Event ReportsPublished on Apr 13, 2012
India has been proactive in the Arms Trade Treaty debate and has submitted its views on the issue. Currently, the debate is shifting towards the content of the treaty. Differences continue to exist, but India feels the final treaty should emerge by consensus.
Arms Trade Treaty should emerge by consensus: India

With the preparatory stages of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is complete and the UN Diplomatic Conference scheduled from July 2 to 27 in New York, the focus is now shifting towards the content and direction of the Treaty. As India is aiming to become a major player in the region and beyond by entering into multilateral regimes, Observer Research Foundation and Saferworld (UK) recently organised a symposium on India and the Ideal Content of an Arms Trade Treaty to discuss these aspects with experts based in India.

Raising questions such as the need to regulate small arms more than the large ones, Dr. C. Raja Mohan said that countries had taken different positions on several of these issues. Most treaties have different impact on different countries as their capabilities are different. The small arms industry has proliferated over the years and hence the industrial sector is different from what it was two decades ago, hence adding to the problem, he said.

Giving an Indian perspective, Prof. Swaran Singh from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) said that the challenge was too large to be handled unilaterally and national level legislations were not enough to address the challenge. How security is understood in countries is also important in shaping the debate, he said. Focus is now shifting to human security and there is need to participate in new formulations which are guided by humanitarian norms.

ATT would provide an opportunity for India in reorganising tools for ensuring security, including its immediate periphery. However, he added that any mechanism that is intrusive would make Indian policy makers sensitive as it could threaten its autonomy in foreign policy making. Corporate Social Responsibility could become a part of the functioning of Arms industry. He suggested this as another point which could be discussed while deciding the content of the ATT.

Mr. Roy Isbister from Saferworld, while reviewing the ATT process, discussed the proceedings in the UN which saw states submitting their thoughts on the ATT. The change of the American stance from being against the treaty to supporting the treaty was a significant development which took things forward. He also added that India, too, played a crucial role in moving things forward.

The purpose of the treaty was the most contested issue, he said. The treaty’s purpose should be based on three main ideas: prevention of illicit arms trade, regulation of legal arms trade; and providing for humanitarian protection. He said that these are mutually reinforcing rather than exclusive as reflected by the views of some states. While there is support for an ATT in general, there are doubts about the stances of certain countries such as China and Russia. Under these circumstances, he said it will be difficult to predict the future of the ATT. However, the emergence of a weak treaty would give legitimacy to poor or unacceptable practices or weaken the existing practices, he cautioned.

Dr. Rajiv Nayan from the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) said that the ATT should not be viewed as a disarmament treaty. The ATT is going to be legally binding on states. Discussing the scope of the treaty, he said that issues like technology transfer and ammunition could become impediments. The ATT would need to be constantly reviewed in order to be successful.

Elaborating on the Indian stand on many of these issues, Mr. Sandeep Arya from the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, said that India has been proactive in the ATT debate and has also submitted its views on the issue. Currently, he said, the debate is shifting towards the content of the treaty. Differences continue to exist between countries on these issues, but the final treaty should emerge by consensus, he said.

Dr. G. Balachandran from the IDSA said that Chairman’s draft paper, which contained the summary of contributions made by states, could be a good starting point. He said the ATT is for the arms exporting countries and since all of them are part of the existing mechanisms, he questioned the need for an ATT. He instead suggested alternatives. For instance, the UN arms register could be strengthened. He said that the ATT should not be used by countries to justify something they were doing which otherwise cannot be justified.

Air Commodore Prashant Dikshit, while talking about the scope of the treaty, said that items such as Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), landmines, military vehicles, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) should also be brought into the ambit of the ATT. The ATT should be legally binding and should be sufficiently strong to be meaningful, said Mr. Chris Fitzgerald from the British High Commission, while giving the UK perspective. He felt that there is need for clearer definitions so that misinterpretations could avoided.

Mr. James Ndung’U from Saferworld, Kenya, said that his country’s active role in the ATT is based on a clear understanding that the ATT is neither a disarmament instrument nor an instrument to ban some arms, but to regulate trade in conventional arms. The aim should be to establish highest possible common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms. He added that the treaty should require states to have implementation mechanisms and competent national authorities for arms transfer authorisation.

Discussions that followed the sessions raised questions about the definition of the word "consensus" and feasibility of extending CSR to such industries. Excluding ammunition from the scope of the treaty was also debated. It was stated that India’s concerns related to illicit manufacture and transfer of small arms from its neighbours. Concerns about ATT becoming an instrument for implementing foreign policies in the backdrop of changing geopolitics in the world were also raised during the discussion. The event was attended by experts from the strategic community, government and diplomatic community.

(This report is prepared by Rahul Prakash, Research Assistant, Observer Research foundation)

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