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Editor-in-Chief View on "The Arms Trade Treaty"

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The Arms Trade Treaty has been approved by the United Nations and received its predictable response in India. And a host of other arms importing nations, including Pakistan. India abstained from the voting process and hence conveyed a mixed signal as to what it thinks of the treaty. It isn't always that India and Pakistan find themselves in the same corner of a divide in the United Nations. Not that it portents positive things for the future between the two squabbling neighbours, but just the bizarre nature of international negotiations and agreements. While each country has its own reasons for the position taken on the vote, India's arguments follow a familiar pattern established in the past.

The principal position taken by India centres on the issue of sovereignty and the country's right to use the weapons it has bought, where it wants, when it wants and how it wants, as long as they are used within the parameters of law. Indiscriminate and disproportionate use of weapons is not the position enunciated by India, rather a desire to deny anybody the right to tell it what they think India should be doing with the arms bought by New Delhi. Sovereignty is a touchy and sensitive issue in post-colonial societies like India and China. They bristle at the barest possible hint of anyone intruding into what is considered the sovereign domain.

The end-use certification system adopted as a principle in the Arms Trade Treaty is something India finds unacceptable. It requires an importing, purchasing, country to provide periodical certificates which will suggest that the weapons are only going to be used within the parameters laid down by domestic concerns and policies of the supplier country. Domestic political lobbies of supplier countries have the power to override the interests of purchasing nations like India by laying down parameters and yardsticks for use. Granted that in the modern day world of inter-related economies and policies there is a blurring of sovereign rights, at least as it has been known to be over the centuries. But the levels of intrusive policies envisioned in the Treaty are unacceptable to India and those like it. And so the decision to abstain is a correct one, albeit lost on the public in the din of domestic politics in India. After all India has never reneged on treaties or agreements. Has never been found guilty of transferring technology to other nations not authorised by agreements and also not violating intellectual property rights of manufacturers. Unlike China, which has mastered the art of reverse engineering and then supplying countries like Pakistan, Indian research and development of whatever quality, suffices for the moment. Despite that for India to be put under the same conditions of end-user certification et al is unacceptable.

There is, however, considerable time before the Treaty comes into force since a certain number of countries have to first ratify it in their domestic domain. Procedures vary from country to country depending on their structure of executive or parliamentary decision-making. This pushes the coming into force of the Arms Trade Treaty further down the road. Not that it matters to India. Either way the Treaty is a reality that it has to deal with and extract an opportunity from it that doesn't seem obvious. It is as clear as daylight that the only way out of this morass is to have a robust domestic defence sector, that can cater for Indian needs as well as compete in the international markets. This sector has been dominated for far too long by state run companies or organisations. It is time they faced competition, in the form of Indian owned companies or joint ventures. There is no better example than the Indo-Russian BrahMos cruise missile joint venture. Work has begun on Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft together. Underlying both the durability of the Indo-Russian friendship as well as the opportunities that it offers in the future. The relationship has been tested over decades and has largely been found to be resilient, even in the non-defence sector like cooperation over Afghanistan. It is in the defence sector that the relationship has to be brought on an even keel which will benefit both nations. Both of whom have common interests, be it regionally or in opposition to the Arms Trade Treaty.


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