What’s an EMP and why should we care? An Electromagnetic Pulse is triggered either by a supersized solar storm or a strategically placed terrorist atomic weapon. They are both capable of disabling the electric grid that powers modern life. Either event could fry all electronic components including computers, phones, radios, medical devices, refrigeration, all kinds of communication devices, transportation systems, guidance systems, radar, and so many more electrical devices that we take for granted.
The detonation of such a bomb would send us back to the 19th century with none of the skills necessary to live in that era. There would be mass chaos and hysteria. If you think shopping on Black Friday was a nightmare, you haven’t seen anything like what would happen if there was a complete breakdown in our nation’s electrical grid.
The realistic threat of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) or High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP) event – natural or man-made has been widely recognized by several government related agencies such as the U.S. Congressional EMP Commission, the Defense Nuclear Agency or the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.
Newt Gingrich raised a warning about an EMP event in the Republican presidential debate that was aired on CNN on November 22, 2011 and sponsored by sponsored by the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation.
According to a WorldNetDaily article, the Business Insider said that “at first, we thought Gingrich had been playing too many video games, but after looking into it, it turns out EMP attacks are actually real and pretty damn scary.” Gingrich last year cited the EMP Commission report in warning, “One weapon of this kind that went off over Omaha would eliminate most of the electrical production in the United States.”
As usual, not everybody agrees with the assessment of Gingrich and the EMP Commission:
“You would really need something the size of a Soviet H-bomb to have effects that cross many states,” [Yousaf M.] Butt says. The massive Starfish Prime blast, he notes, was at least 70 times more powerful than the atomic bomb detonated over Hiroshima in 1945, and it may have blown out streetlights but it left the grid in Hawaii intact.
One complication for rogue nations or terrorists contemplating a high-altitude nuclear blast is that such an attack requires a missile to take the weapon at least 25 miles high to trigger the electromagnetic pulse. For nations, such a launch would invite massive nuclear retaliation from the USA’s current stockpile of 5,000 warheads, many of them riding in submarines far from any pulse effects.
Any nation giving a terror group an atomic weapon and missile would face retaliation, Butt and others note, as nuclear forensics capabilities at the U.S. national labs would quickly trace the origins of the bomb, Butt says. “It would be suicide.”
And of course, there are those who disagree with the doubts. See, for example, “Rebuttal To
Yousaf M. Butt’s ‘The EMP Threat: Fact, Fiction, and Response’ by Dr. William Radasky and Dr. Peter Vincent Pry. This rebuttal article includes the following:
“Dr. Butt reassures us that the United States need not worry about any EMP threat from Russia or China, as these nations will be deterred by economic self interest. Dr. Butt: We owe China tremendous sums of money, they need us as a market, and both the US and China require Russian oil via intertwined world markets.
Those who opposed military preparedness before World Wars I and II used this same argument — that German aggression and world war was impossible because of the economic interdependence of European states and the world. Economic interdependence did not stop the world wars from happening. Nor did China’s economic partnership with the United States stop a Chinese general, during the 1996 Taiwan Straits Crisis, from threatening a nuclear strike against Los Angeles.
I’m not qualified to assess either position, but at least Newt Gingrich is raising the possibility of such a strike and how we might prepare for it. This is why the launch and nuclear capabilities of Islamic nations like Pakistan and Iran are a real threat.