Jonathan Levine’s assessment of the “crisis of realism” goes awry with this claim:
For example, Mutually Assured Destruction, one of the Cold War’s most sacral totems, was an early casualty. Its value was potent when one’s adversaries were cold Soviet atheists. But the doctrine is less helpful when they are religious fundamentalists—who not only do not fear their own demise but also seek it out as a strategic end. In their dealings with Hamas and Palestinian suicide terrorism, Israel has long understood this phenomenon.
There are a few problems with this. If Levine is referring to states governed by “religious fundamentalists,” he is wrong that they are willing to accept their own demise. Such states don’t want to invite their own destruction. They would much rather survive in order to promote their ideology. Even if Levine is referring only to jihadist groups, these are fanatics that are willing to die to achieve their goals, but their own demise is not their “strategic end.” Jihadists use indiscriminate and atrocious tactics as means to an end, but as a practical matter their demise is not the end they seek. Hamas is an example of an Islamist group that can be and has been deterred, because it is based in a specific territory that it controls. It can and does face reprisals for attacks that come from the territory under its control. Truly “stateless” jihadists might fit part of Levine’s definition, but they are extremely unlikely to be able to acquire nuclear weapons. “Religious fundamentalist” states can be deterred the same as any other ideological, revolutionary state has been in the past.
Incidentally, it has never made sense to me why atheistic revolutionary zealots should be easier to deter than religious revolutionary zealots. If anything, the former is even more likely to believe that the ends justify the means, and he is even more likely to attach no importance to his own survival so long as “the cause” advances. There might still be some things that a religious zealot considers to be sacred or inviolable, which could have the effect of limiting what he is willing to do. Regardless, there is no religious or political movement that actively seeks its own annihilation as its goal. Assuming that a group or a state cannot be deterred from using nuclear weapons because it is run by ideologues of one kind or another greatly underestimates the ideologues’ desire that they and their cause survive.