India shouldn’t shy away from end-user agreement

India shouldn’t shy away from end-user agreement

Who would have thought that a couple of joint statements could have put the Manmohan Singh government so out of joint?

However, when they involve India’s oldest bete noire and newest amoureux, this was only to be expected. In the case of the former, New Delhi was accused of having given up too much, while in the case of the latter, it was charged with not having been treated exclusively enough.

Although some of the claims of a sell-out might be justified in the case of the India-Pakistan joint statement from Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, it is perplexing in the instance of the India-US joint statement.

The contentious part of the India-US joint statement states that New Delhi and Washington have “agreed on the end-user monitoring arrangement that will henceforth be referred to in letters of acceptance for Indian procurement of US defence technology and equipment. This systematizes ad hoc arrangements for individual defence procurements from the US entered into by previous governments".

Although this is being regarded as a dramatic departure from the past, it is in fact a logical effort to rationalize and streamline the purchase of US arms. Previously, all defence equipment bought from the US had to be individually certified with an end-user monitoring agreement, which often led to inordinate delays.

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Indeed, in the past, even dual-use items bought by India were being monitored by the US. For instance, the Cray X-MP supercomputer imported in the 1980s and located at Mausam Bhavan in New Delhi was constantly monitored by a US official permanently based there to ensure that the computer was being used only to predict the weather and not for other purposes, such as to design nuclear weapons.

In fact, almost every country, including India, that sells arms also insists on an end-user agreement to ensure that the equipment is not sold to a third country for either commercial or strategic reasons.

The commercial reasons are to ensure not just the market share of the selling country but also to protect the technological patents of the equipment sold. The strategic factors include the need to ensure that the weapons are not used against the selling state or its allies or to commit international war crimes or acts of international terrorism.

These agreements normally rely on the assurance of the sovereign state and do not include monitoring. Of course, while all sovereign states are considered equal, not all guarantees have the same trustworthiness.

As Sweden recently learnt when its weapons sold to Venezuela landed up in the hands of Colombian rebels and, indeed, as India discovered in the 1970s when its Centurion tanks sold to a friendly country in Africa showed up in apartheid South Africa, not all pledges by states can be relied upon. Had an end-user monitoring agreement been in place, both countries would have been spared this embarrassment. As Singh argued in the Lok Sabha on 29 July, “All governments, including our government, are particular about the end uses to which exported defence equipment and technologies are put to and for preventing them from falling into wrong hands."

Partly on account of such experiences and partly to ensure its commercial and technological edge, the US is perhaps the only country to insist on an end-user monitoring agreement with all countries that it sells defence equipment to, including its closest allies. In this context, India was an exception until now.

India’s opposition to an end-user monitoring agreement can be justified only on three grounds. First, that it is inclined to cheat and has no intention of being bound by the end-user agreements or adhering to the commitments of not transferring the equipment to third parties. Second, that New Delhi intends to use US weapons against the US or its allies, which may well be the case vis-à-vis Pakistan. Third, that it intends to shut itself out to the lucrative US arms market and deny itself state-of-the-art equipment, which according to all estimates is at least a generation ahead of its closest European ally. If that is not the case, then India should be able to accept the intrusions that an end-user monitoring agreement will entail.

The only other reason that India could justify not signing the agreement is to maintain its exceptionalism; that would be in contradiction of New Delhi’s declared intention to create a more democratic world order.

It might also be too high a price to pay for a country building up its military capacity to play a more prominent role in the emerging multipolar world order.

W. Pal Sidhu is vice-president of programmes at the EastWest Institute, New York. He writes on strategic affairs every fortnight. Your comments are welcome at