On page 12 of his National Security Strategy released
on December 19, 2017, President Trump acknowledged most urgent threats to our critical infrastructure, including the electric power grid:
“Critical infrastructure keeps our food fresh, our houses warm, our trade flowing, and our citizens productive and safe. The vulnerability of U.S. critical infrastructure to cyber, physical, and electromagnetic attacks means that adversaries could disrupt military command and control, banking and financial operations, the electrical grid, and means of communication.”
You would think that Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, would at least give a nod to the existential electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threat to all we hold dear, but alas no such reference is to be found in his National Defense Strategy summary released a month later.
At least USAF General John E. Hyten, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, understands the EMP threat is real. In a recent speech to the Air Force Association he stated that, “[O]ur nation as a whole has not looked at EMP, we have not looked at the critical infrastructure that could be damaged by EMP, and we need to take a step back and look at that entire threat because it is a realistic threat.”
Hopefully, other “powers that be” in the Department of Defense (DoD) will begin to wake up — soon, I hope — and do some serious rethinking.
The National Defense Strategy acknowledges cyberattack threats, but seems not to understand that Nuclear EMP is the ultimate cyber weapon in the military doctrines and plans of Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran for Combined Arms Cyber Warfare that they see as a decisive new Revolution in Military Affairs, as noted in an April 20, 2017, letter to the Secretary of Energy from Dr. William R. Graham, Chairman for 17 years of the Congressional EMP Commission — now disbanded, thanks to the ineptness if not collusion of Defense Department officials.
As a founder of the EMP Commission and former Vice Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Curt Weldon (R-PA) wrote in seeking in vain to head off this terrible mistake, “Only Washington bureaucrats could be so stupid they would terminate the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack . . . the Congressional EMP Commission — just when North Korea threatened to attack the United States with EMP.”
President Trump would do well to ignore the subsequent Congressional initiatives instituted by the National Defense Authorization Act for 2018 that intend to start over with a brand new EMP Commission through a process guaranteed to turn into an unconstructive political food-fight with half of the Commissioners to be appointed by Democrats and half by Republicans.
He should follow the precedent set by President Clinton in issuing an Executive Order to establish in the White House the Marsh Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection, which set the stage for many of the efforts dealing with cyberattack today — while EMP effects were still so highly classified that they were then, and since have been, ignored.
It’s time for a do-over — this time including the existential EMP threat!
Perhaps the disconnect in DoD thinking about EMP protection of our critical infrastructure is to be expected since Civil Defense, a DoD legacy of World War II missions, evolved via several name and organization changes, until in 1979 it was assigned to the new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which again after several reorganizations, now resides in the Department of Homeland Security.
Concurrent with these moves was a major shift in U.S. national strategy from when civil defense was an important part of the nation’s strategic considerations to when, with the advent of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty to reinforce the post-1968 Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine of the Cold War, defenses were considered to be provocative. Notably, the Soviet Union never bought into this idea — and spent as much on its defensive as on its offensive forces.
But this view has prevailed in the United States, as expressed at least by U.S. acolytes of the idea that “strategic stability” depends on a mutual hostage relationship between citizens of the United States and our adversaries. Some now want to apply this same kind of Cold War thinking to our plans to deal with the rapidly forming threats from North Korea and Iran, not to mention their terrorist surrogates. Such policy now makes no sense if ever it did!
So, a residue of this idea is alive and well today — until now, effectively blocking our efforts to build the most cost-effective ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems that U.S. technology can provide.
Notably, President Trump’s December 18, 2017, National Security Policy also highlighted the importance of building truly effective “layered” BMD systems. And at least in this case, Secretary Mattis’ National Defense Strategy also calls for more investment in BMD systems. Of course “The Devil is in the details.”
These initiatives should revive the concepts and technology pioneered by President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), especially space-based defenses, which were the most cost-effective products of the SDI era (1983-93). Those most important efforts were gutted when the Clinton administration “took the stars out of Star Wars” as memorably claimed by then Defense Secretary Les Aspin in 1993.
Those of us who were involved in that historic effort know how to redo rapidly those efforts, now with much more advanced technology from the past quarter century — subsequently ignored. And we have been strongly urging President Trump to make it happen. Hopefully, the DoD will be more responsive to these realities than it has thus far been for the EMP threat.
So, there are important disconnects between President Trump’s National Security Strategy and the DoD’s National Defense Strategy — and other activities of the federal government. He should take charge and by Executive Order establish a Commission to rectify these disconnects by instituting effective leadership in the White House to address existential threats to our critical civil infrastructure!
Ambassador Henry F. (Hank) Cooper, Chairman of High Frontier and an acknowledged expert on strategic and space national security issues, was President Ronald Reagan's Chief Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union and Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Director during the George H.W. Bush administration. Previously, he served as the Assistant Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Deputy Assistant USAF Secretary and Science Advisor to the Air Force Weapons Laboratory. In the private sector he was Chairman of Applied Research Associates, a high technology company; member of the technical staff of Jaycor, R&D Associates and Bell Telephone Laboratories; a Senior Associate of the National Institute for Public Policy; and Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees from Clemson and a PhD from New York University, all in Mechanical Engineering. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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