Once upon a time, journalistic integrity meant publishing factually accurate articles by real experts, including rebuttals to uninformed non-experts. The National Interest refused to publish my rebuttal below:
The National Interest does a grave disservice to its readers by publishing Matthew Gault’s hyper-partisan, scientifically and strategically erroneous "EMP: The Super Weapon North Korea Could Use To Win A War?" which wrongly dismisses the nuclear EMP threat as a joke.
Gault chastises the Republican Party Platform for warning in 2016: "A single nuclear weapon detonated at high-altitude over this country would collapse our electric grid and other critical infrastructures and endanger the lives of millions…With North Korea in possession of nuclear missiles and Iran close to having them, an EMP is no longer a theoretical concern—it is a real threat."
Contrary to Gault, the above is factually correct, and did not originate with the Republican Party. It derives from the Congressional EMP Commission—comprising the Free World’s foremost EMP experts.
Does Gault fail to mention the EMP Commission from ignorance or dishonesty, because doing so would not support his narrative that EMP is a foolish Republican obsession?
The truth is, since 1963, after discovery of the EMP phenomenon during the 1962 STARFISH PRIME high-altitude nuclear test, every Democrat and Republican President and Congress have spent billions protecting U.S. strategic forces and command-control-communications from nuclear EMP attack. President Obama, on one project alone, spent nearly $1 billion to further harden NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain command center against EMP.
But U.S. electric grids and other life-sustaining critical infrastructures, that sustain 330 million Americans, have never been protected from EMP.
President Trump directed that EMP protection include the national electric grid and other critical infrastructures in his “Executive Order on Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic Pulses” (March 26, 2019).
President Biden, much to his credit, has directed the U.S. Government to continue implementation of the EMP Executive Order.
Gault falsely asserts "the impact of EMPs" are "a not-well-studied byproduct of nuclear tests…"
In fact, EMP phenomenology and its effects are well understood as a result of over 50 years of studying atmospheric and underground nuclear tests, and testing on EMP simulators, including most recently by the EMP Commission.
Gault grossly overstates the alleged "randomness" and "unpredictabilit"y of EMP as rendering it unreliable and non-threatening as a weapon.
In fact, as the EMP Commission warns:
"Although it is very difficult to predict exactly which electronic systems would be upset, damaged, or destroyed by an EMP attack, with certainty massive disruption and damage will be inflicted on unprotected electronics within the EMP field and, because of cascading failures, far beyond.
EMP is analogous to carpet bombing or an artillery barrage that causes massive random damage that is specifically difficult to predict, but reliably catastrophic in its macro-effects."
Gault claims falsely, "North Korea can barely manage to cobble together a crude one-kiloton bomb, let alone a device large enough to do significant damage to U.S. infrastructure."
In fact, on September 3, 2017, North Korea tested an H-bomb, yield variously estimated 150-250 kilotons. According to North Korea:
"The H-bomb, the explosive power of which is adjustable from tens of kilotons to hundreds of kilotons, is a multifunctional thermonuclear weapon with great destructive power which can be detonated even at high-altitudes for super-powerful EMP attack."
The day after their H-bomb test, on September 4, 2017, North Korea published a technical report "The EMP Might of Nuclear Weapons" accurately describing what Russia and China call a "Super-EMP" nuclear weapon, designed to generate EMP fields that exceed U.S. military hardening standards.
Gault falsely claims that only a high-yield thermonuclear weapon can make an EMP attack.
In fact, even a crude, first generation atomic bomb, like those used to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki, if used in an EMP attack, could generate over 1,000 volts/meter at the margins of the EMP field, whereas most everything in our electronic civilization operates on 120 volts or less. Super-EMP weapons can have very low explosive yields, less than 10 kilotons, because they are designed to output gamma rays, not a big explosion.
Gault relies for expertise on EMP non-experts Peter Singer and Yousaf Butt, who have no scientific background or technical competence on nuclear EMP threats.
In particular, Gault quotes heavily from Yousaf Butt’s deeply erroneous 2010 article in Space Review that has misinformed many on EMP.
Gault apparently is ignorant, or deliberately ignores, our rebuttal of Butt by Dr. William Radasky (who holds the Lord Kelvin Medal on EMP) and myself in Space Review (July 6, 2010).
Gault asserts "a country dealing with busted electronics after an EMP assault is a country fighting a nuclear war."
Yet the military doctrines of Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran describe EMP attack as a dimension of Cyber Warfare, Information Warfare, or Electronic Warfare.
For the EMP threat from North Korea, see Dr. William Graham, Chairman of the EMP Commission, “North Korea Nuclear EMP Attack: An Existential Threat” 38 North (June 2, 2017).
For the real story on the EMP threat, see the unclassified EMP Commission reports at www.firstempcommission.org.
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security. He served on the Congressional EMP Commission as chief of staff, the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, the House Armed Services Committee, and the CIA. He is author of "Blackout Wars," and also of "The Power and the Light," available on Amazon.com. Read Peter Pry's Reports — More Here.
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