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The Projectionist

Author: Micah Zenko, Douglas Dillon Fellow
October 2, 2012
Foreign Policy

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Speaking to the U.N. General Assembly last week -- accompanied by his puzzling cartoon bomb -- Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a dire threat not only to Israel, but to the entire world, and he declared that preventing this outcome was the "duty of every responsible leader who wants to preserve world peace." In 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: "The free world must not accept [a nuclear Iran]. We must all do whatever we can to prevent it." And, in 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon urged the creation of "a coalition of democracies who believe in the danger, led by United States, in order to put pressure upon Iran."

In each of these examples, Israeli political leaders engaged in a time-honored diplomatic strategy: telling other states what they should be threatened by, and what policies they should implement to counter that threat. The objective of this gambit is to harness the capabilities of other states to counter a threat, which is more severe and imminent than previously understood, in order to share the burden. However, this strategy of projecting threat perceptions onto other states is both underexplored by academics and poorly executed by policymakers. In an era when it is increasingly difficult for any state to unilaterally deal with its foreign policy challenges, projecting threat perceptions has never been more important.

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