Israel's reluctance to negotiate with Iran easily understood when looking at the unique existential risk a nuclear Iran poses to Israel
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In this article, we have argued that the popular misconceptions about the threat posed by current and potential nuclear-armed states arise from the lack of a systemic method of evaluating the security threats they pose. We theorized that nuclear weapons are unique in that they are capable of posing existential threats to states and their citizens, but that significant variation often exists in the ability of NWSs to pose those threats to other countries and, in turn, their vulnerabilities to them. The NAT Index we developed offers one of the first relational metrics developed in the academic literature that can be used to comparatively assess the existential threats posed by and faced by NWSs. In comparing the scores yielded by our metric, we uncovered a number of novel insights about the NWSs that appear to pose the greatest (i.e., Pakistan) and smallest (i.e., North Korea) existential threats. We also found that if Iran does eventually go nuclear, it will be incredibly vulnerable when it does and will have little capacity to retaliate except against Israel. Whereas the United States and most other NWSs have little to fear from a nuclear-armed Iran, Israel’s concerns appear warranted. Israel’s discontent over the United States’ willingness to entertain negotiations for a grand bargain with Iran over its nuclear program stems from the fact that, if Iran ever cheats and acquires a small secret arsenal, it could threaten Israel’s continued existence. Israel’s reticence to endorse negotiations with Iran must be understood within this light. Taken together, our findings suggest that systematically evaluating the existential threats associated with nuclear weapons presents a useful approach for understanding the potential effects that nuclear weapons have on state behavior.