Kathleen McFarland served in national security posts in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations. She is a senior adviser to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. She had this to say yesterday:
What if the electricity suddenly went out? One nuclear warhead detonated high above North America would produce a shockwave powerful enough to knock out the entire electric grid and all electronic devices. Not just temporarily because the system was overloaded, but permanently because the circuits were fried.
Ever heard of Electromagnetic pulse, or EMP? Probably not, unless you’re a nuclear weapons expert.
In the 1950's, At the dawn of the nuclear age, most weapons analysts focused on the unparalleled death and destruction even one nuclear weapon would cause. Bomb blast, fireball, radiation poisoning. But few thought about electromagnetic pulse -- the invisible wave of electricity that would fry electronic circuits seemed almost trivial.
But fast forward 60 years to modern, high tech America. Today every aspect of our lives depends on electronics, computers, the Internet and satellites - our armed forces, our banking system, our communications networks, our infrastructure.
What if the electricity suddenly went out? One nuclear warhead detonated high above North America would produce a shockwave powerful enough to knock out the entire electric grid and all electronic devices. Not just a temporarily because the system was overloaded, but a permanently because the circuits were fried.
Nothing would work – not the phone system, or water pumping stations, or planes, trains or automobiles. Your toilet wouldn’t flush and the TV wouldn't turn on. Planes would stop in mid air. The only way to communicate would be face to face. Credit cards would be useless.
Tens of millions would die of disease and starvation. We would be thrown, unprepared and within seconds, into a pre-electric world. America would likely never recover. Unthinkable?
Who would do it to us? Who could? Any country with the ability to shoot a nuclear tipped missile at the US. That’s China and Russia today or North Korea and Iran tomorrow.
It's time we start thinking about the unthinkable.
Is there anything we can do now? Here are three suggestions:
First, the Obama administration must redouble efforts to stop rouge states like Iran from getting nuclear weapons, using force if necessary.
Second, President Obama should reverse his decision to cut back the missile defense program. If we can't prevent nuclear proliferation we must take steps to defend ourselves from attack.
Finally, we should spend the $100 million dollars necessary to harden the electric grid and national infrastructure. It won't protect us from an EMP attack, but it could save the country from catastrophe.
Looking the other way and hoping for the best cannot substitute for the serious effort to prevent catastrophes on this scale.
Many of the electronic systems used by the military are already battle ready and hardened or protected by the equivalent of sophisticated Faraday cages to neutralize and withstand such effects. The rest of us will not be so lucky. Any advanced warning of such an attack would give us time to close down the electrical grid and turn off electronics (they wont be damaged if they're off). But it would still be a big mess, and one that would be difficult to recover from quickly. We have a similar concern regarding solar ejecta during a major solar flare. (It could be extremely extensive depending on the axis of the earth and direction of the flare at the time of ejection)
The most hardened and protected element of our nuclear triad are our submarines. If the country of origin is known, we can give them a case of instant Karma with our own EMP. They know that, and they also know what the consequences would be in trying such a thing. This alone should be a deterrent to most countries.
North Korea and Iran don't have delivery systems capable of delivering an EMP nuke the distance or height necessary (200-400 miles above Kansas City, Kansas would be ideal) and we could most likely shoot it out of the sky if we saw its approach. The Russians have developed a non-nuclear conventional EMP device which could do the job, and which could be set off in a sky scraper. (The higher the bomb, the greater the effect) 30 miles up: 480 mile circumference damage. 120 miles up: 1,000 mile circumference damage. 300 miles up: game over.
How about a nice game of Chess?
I get that, Dean.
If this is where humanity is headed, we best get our spiritual bags packed and I pray for a swift and merciful death.
While much remains impossible for us, it is not so with God. My faith is in the Light shining in all this darkness who will not be overcome by it and will lead his fractured sheep to their true home.
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