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Arms trade treaty does nothing to stop terror groups

Gurmeet Kanwal 22:36 IST

Once again India has been forced to abstain from voting in favour of a discriminatory treaty – after its unpleasant experience with the NPT and the CTBT in the past. The global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), aimed at laying down common international standards and limiting the illicit sale of conventional arms, was passed by the United Nations General Assembly with an overwhelming majority of 154 votes on April 3, 2013. Iran, North Korea and Syria voted against the treaty while China, India and Russia among others abstained.

As the largest importer of arms in the world, India objects to the ATT on several counts. India finds it difficult to accept that the treaty will enable arms exporting countries to impose unilateral conditions on the countries that import arms. The treaty has failed to address Indian concerns about the illegal transfer of arms to terrorist organisations, insurgent groups and other non-state actors who oppose democratically elected governments. The treaty does not ensure a “balance of obligations” between arms exporting states and the importers of arms.

As a country with a pacifist strategic culture, India has traditionally abhorred the export of arms and itself resisted the temptation of doing so for several decades after independence. India has 39 Ordnance factories, which are wholly government owned, and eight Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs). India’s defence exports are less than two per cent of the total production of weapons and equipment and were valued at $191 million (Rs 859.60 crore) in 2008-09. These are mainly indigenously produced surplus small arms and light weapons that have been supplied to some of India’s neighbours as a goodwill gesture. However, the new Defence Procurement Policy (DPP) and the new Defence Production Policy (DPrP) are encouraging the formation of joint ventures with 26 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI). This is expected to go up to 49 per cent in future. This will gradually result in an increase in arms exports as MNCs will begin to use their Indian joint ventures as hubs for sourcing weapons and equipment components for their factories abroad. India is likely to spend approximately $100 billion for the import of weapons and defence equipment over the next 10 years.

One of the major reasons for instability in South Asia is the large-scale proliferation and easy availability of small arms and light weapons (SALW). India has witnessed around 152 militant movements since independence, of which 65 are believed to be still active in one form or the other. Pakistan is still the primary source of small arms that are India bound. It uses SALW as political and military tools against New Delhi and facilitates smuggling of SALW both through sea and land routes to ISI-supported terrorist organisations and sleeper cells across India. Since 1989-90, Indian security forces have seized huge stocks of arms and ammunition along the LoC in J&K alone. Large-scale recoveries are still being made.

Official supplier

The Chinese angle to SALW proliferation in South Asia also cannot be ignored. The Chinese weapons pipeline has permeated into Myanmar’s underground markets along the Thai border. China has produced and offered for sale five different varieties of rifles, allied light machine guns and sub-machine guns. China is also the prime official supplier to Sri Lanka, Myanmar and. significantly, large numbers of weapons of Chinese origin have been seized in Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh. The Chinese supplied small arms to Indian insurgent groups in Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura for many years up to the late-1970s. The Maoists have been acquiring weapons through Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal.

Countries exporting arms have a responsibility to ensure that they do not provide weapons without strict end user verification or else SALW may be diverted to wage intra-state conflict by non-state actors. The ATT should have refrained from imposing new norms; it should have reinforced the existing obligations and responsibilities of all countries under international law and should have provided a mechanism for their effective application to the trade in SALW.

The present treaty is also deficient on monitoring and verification. While initially monitoring may have to rely on the good practices of the member states, viable technical means need to be developed over time. Subsequently, the treaty must make provisions for intrusive international monitoring of sources, means of transportation of weapons and, where possible, their end use based on formal complaints being launched by affected state parties. Such a system can only be implemented by constituting an international body like the IAEA.

The Government of India accords immense importance to compliance with arms control, non-proliferation and export control regimes, even though India is not a signatory to some of them. Hence, an initiative like the ATT, that seeks to establish a global benchmark, would under normal circumstances have been welcomed and supported, but the treaty has turned out to be discriminatory. India ensures that no arms are exported to countries that are involved in conflict, or to non-state actors engaged in intra-state conflict.


Elaborating on the complexity of small arms proliferation, former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan had stated perceptively, “Small arms proliferation is not merely a security issue; it is also an issue of human rights and of development.” The moral argument for an ATT, one that underpins human security, social and economic development is overwhelming. However, if it is viewed through the prism of a disarmament or arms control instrument, it will not find much support. While India has not voted in favour of the ATT, it will undoubtedly adhere to all its provisions, much as it has done in respect of the NPT and the CTBT.

(The writer is a Delhi-based strategic analyst)

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