Waiting for the End of the World
Many would be surprised to hear that the United States, the most powerful and prominent military force and authority on the planet, is in fact one of the most vulnerable nations on Earth to a very specific kind of attack. That is, an Electromagnetic pulse to wholly cripple the power grid, all electronic devices, and everything else in between that depends on the flow of electricity – one of those being the U.S. economy. There are many factors to consider when contemplating or modelling the likelihood and motivation for an EMP attack. While many would agree direct attacks such as nuclear approach impossibility in their likelihood, an EMP attack is actually a less-direct attack that would in fact disarm the United States from an adequate and defensive response due to the digital nature of our integrated defense systems at present, and is therefore a highly plausible and very possible situation.
As Ariel Cohen remarked in Forbes, it is already well established that America does not have proper preparation for an EMP attack that could disable national electronic and digital devices, of which everything essential running the American system is dependent upon. There also currently exist a plethora of fresh threats to American sovereignty, such as Iran, Russia, and China, among many which have an arsenal of nuclear weapons. Any nuclear bomb detonated in the atmosphere rather than via ground-impact can be utilized as an EMP with ranges as large as the area of the U.S. Such nations that do possess nuclear weapons thereby may utilize them as EMP’s against America. A detonated EMP in the atmosphere over the target region will ionize the particles in the air such that any electronic device will instantly short circuit due to the air present in them. Many will claim that nuclear attacks against the major nation America is simply not in the realm of possibility. However, the only seed necessary for the possibility to exist is negative dispositions and views of America held by hostile individuals and nations, which we certainly know exist in abundance. We also encounter the argument of mutual destruction. The classic argument of mutual self-destruction due to nuclear weapons usage does not apply to the situation of a potential EMP strike on America. An EMP is not a direct attack such as a warhead is. An EMP is a weapon in that it drastically changes the electromagnetic field over America. While no physical damage will occur, the induced drastic alteration of the EM field over America will instantly disable all electronic devices. For mutual destruction to be possible, retaliation would need to be encountered when an EMP strikes. However, American defensive maneuvers and systems will not be able to function as they are electrically operated as well supplied by an outdated power grid. A ‘mutual’ interaction between forces, attacker and U.S., would not occur due to the EMP.
As discussed, it is clear that anyone can establish a basis for desiring damage to America, such as the case with hostile powers. It is much more logically preferable to disable every mechanism of retaliation and defense (of America), which would also harm all major supply and food lines along with the economy, and to engage in a more direct warfare or attack after said defense capabilities are rendered null. This can simply be done with a single nuclear bomb detonated a mere 25 miles above in the atmosphere – less that a short family trip away. The alternative to an EMP by definition can only involve confrontation and therefore retaliation. For such actors that wish to cause harm to America, the EMP option is real, smoother, and superior. An EMP blast’s effects could linger hours to days. According to the Economist, North Korea already has developed a hydrogen nuclear bomb which they mentioned could be specifically employed as a High Altitude EMP. North Korea’s attitude towards the U.S. in the recent years has been extremely volatile, unfriendly, and provocatory. It would only take one EMP attack to leave the U.S. in an open position to be readily attacked
For the discussed reasons, the threat of retaliation from the U.S. is thereby little danger to a hostile actor. It is certainly true that such an EMP attack has never been attempted on such a large nation. However, this can be due to a variety of factors like globalization, lack of speed in EMP’s and simply lack of necessary tension in order to rigger such a chain of events. Yet we know from history that global tension ebbs and flows like the ocean waves, sometimes violently and spectacularly. A ‘decision tree’ in which one follows through with an EMP has been identified and certainly exists, as our government fears. The vulnerability is recognized and is real by our own government (specifically the Trump administration). The deep and doomsday consequences of an EMP attack are real as described by the laws of physics. The U.S. is therefore not in a high and mighty position and safe or protected as some may boldly, and incorrectly, claim. The U.S. is more akin to a sitting duck. Or more accureately, like the slow and lazy antelope wading in the obscure and fuzzy field of a looming pounce from a deadly and patient predator.
So no, America is not safe from anything, as everything depends on electricity and our grid. For fast EMP’s which rival nations do have, defense systems would not be able to respond adequately or fast enough. Our retaliation measures would be nonexistent. Every such event in the decision tree of an American downfall and catastrophe has a much greater than zero probability even though others may naively ignore it or claim otherwise. It is merely a matter of seizing the opportunity and time though some may choose to not see.
Cohen, A. (2019, April 05). Trump Moves To Protect America From Electromagnetic Pulse Attack. Retrieved November 6, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/arielcohen/2019/04/05/whitehouse-prepares-to-face-emp-threat/
Joshua D. Rhodes Postdoctoral Researcher of Energy. (2020, March 20). The old, dirty, creaky US electric grid would cost $5 trillion to replace. Where should infrastructure spending go? Retrieved November 6, from https://theconversation.com/the-old-dirty-creaky-us-electric-grid-would-cost-5-trillion-to-replace-where-should-infrastructure-spending-go-68290
America’s utilities prepare for a nuclear threat to the grid. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2020, from https://www.economist.com/business/2017/09/09/americas-utilities-prepare-for-a-nuclear-threat-to-the-grid