Comparative analysis of nuclear risks shows nuclear Iran would pose greatest existential threat to Israel and Iran itself
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Our findings related to Iran going nuclear explain the relative passivity of some NWSs at allowing Iran to march ever closer to obtaining nuclear weapons and Israel’s vociferous resistance to the possibility. Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would pose only mild existential threats to the rest of the nuclear club, while it would make Israel the second most existentially vulnerable NWS in the world. These findings illustrate why President Obama’s administration might be willing to gamble on striking a grand bargain with Iran with respect to its nuclear program even if the potential exists for Iran to cheat and secretly acquire nuclear weapons. Iran’s acquisition of a small nuclear arsenal would not pose a major existential threat to the United States, even though it would to Israel. This suggests that Israel might be willing to take large risks and endure significant costs in preventing Iran from going nuclear.
Our findings also indicate, though, that Iran would become the world’s most existen- tially vulnerable NWS were it to go nuclear. This might still be viewed as an improvement over existing conditions for Iranian leaders, as Iran currently lacks the capability to pose reciprocal existential threats to those countries that threaten its existence. Yet, the relatively weak existential threats their nuclear arsenal would pose to most other NWSs besides Israel suggests that there would be limits to how emboldened the regime could become. Our analysis suggests that Iran likely would not obtain nearly as much security by going nuclear as it leaders may think. For the United States, one potential implication of our analysis is that traditional nuclear deterrence policies should work against Iran given its significant existential vulnerability.