India preps for arms sales
As the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty is heading for its final week of discussions, India is trying to leverage its position as one of the world’s largest weapons importer to craft an agreement to its liking.
Some of its positions are uniquely drawn from India’s own domestic experience. So 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 even though this is probably 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 a 7-plus-1 list of weapons when it comes to the treaty’s scope. These include battle tanks, armed combat vehicles, large calibre artillery, fighting aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, small arms and light weaponry. This is a practical list, other than the last items, because these are the sort of weapons by the government, for the government and of the government that regulatory controls as envisaged by this treaty best apply. Small arms, a constant popular 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, its stance is close to that of the United States. This should not be a surprise: the worldviews of the two countries are much closer than most realize — something that interlocutors from the two sides keep discovering. Tactics differ, not strategy. And the European Union and India have more differences, also not a surprise.
Three, India is making a small effort to keep the door open for its own exporting of arms. So it has joined China in exempting ammunition, the type of ordnance that a nascent Indian arms industry could expect to make a stab at making and selling. India is also part of the school that is seeking to leverage the fact they are net importers to impose obligations on exporters as well. India has seemingly accepted relatively mild strictures on exporters in part because it believes it will be peddling the stuff one day.
It will have to. India’s system has been shocked by the reports showing it has become the world’s largest arms importer and will be so 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 crucially India must export weapons as its domestic demand is insufficient to sustain a military industry complex.
I am a sceptic about the ATT itself if only because the arms bazaar is simply too much for any treaty to work successfully. The market will always prevail except in nukes and wars. But it gives a sense of what governments have in mind about the arms business and does raise transaction costs for the baddies, however slightly.