The draft of a UN treaty to to regulate the sale of conventional arms is facing opposition from some countries as it favours the arms exporting nations and remains silent on the illicit trafficking of such weapons to non-state actors, of which India has been a major victim.
The Arms Trade Treaty draft, presented by the Conference president Peter Woolcott from Australia, if implemented in its present form is set to undermine India's national security interests when it comes to addressing the issue of illicit arms supply to non-state actors like Maoists or terrorist outfits being armed from across the border.
Also being a heavy importer of arms, officials fear that the adoption of such a treaty could tend to jeopardise India's security interests if exporters of arms or spare parts stop supplying them to India - on one pretext or the other - when it needs them most, like the one during the Kargil war.
Notably India had articulated its view at the start of the Arms Trade Treaty Conference at the UN headquarters here. However, the major arms exporters - the US and Britain - have managed to have a draft put in place that is quite detrimental to India's national interests, the officials said.
After month-long negotiations failed in July, the 193 UN members are again attempting to hammer out a deal on the issue which deals with USD 70 billion arms trade around the world. The draft is expected to come up for adoption tomorrow.
"The ATT should make a real impact on illicit trafficking in conventional arms and their illicit use especially by terrorists and other unauthorised and unlawful non-State actors," said Sujata Mehta, India's Permanent Representative to Conference on Disarmament, Geneva and Head of the Indian Delegation to the Arms Trade Treaty Conference.
"Without such provisions, the ATT would in fact lower the bar on obligations of all states not to support terrorists and/or terrorists acts enshrined in various UNSC resolutions and anti-terrorism Conventions. We cannot allow such a loop hole in the ATT," she said.
In her speech at the start of the 10-day conference on March 16, Mehta said the draft tends to tilt the balance further away from importing countries.
"The ATT should not be an instrument in the hands of exporting states to take unilateral force majeure measures against importing states parties without consequences," she said.
"Such a loop hole in the Treaty would have the affect of strengthening the hands of a few exporting states at the expense of the legitimate defense and national security interests of a large number of importing states parties. To correct the imbalance, rights of importing states should be elaborated and further strengthened," she said.
"Any other outcome would not only be not acceptable to a large number of countries, but also underline the irony of a multilateral process involving all UN members if in the end it is sought to be used for the benefit of a few," Mehta warned.
The view of India and several other developing nations like Indonesia, Brazil and Algeria were ignored, if the final draft posted on the UN website is of any indication. India, which has been engaged in the process for the past six years, as a significant importer and as a country affected by illicit weapons, proposed among others draft formulations on terrorism, protection of arms supplies for legitimate national self-defence and for reducing the burden of obligations on importing states.
"India's clause for safeguarding defence contracts was opposed by a couple of Western arms exporters and has barely survived in the final text," sources told PTI.
An article of the draft appears to exempt from its scope non-commercial transfers, a major source of illicit arms around the world.
While Britain and the US are believed to have major part on drafting of such a one-sided treaty, China - another major exporter - has maintained a low profile and may be willing to go along for the simple reason that their key interests (noncommercial transfers of conventional arms in the form of gifts, loans and lease) have been secured as such transfers have been left out from the scope of the treaty, sources said.
According to officials, countries like India, Indonesia, Brazil and several other importing states tried to bring the focus back on illicit arms transfers to non-state actors, illegal trafficking of arms and to correct the balance of obligations. However, they were only partially successful.
Indonesia for example failed to secure a reference to territorial integrity and Brazil was unable to include unauthorised non-state actors in the ambit of the treaty.
What surprised many delegates attending the conference the approach of the US, especially given that it is fighting a major wars against terrorist outfits and non-state actors like al-Qaeda and the Taliban in countries like Afghanistan, and still it did not take any step to block arms supply to them.
Several other countries, including from crime affected Caribbean countries were disappointed with the outcome.
Officials from these countries felt that the treaty draft gives the definite impression of a Western exporters' dominated cartel with the burden of obligations on importing states and transit states.
Britain, which played a lead role and is now poised to claim a public relations victory going to the extent of saying that a treaty is being adopted, whereas the fact is that what is being adopted is essentially a text of a treaty which lacks absolute consensus.
The Washington-based Arms Control Association (ACA) also welcomed the new, compromise Arms Trade Treaty text, which has emerged from intense negotiations and that states may endorse on the final day of the March 18-28 UN diplomatic conference.
"The emerging treaty represents an important first step in dealing with the unregulated and illicit global trade in conventional weapons and ammunition, which fuels wars and human rights abuses worldwide," Daryl G Kimball, executive director of the independent, Arms Control Association, said.
"We need to have a treaty that will send a clear message to human rights abusers and dictators that their time is up," said Anna Macdonald, Oxfam's Head of Arms Control.