illegal markets, where they end up in the hands of criminals, gangs, war lords and terrorists.

Hence the proposers of the treaty decided through the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2009 to convene a Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty in 2012 “to elaborate a legally binding instrument on the highest possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms”.

The UN says that the global trade in conventional weapons-from warships and battle tanks to fighter jets and machine guns-remains poorly regulated. No internationally agreed standards exist to ensure that arms are transferred responsibly.

But the issue before mostly developing and warring countries is that they are compelled to buy arms by the balancing policies of the developed world, who supply heavy armaments to one country and then in the same breath offer the same arms to the rival country in the name of creating a balance or the right of the country to acquire arms in self defence.  

The US once supplied weapon systems like F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan and even now supplying spare parts to maintain them and then the Americans lobbied hard to sell their F-16 or F-18 jets to India. Similarly the French sold the Augusta submarines to Pakistan and then succeeded in transferring the Scorpene submarines to India. The Swedish SAAB sold the AWACS aircraft to Pakistan and at the same time made every possible diplomatic effort to sell their Gripen aircrafts to Indian Air Force. The Chinese sell arms to the Syrian forces and to the Syrian rebel groups also.

Supporting India’s stand on the ATT, the Pakistani ambassador to the UN Masood Khan said that “The treaty may be seen by many as essentially a product of and by the exporters only. It falls short of striking an appropriate balance of interests and obligations among the exporters and importers as well as the affected states,” Khan explained, “Some treaty provisions, however, legitimize in a global legal instrument what the existing national and multilateral export control systems cover. The interests of exporting countries have been accommodated in the form of special exemptions, exceptions and protections.” Though Pakistan ultimately voted in favor of the treaty.

India’s concern

Naturally India, which has emerged as one of the largest importer of weapons, criticized the final draft of the arms trade treaty as flawed and tilted against weapon importing countries. The Indian ambassador to UN Sujata Mehta said 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”.

The discredit for formally opposing the Arms Trade Treaty went to the three global outcasts Iran, North Korea and Syria, but India made its stand very clear. The treaty in its present form cannot be accepted. The UN has 193 members and the treaty must be passed without any protest. She said, “There is a fundamental imbalance in the text which is flawed as the weight of obligations is tilted against importing states.”

The treaty was supposed to be directed against regimes that transfer the weapons acquired to the terrorist groups; hence India’s objections emerged from this concern. The proposers of the treaty led by Australia’s Woolacott, ignored India’s amendment proposal to regulate arms transfers to non state actors like extremists and terrorists groups, but countries like US, UK and China, who supply arms to rebel groups in various countries like Syria, wanted to retain the option and flexibility to continue unhindered supply to those groups, hence India’s amendment proposal was not considered.

Though the terrorist groups find mention in the draft, but only in the preamble which is non binding. India wanted this to be mentioned in the main body. Hence Indian ambassador made a submission, “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.”

India also strongly pushed for an amendment to insulate the bilateral defence cooperation treaties from the purview of ATT. But this didn’t impress the proposers of the treaty. Mehta stated, “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.”

Indian diplomats feared that once this treaty goes through the bilateral sales agreements would fall under this treaty if the exporting country makes an “export assessment” under article 7 that it feels warrants stoppage of supply. This would prove disastrous for India in any future Kargil like situation when India faced many obstacles in obtaining the arms on real time basis during the Kargil war in 1999.

Very interestingly, India directly accused the promoters of the draft treaty of manipulating the draft of the treaty in favor of select few countries.

India believes that the final draft has the tell tale marks of behind- the- scenes carve outs of exclusive interests of a select few countries, such as egregiously excluding non-state actors or arms transfers as gifts or loans, thus seriously diminishing the value of a multilateral Treaty negotiated in the UN. Universal adherence to this Treaty would not be possible unless all stakeholders are on board and this includes major exporting as well as importing states.

Thus serious flaw in the treaty, weighed heavily in favor of arms exporting nations, has been very clearly exposed by India.

The groups or countries that are concerned by illicit transfer of arms to groups not liked by those countries must do some soul searching and come out with a very transparent treaty so as to discourage the developing nations from diverting their precious national resources on the acquisition of arms while ignoring poverty alleviation measures.

The economies of most of the countries are promoted to a large extent by their arms industries and these countries are the principal culprit in promoting the arms race and provoking conflict in a particular region, which gravely hurts the lives of common man.