India, one of the largest importers of defense equipment in the world, is letting supporters of the U.N.’s recently passed arms-transfer treaty know that it is not happy with their actions.

The treaty, aimed at laying down common international standards and limiting the illicit sale of conventional arms, was passed by the U.N. General Assembly with an overwhelming majority of 154 votes on April 3. Iran, North Korea and Syria voted against the treaty, while China, India and Russia abstained.

India relies on imports for more than 70% of its defense purchases. Its primary concern with the treaty is that it could permit exporting states to take unilateral actions against importing states without consequences. “The treaty does not ensure a balance of obligations between arms-exporting states and the importers of arms,” a senior Indian government official says.

Apparently in a strong reaction to the U.K.’s lead role in pushing through the treaty, India cancelled a proposed high-level defense delegation’s visit to London this week, diplomatic sources say. India conveyed to Britain that its actions will have serious consequences for Indian defense purchases from the U.K. The government official says India will consider the stand taken by each nation on the treaty when negotiating future defense contracts.

Recent British defense deals with India include BAE Systems’ Hawk advanced trainer jet, AgustaWestland’s AW101 helicopter, and Sonardyne’s Sentinel underwater surveillance system. The AgustaWestland deal is on hold pending a corruption probe. The U.K. also is pushing hard for the British-backed Eurofighter Typhoon with hopes that New Delhi’s plans to buy the French Rafale in an estimated $15 billion deal may collapse.

The U.K. has been one of the leading countries from which India has imported arms. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Britain’s military exports were worth $15.34 billion between 1950 and 2010, making it the third-largest defense exporter after the U.S. and former Soviet Union.

Though France was among the 154 nations which voted in favor of the treaty, Paris voiced support for India’s demands on treaty language relating to defense contracts. There was no such support from the U.S., which is now India’s third-largest arms supplier, after Russia and Israel.

India is negotiating a multibillion-dollar deal to buy 126 Rafale fighters from France’s Dassault Aviation. It also has chosen EADS’s Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport refueling tanker aircraft for a potential contract for six aircraft.

From the U.S., India is in the process of purchasing Boeing’s 15 Chinook CH-47F heavy-lift helicopters and 22 AH-64D Block III Apache attack helicopters.

Following India’s strong objection to the treaty, the U.S. head of delegation on the treaty, Tom Countryman, said the treaty was “not harmful” to India’s security and would not affect the “very strong bilateral relationship.”

India says it is “not insecure” under the terms of the treaty, since “it is aware that big exporters like the U.S., U.K., China and Russia require purchasers,” says defense expert Ajay Lele of the New Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses.

However, India is worried that certain existing deals could be blocked and exporters could use the terms of the treaty to stop the supply of equipment.

New Delhi is likely to spend approximately $100 billion importing weapons and defense equipment over the next 10 years, but it is concerned that the treaty “might lead to interference by exporters,” Lele says. “India’s fear is that exporters might take undue advantage of some of its terms and delay supply of equipment. . . . India doesn’t want to be bullied by exporters.”

The treaty also would require importers to explain the purpose of their military purchases. “No country will be willing to disclose its military ambitions to the exporters,” Lele says.

AW101 photo: AgustaWestland