There was an old saying back in the days of the Cold War.
It was one of those understated sardonic little “jokes” people threw out there to help them cope with the dreaded possibility of a nuclear exchange.
It went like this: “One nuclear weapon can ruin your whole day.”
It was certainly true then, but even more so today, when a thoroughly unpredictable little nation like North Korea could post an existential threat to the United States with the delivery of one nuclear weapon capable of catastrophic destruction to the power grid, ultimately resulting in mass starvation in a nation reliant on electricity, technology and transportation, the very lifeblood of an interdependent modern society.
The latest pronouncements from North Korea claim the otherwise backward, isolated, Third World nation has developed a more advanced hydrogen nuke that is small enough to be fitted on a new intercontinental ballistic missile.
If it’s true, and if North Korea can detonate such a weapon at high altitude over the U.S., it could represent the greatest existential threat to America’s future.
America is not prepared to defend itself against such an attack. The grid is not protected. The warnings about such a possibility have been ignored in Washington for 20 years. It’s a nightmarish reality that – theoretically, at least – could reduce America to a backward, isolated, Third World country incapable of feeding its own people.
This is the reality of the havoc and mayhem one nuclear device could do if used to create a massive electro-magnetic pulse in the upper atmosphere over the center of the country.
“The electromagnetic fields produced by weapons designed and deployed with the intent to produce EMP have a high likelihood of damaging electrical power systems, electronics, and information systems upon which American society depends,” the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack said in its report a decade ago. “Their effects on dependent systems and infrastructures could be sufficient to qualify as catastrophic to the nation.”
A 2008 report from the Heritage Foundation came to similar conclusions.
“First, the electromagnetic shock disrupts electronics, such as sensors, communications systems, protective systems, computers, and other similar devices,” the report explained. “The second component has a slightly smaller range and is similar in effect to lightning … [and can cause] potential for damage to critical infrastructure. The final component … is a pulse that flows through electricity transmission lines-damaging distribution centers and fusing power lines.”
This was all known back in the days of the Cold War.
But, back then, the theory of “mutually assured destruction” provided a deterrent for America’s adversaries from launching such an attack. With enemies like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, however, that kind of balance of terror may not work.
And that’s why it may seem odd that there is as much concern about North Korea as there is in Washington today.
Remember the movie “Red Dawn”? Not the original version starring Patrick Swayze in 1984, but the remake in 2012. This was indeed the scenario – a North Korean EMP attack on the U.S.
It’s something that is beyond unimaginable.
There’s no defense against it.
America doesn’t have the strategic defense initiative Ronald Reagan envisioned for the country back in the 1980s. It was ridiculed by politicians like Sen. Ted Kennedy as “Star Wars.”
There were higher spending priorities.
Neither has America taken the simple, relatively inexpensive initiative to harden its electrical infrastructure against the potential of an EMP attack.
There were higher spending priorities.
Now what do we do?
The only option America may have in the very near future is some kind of pre-emptive attack on North Korea.
But, even if successful, that would represent only a temporary solution.
There are other enemies contemplating the same thing. Iran, for instance, has long been experimenting with detonating missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons at high altitude. And, Iran’s leaders refer to America as “the Great Satan.”
We’ve been warned. How will we respond?