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  • North Korea’s EMP Threats – We Should Be Preparing For The Worst

    In September, the North Koreans not only tested what they claimed was a hydrogen bomb (indeed, it was much more powerful than anything they have tested before) – they also made an explicit threat to deploy a devastating EMP weapon against their enemies, i.e. us. An electromagnetic pulse weapon would detonate a powerful nuclear explosion in space above the intended target in order to destroy much of the electrical infrastructure and hardware below. A well-planned and well-executed EMP attack on the United States could render much of our electrical grid useless, plunging Americans into darkness (and worse) for months or even years. The former chairman of a U.S. government commission studying the threat posed by EMP weapons recently stated that a major attack, by destroying the basis of our economy as well as jeopardizing our food supply, could kill 90 percent of Americans “within a year.”

    Although in truth the efficacy and consequences of an EMP attack are unclear, the potential damage that such an attack could do is incalculably vast. It is an open question whether a direct nuclear strike against a large U.S. city, or an EMP attack, would do more damage or take more lives, in the final analysis.

    Fortunately, our nation’s Missile Defense Agency is working hard to ensure that we never have to endure either nightmare scenario.

    It seems incredible, but our country spends about the same amount (less than $1 billion per year) on the “Ground-Based Midcourse Defense” system currently in place to defend us from long-range missile attack as McDonald’s does hawking Big Macs. This is so partly because GMD appropriations declined precipitously under President Obama. Nonetheless, the GMD system currently deployed offers the only effective response to an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launched by North Korea against the U.S. homeland. The system has undergone rigorous testing since 1999, and numerous technical improvements have increased its effectiveness. Overall, of 18 “intercept” tests, over half have led to the successful destruction of the target missile (and, since 2013, all tests have succeeded). Since the technology has evolved and been upgraded continuously, and since any North Korean attack would undoubtedly be countered by multiple redundant counterattacks from the GMD system, it is reasonable to suppose that the North Koreans would have less than a 50 percent chance, maybe much less, of delivering a nuclear warhead and/or an EMP device to their intended target area. As the GMD system is further refined and hopefully expanded, the challenge for the North Koreans will only grow. Ask yourself: is this measure of safety – potentially, the difference between life and death for millions of Americans – worth the investment of, say, what you pay for McNuggets? The question answers itself.

    When the Cold War ended in 1989-91, there was an immediate “peace dividend” that allowed our country to slash defense spending, and more importantly there was a tremendous psychological weight removed from the metaphorical shoulders of the American people. For several generations, we had lived under constant threat of nuclear annihilation – of “mutually assured destruction” – and understandably we breathed a sigh of relief when the existential threat posed by the Soviet Union evaporated. Unfortunately, though, nuclear weapons, and means to deliver them anywhere and everywhere on the globe, have not ceased to exist. Our nation still faces grave strategic threats from established nuclear powers like Russia and China, but it now also faces a new category of threat from rogue regimes like those in Iran and North Korea. They may not have the ability to wipe the United States of America off the map, as the Soviet Union surely could have, but they may well have the ability, and seemingly the will, to kill millions of us, and to inflict chaos and misery on those who remain alive.

    In an age in which the news cycle is dominated by tweetstorms and celebrity scandals, we cannot lose sight of what is most important: the safety and security of the homeland. It is the duty of the Defense and Homeland Security Departments to imagine the worst-case scenarios, in terms of the threats that may arise against this country, and to be prepared to face them. It is our duty, as citizens, to be educated about the threats our nation faces, and to vote for leaders, like President Trump, who are committed to giving agencies like the Missile Defense Agency the resources they need to keep us safe. We must, therefore, maintain and bolster our GMD systems, and we should expedite the “hardening” (protection) of as many components of our electrical grid as possible.

    Ideally, our missile defense capacities will continue to strengthen, and countries like North Korea will gradually come to realize that creating an arsenal to attack us is an exercise in futility. In this sense, our readiness for war can pave the way for peace. The key, though, is to be ready in the first place.

    Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an Associate Professor of History in the State University of New York and blogs at: www.waddyisright.com.


    Nicholas Waddy

    Nicholas Waddy

    Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an Associate Professor of History in the State University of New York. A complete list of his publications and radio/tv appearances can be found on his blog: www.waddyisright.com.

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