James Fallows: Existential Nuclear Threats Are Becoming Universal

The Atlantic’s James Fallows rebuts Jeffrey Goldberg’s blog post which quotes a Commentary article by Daniel Gordis.  Gordis attempts to justify Israel’s aggressive, if not saber rattling, position towards Iran on the basis that a nuclear weapons possessing Iran would mean that:

Even if Israel does possess a second-strike capability, and even if the U.S. could be counted on to punish a nuclear attack on the Jewish state, the existential condition of the Jews would still have reverted to that experienced in pre-state Europe.

Fallows was struck by the fact that when you put aside the talk about Israel specific security, the statement is really a reflection of the universal predicament brought about by the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

He concludes that:

(a) that this is not a new, hypothetical, and Israeli-specific problem but a decades-old and very real problem already confronting most of humanity — notwithstanding all the special vulnerabilities of Israel’s situation. There is literally nothing that can assure any of us that we will not be killed tomorrow, by the millions, in an accidental or irrational nuclear exchange. As long as the weapons exist, the possibility remains. Deterrence and “confidence-building” have been the only ways to manage it. And (b) that a benefit of discussing the “existential” threat to Israel’s “sense of security” might be new attention to the comparable but broader threat to humanity as a whole.

It’s worth noting Fallows’s point that “deterrence and ‘confidence-building'”–which amount to a policy of containment– have historically been effective tools to manage nuclear rivalries. The threat to Israel from a nuclear armed Iran would not be an experience unique to Israel. Using Fallows’s line of reasoning, it’s worth asking if Israel’s response should be any different than any other country with nuclear weapons who has learned to peacefully coexist, thus far, with a nuclear armed rival.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.



  1. What struck me was Mr Fallows need to say:

    Quite obviously everything about Israel’s formation and predicament, and the long “pre-state Europe” history of Jews living and dying “at the whim of others,” is unique.

    And then say:

    not to minimize Israel’s concern about Iran’s attitudes

    And, again say:

    notwithstanding all the special vulnerabilities of Israel’s situation.

    Well, well, and well, the need to affirm such special empathy three times in a short article about Israel’s fears about Iran, one has to assume that Iran and Iranians have been whooping it up these past centuries without being invaded, masacered, humiliated, etc. etc. etc. at the whim of others.

    Recommended reading for Mr. Fallows:

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