UN Arms Trade Treaty
China will join a global pact to regulate arms sales that has been rejected by the United States, while Beijing reiterated that it is committed for “global peace and stability."
• The Arms Trade Treaty is a multilateral treaty, regulating international trade in conventional arms. It entered into force in 2014.
• The treaty requires member countries to keep records of international transfers of weapons and to prohibit cross-border shipments that could be used in human rights violations or attacks on civilians.
• It was envisioned as a tool to prevent conflict and human rights violations fuelled by poorly regulated trade in arms, which could not conceivably be controlled via national legislation alone.
• US had announced last year that it was withdrawing the country from the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).
• Only 130 of the 193 members of the UN have signed the treaty, out of them only 101 ratified it putting it just over the threshold of 100 to come into effect.
• China is now the second largest arms producer in the world, after the US.
Benefits of ATT
Implementation of the treaty comprehensively may help defence cooperation, technology development and assist development. Countries would be able to spend more on welfare rather than defence.
There is tremendous human and economic costs countries (especially those in Africa) are bearing due to illicit arms trade. Only a universal ATT including as many countries as possible would be an effective tool to stop the suffering and implement the UN MDG’s as it would plug vulnerable points in the global arms control system.
India’s concerns with ATT
India had been a vigorous participant in the Treaty’s negotiating process. However, the final draft did not meet its expectations and it chose to abstain when the treaty was put to vote at the UNGA in April, 2013.
There were two key issues at the heart of India’s concerns:
o The skewed approach of the treaty.
o its failure to include non-state actors in its purview.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India was the world’s largest arms importer, accounting for around 13% of total global arms import between 2012 and 2016. As an importing state, it expected that the treaty would ensure a “balance of obligations” between exporting and importing states. However, India was disappointed with the outcome text which was allegedly tilted in favour of the exporting states.
India is also a state plagued by terrorism, and therefore one of its major expectations from the treaty was that it would be tough on terrorism. However, the treaty does not include non-state actors in its purview, and therefore does not address the pressing concern of illicit trafficking and use of conventional arms by non-state actors. This is a major lacuna which may serve to make the treaty ineffective.
Pros and cons of India joining ATT
The single most significant benefit of India joining the Treaty would be reputational dividend. India values the ethical core of its foreign policy and endorses the objective of ATT - the prevention of crimes against humanity.
India’s abstention fuels critique that India is ill-prepared to shoulder the responsibility of a UNSC permanent seat as it is unable to put the needs of the international community above its own. By joining the ATT, India would silence its critics and demonstrate moral initiative in line with its percept’s.
India faces a gun problem, with illegal weapons responsible for a high number of gun deaths especially in the Indian hinterlands. Therefore, India needs international community cooperation to counter this internal security threat and the ATT would be a solution.
However, India is the largest arms importer in the world, and the Arms Trade Treaty is skewed in favour of exporting states.Therefore, India risks being vulnerable and subject to “unilateral force majeure measures” by exporting states. There is a real risk that India may be denied arms transfers by states, using the ATT as a justification.
The ATT began with a frenzy of participation, but in the past couple of years, there has been a slowdown. Doubts have emerged from many quarters about the Treaty’s efficacy and pronounced it a failure.
For the ATT to work, it needs to first be universalized. However, currently certain key stakeholders in the arms trade such as Russia are not the part of Treaty, and the US has withdrawn from the treaty.
Another crucial aspect of the treaty is its recommendatory and non-binding nature. The ATT’s text is largely suggestive, not obligatory and therefore binds its members to very little.
Arms transfers to non-state actors remains unregulated and is a huge lacuna in the treaty. The black market in arms also remains outside the Treaty’s scope – which is a fundamental flaw.
The Arms Trade Treaty was hailed as a massive step in the right direction for arms control. Where there were no standards at all, there is now a global consensus on minimum standards. However, treaty may be weak but after all it is a starting point. Its effects may be felt in the long-term as more countries accede to the treaty and it becomes difficult for states to remain outside as arms trade is very interdependent. However, as of now, joining the treaty in its present state would not be in India’s best interest.