The pieces on the internet about a possible electromagnetic pulse attack read like science fiction. It’s TEOTWAWKI stuff (The End Of The World As We Know It). These doomsday scenarios raise questions that I’ll get to later.
The attack would be a nuclear missile that exploded not on a city but in the atmosphere above the USA. It would cause an electromagnetic pulse that knocked out everything electronic, with micro chips being also vulnerable, in the line of sight of the explosion.
A blast 300 miles up would knock out electricity in most of North America.
The result would be catastrophic. America’s 300 million cannot survive long without electricity.
A 2004 Congressional Study projected a stunning 90% fatality rate from such an attack… it would cause an almost immediate shortage of potable water, food and medical supplies, and eventually lead to a economic and societal collapse.
90% is decimation — only one in 10 would survive. 300 million people would be reduced to 30 million.
Life after an EMP attack “would probably be something that you might imagine life to be like around the late 1800s but with several times the population we had in those days, and without the ability of the country to support and sustain all those people,” Graham says. “They wouldn’t have power. Food supplies would be greatly taken out by the lack of transportation, telecommunication, power for refrigeration and so on.”
Yet life would be far more primitive than even that because in the 1800s, Americans had food from their own farms and police who rode on horseback.
Just one week without electricity would be the worst disaster America has ever seen. One week in which all production stops would plunge us into a depression.
Imagine hundreds of millions of starving people. It would be madness, especially in the inner cities. Roving gangs, looting, arson — it would be the dark ages: rape, pillage and burn.
With the decimation of America, we’re talking about the worst disaster since the Black Plague or maybe since the 410 a.d. sack of Rome. Certainly the entire world order would change as every country that had been restrained by the threat of American power made its move. Some countries might even be emboldened to invade North America.
Is an attack likely? Consider that Iran has been testing just such an attack:
Iran surprised intelligence analysts by describing the mid-flight detonations of missiles fired from ships on the Caspian Sea as “successful” tests. Even primitive Scud missiles could be used for this purpose. And top U.S. intelligence officials reminded members of Congress that there is a glut of these missiles on the world market. They are currently being bought and sold for about $100,000 apiece.
In order to have the best chance of causing the type of immediate and certain EMP damage to the United States on a continent-wide scale, as discussed in many media reports, a nuclear weapon (probably in the megaton range) would need to be detonated well above 30 kilometers somewhere over the American Midwest. Modern commercial aircraft cruise at a third of this altitude. Only the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China possess both the mature warhead design and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability to conduct such an attack from their own territory, and these same countries have possessed that capability for decades. (Shorter range missiles can achieve this altitude, but the center of the United States is still 1,000 kilometers from the Eastern Seaboard and more than 3,000 kilometers from the Western Seaboard — so just any old Scud missile won’t do.)
The Stratfor report holds that the MAD (mutually assured destruction) doctrine keeps us safe:
…for the countries capable of carrying out a HEMP attack, the principles of nuclear deterrence and the threat of a full-scale retaliatory strike continue to hold and govern, just as they did during the most tension-filled days of the Cold War.
This disaster can be averted at a modest cost.
“The key for our electric power grid are these big transformers,” Pry says. “All together, there are about 300 of them. They are absolutely indispensable to the operation of the power grid. If you fry those things, there are only a couple of countries in the world that sell them for export, and it takes a year, at least, to make one of them,” Pry says.
To harden those transformers against an attack would cost a mere $200 million to $400 million, Pry says. For perhaps $20 billion, the entire power grid could be protected, Pry says. By comparison, the stimulus bill costs nearly $800 billion. Yet without electricity, no one would have a job.
If the government has not “hardened” the big transformers and the rest of the power grid, it should do so fast. Should such an attack destroy an unprepared America, history will be less kind to Obama, Bush and Clinton than it is to Hoover.
Various Chinese generals have made statements through the years about defeating America. Could their confidence rest on an EMP attack as part of their strategic plans? I wouldn’t rely on MAD with a country that is willing to sacrifice hundreds of millions of its people to defeat America.
Another thing that worries me is that this scenario is what the most consistent environmentalists want: a decimation of population. Could those radical environmentalists be in positions of power, capable of stopping defensive measures with bureaucratic red tape?
The thing I find hardest to believe in all these scenarios is that it would take a year to get America electrified again. A whole year? When the infrastructure is in place and merely needs to be replaced? Yes, government can be maddeningly inefficient, but a nationwide catastrophe would evoke a commensurate urgency to fix the problem. I believe the American “can do” attitude would bring out the best in us.
But if it took even a month to restore energy, tens of millions could die, and the world would never be the same again. Preventing this catastrophe should be a priority.