Preventing the proliferation of air-conditioners

The proliferation of non-proliferation ideology to your bedroom

According to the New York Times the Bush administration’s nuclear deal with India is ‘misbegotten’. The editorial does not stray far from the non-proliferation ideological line — that making an exemption for India will threaten the NPT’s “carrot-and-stick” approach. Bizarrely, it also has problems with Indian middle-class homes turning their air-conditioners on the year round.

In the new enclaves for India’s emerging middle class and its rapidly rising nouveau riche, environmentally unsustainable, high-ceilinged houses feature air-conditioning systems that stay on year round. [NYT]

This is perhaps the first time that the proliferation of airconditioners has been linked with the the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Wrongly, in both instances.

The New York Times also gets India’s position on the Iran issue quite wrong. It suggests that India’s support for referring Iran to the UN Security Council was with ‘an eye on the US-India’ deal. That is a misconception, but an understandable one. But like its comment on airconditioning, the newspaper is way too far down the path of unreason when it points out that despite the nuclear deal with the United States, India should be faulted for purchasing oil and gas from Iran, Venezuela and Sudan – regimes that ‘Washington wants to isolate’. Far-reaching as it may be, the US-India nuclear deal does not envisage the wholesale replacement of oil and gas with American supplied nuclear fuel. Neither does it envisage India having to toe the American foreign policy line on everything.

But as bizarre arguments go, the New York Times reserves the best for the last: it advises the Bush administration to push for serious energy conservation steps. This as a recipe to weaken Iran’s ‘stranglehold’ over oil markets is one thing. How this will solve India’s energy requirements (and address the current debate over bringing India into the international nuclear market) remains as an exercise for its puzzled readers.

Right Said Fareed

Coincidentally, Fareed Zakaria’s Newsweek column works as an effective rebuttal to the more reasonable of the New York Times’ arguments.

The benefits for the United States—and much of the world—are real. This agreement would bring a rising power into the global tent, making it not an outsider but a stakeholder, and giving it an incentive to help create and shape international norms and rules. For example, India is becoming more worried about a nuclear Iran for this reason, and not because it is being pressured to do so by the United States. When India was being treated like an outlaw, it had no interest in playing the sheriff.

Of course, some nonproliferation ideologues in Washington view the administration’s shift with great skepticism. For them, it rewards India for going nuclear and sets a bad precedent. But the truth about nuclear weapons is that there has always been an exception for major powers—Britain, France, Russia, China. The only real question is, does India belong in that group? Also, what is the alternative policy toward India that has any chance of changing its status—more lectures on nonproliferation? [Newsweek]

Tailpiece: The person(s) who wrote the New York Times’ editorial is welcome to spend the summer in India…without air-conditioners, of course.

14 thoughts on “Preventing the proliferation of air-conditioners”

  1. Good post. It is funny that air conditioning has been linked to nuclear proliferation. Perhaps NYT wants us poor Indians to burn eternally in the hot summers. How about suggesting them to spend their winters without room heaters. It will conserve lot of energy and reduce dependency on “rogue” countries.

  2. THAT was supposedly an editorial?
    On the Carrot and stick approach, I wonder what exactly is the carrot the NYT believes they’re dangling in front of India? A Major Non-NATO ally of the US with a ton of nukes that it sells for a few quid? or a P-5 nation that proliferates nukes to non-NPT nations and sells missiles violating MTCR?

    Seriously, isnt it time someone at New Delhi started defining a few rogue states as well. And pointing out that they’re in bed with the P-5’s “peer-competitors”. Everytime these guys fail to do that, we only get a one-sided “you sup with Iran, etc.,” comment. Wonder what prevents a categorical statement from New Delhi.

  3. The air conditioner part is just too funny, coming from a paper known for pandering to upper class and upper-middle-class New Yorkers, many of whom would start going hysterical if they had to spend a 90-degree week in July without one, never mind a 110-degree month in Bombay or Chennai. Sometimes the Times’ limousine liberalism almost comes across like a parody of itself.

    In all seriousness, an NPT die-hard can make a credible argument against the Indo-American nuclear deal. But for it to be credible, they have to first be willing to recognize the ways in which India presents a unique situation relative to just about any other country looking for such a deal, starting with the timing of and rationale for India’s emergence as a nuclear power, and ending with its present and likely future geopolitical status. The Times, instead, chooses to reflexively compare the Indian situation to those of countries like South Korea and Saudi Arabia, and in doing so shows once more a lack of intellectual seriousness in its foreign policy pontificating.

  4. When it comes to covering India, the West’s ‘liberal’ media is far more bigoted than the conservative, and NYT has just proved that point. That editorial sounds more like the rant of a greebpeace nut than the considered view of somebody who spent a summer in India.

  5. Samar, I don’t think it’s bigotry in this case as much as intellectually lazy, head-in-the-clouds, limousine liberalism, one of the Times’ traditional strongpoints. That said, there is clearly a tendency for foreign correspondants at the Times, as well as other major Western papers, to show a reflexive left-wing bias in their reporting. This is true whether they’re writing about the BJP, Pim Fortuyn, Japanese foreign policy, or Brazilian gun referendums.

  6. Did anyone ranting on the article really read the part about air-conditioners ? At no point did the article suggest not using air-conditioners, it was suggesting that high ceilinged buildings with ACs that remain perpetually on are a waste of energy. That statement is accurate by itself (although I think the incidence of tall ceilings or ACs that remain perpetually on is probably exaggerated). Tall ceilinged buildings (like older buildings built during the British times before AC) are actually much cooler and often don’t need ACs.

    The overall point the article made about this was not about ACs anyway but about ineffient use of oil by India (the author cites the examples of airplanes burning fuel wastefully). You may not agree completely, but it is a valid point. I would also have thrown in the utter wastefulness and pollution caused by rooftop generators that are used in many cities when the power goes out.

    Now, as far as India’s nuclear program goes, the Times is definitely way off there. But thats a separate issue.

  7. Hi,

    The Non-Proliferation people are fighting for survival. I expect more nonsense to come out their mouths as the next step of the aggreement is signed in India minus the FBRs and a fissile material cut-off.

    Incidently I have just started a blog to share my thoughts,
    I am currently working on understanding Pakistani responses to this deal.

    The website is located at

    From what I have heard the Pakistanis are keen on acting as a spoiler and asking for something in exchange for not becoming a problem.

  8. Pingback: Ashish's Niti

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