As both Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have stated, the Clinton-Obama era of “strategic patience” with North Korea is over. The usual suspects in the mainstream media have been warning that Trump is provoking Pyongyang into war on the Korean peninsula. The counter is that the administration isn’t willing to wait till North Korea has the operational capability to nuke an American city like Seattle or Honolulu.
What is not being discussed is a much bigger and more imminent threat that makes action imperative, an existential one for the United States.
The nightmare scenario of an America sent back centuries in time before electricity, refrigeration, and smart phones has grown unnervingly closer with the presence of two North Korean satellites with orbits over a blissfully unaware American populace and an Obama administration that was indifferent to the apocalyptic threat of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack.
On Feb. 7, 2016, North Korea launched a second satellite, the KMS-4, to join their KMS-3 satellite launched in December of 2012. In an article in the Washington Times on April 24, 2016, R. James Woolsey, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Peter Vincent Fry, executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security as well as director of the Nuclear Strategy Forum, both congressional advisory boards, warned of the dangers of an apocalyptic EMP attack that these and similar satellites pose:
Both satellites now are in south polar orbits, evading many U.S. missile defense radars and flying over the United States from the south, where our defenses are limited. Both satellites — if nuclear armed — could make an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack that could blackout the U.S. electric grid for months or years, thereby killing millions.
Technologically, such an EMP attack is easy — since the weapon detonates at high-altitude, in space, no shock absorbers, heat shield, or vehicle for atmospheric re-entry is necessary. Since the radius of the EMP is enormous, thousands of kilometers, accuracy matters little. Almost any nuclear weapon will do.
Moreover, North Korea probably has nuclear weapons specially designed, not to make a big explosion, but to emit lots of gamma rays to generate high-frequency EMP. Senior Russian generals warned EMP Commissioners in 2004 that their EMP nuclear warhead design leaked “accidentally” to North Korea, and unemployed Russian scientists found work in North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
Woolsey and Pry, along with former Reagan science adviser William R. Graham, chairman of the Congressional EMP Commission, Ambassador Henry Cooper, director of the Strategic Defense Initiative and chief negotiator at the Defense and Space Talks with the USSR; and Fritz Ermarth, chairman of the National Intelligence Council; warned of the North Korean EMP threat an article in the February 12, 2016, issue of National Review:
Naïve reliance on their transparent disavowals could end up costing millions of American lives.
North Korea launched its second satellite on Saturday, yet the national press continues to ignore this existential threat. The White House has not recognized that a nuclear-armed North Korea has demonstrated an ability to kill most Americans with an electromagnetic-pulse (EMP) attack. And White House spokesmen and the media have misled the public with unjustified assurances that North Korea has not yet miniaturized nuclear warheads for missile or satellite delivery.
We, who have spent our professional lifetimes analyzing and defending against nuclear-missile threats, warned years ago that North Korea’s Unha-3 space launch vehicle could carry a small nuclear warhead and detonate it a hundred or so miles over the United States to create an EMP, leading to a protracted nationwide blackout. The resulting societal chaos could kill millions.
The image of an America gone dark, an America suddenly transported from an era of iPads to an era of horse and buggy travel, recently depicted in the NBC series “Revolution” is not science fiction but a very real possibility. As Investor’s Business Daily described the threat in an aptly titled April 2013 editorial, “How North Korea Could Destroy The United States”:
The three-stage missile North Korea launched last December that also orbited a “package,” which experts say could be a test to orbit a nuclear weapon that then would be de-orbited on command anywhere over the U.S. and exploded at a high altitude, releasing an electromagnetic pulse (EMP). That would fry electronic circuitry and the nation’s power grid.
This concern recently has been reinforced by a little-publicized study released in May 2011, titled “In the Dark: Military Planning for a Catastrophic Critical Infrastructure Event,” by the U.S. Army War College that said a nuclear detonation at altitude above a U.S. city could wipe out the electrical grid for hundreds, possibly thousands, of miles around.
The satellite launched by Pyongyang coincided with a third round of nuclear tests described as a “nuclear test of a higher level,” most likely referring to a device made from highly enriched uranium, which is easier to miniaturize than the plutonium bombs North Korea tested in 2006 and 2009, said Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea.
Such an EMP device would not have to be particularly high yield. It would not be designed to create a big explosion, but to convert its energy into gamma rays, that generate the EMP effect.
Any nuclear weapon detonated above an altitude of 30 kilometers will generate an electromagnetic pulse that will destroy electronics and could collapse the electric power grid and other critical infrastructures — communications, transportation, banking and finance, food and water — that sustain modern civilization and the lives of 300 million Americans…
Nobody is harmed or killed immediately by the blast. But life in the U.S., the world’s only superpower and the world’s largest economy, would come to a screeching halt as a country dependent on cutting-edge 21st century technology regresses in time almost a century instantaneously.
North Korea has also been working on a submarine launched ballistic missile, which would put the continental U.S. with striking distance. While North Korean submarines are not yet as sophisticated as our ballistic missile submarine fleet, it would only take a sub modified to launch a single missile, or even one launched from a disguised container cargo ship off our West Coast, to pose an apocalyptic threat.
As Woolsey and Pry note in the March 29 edition of The Hill, the threat of North Korean sending the U.S. back to the Stone Age is real and imminent:
The mainstream media, and some officials who should know better, continue to allege North Korea does not yet have capability to deliver on its repeated threats to strike the U.S. with nuclear weapons. False reassurance is given to the American people that North Korea has not “demonstrated” that it can miniaturize a nuclear warhead small enough for missile delivery, or build a reentry vehicle for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of penetrating the atmosphere to blast a U.S. city.
Yet any nation that has built nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, as North Korea has done, can easily overcome the relatively much simpler technological challenge of warhead miniaturization and reentry vehicle design….
…on October 7, 2015, (Admiral William) Gortney again warned the Atlantic Council: “I agree with the intelligence community that we assess that they [North Koreans] have the ability, they have the weapons, and they have the ability to miniaturize those weapons, and they have the ability to put them on a rocket that can range the [U.S.] homeland.”
In February and March of 2015, former senior national security officials of the Reagan and Clinton administrations warned that North Korea should be regarded as capable of delivering by satellite a small nuclear warhead, specially designed to make a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack against the United States. According to the Congressional EMP Commission, a single warhead delivered by North Korean satellite could blackout the national electric grid and other life-sustaining critical infrastructures for over a year — killing 9 of 10 Americans by starvation and societal collapse.
Deploying THAAD missile defense system in South Korea and and the GMD system in Alaska, developed under Republican administrations, is a start, but more force or other moves might be necessary. Fortunately, unlike President Obama, President Trump is unwilling to keep whistling past our own graveyard.
Daniel John Sobieski is a freelance writer whose pieces have appeared inInvestor’s Business Daily, Human Events, Reason Magazine and the ChicagoSun-Times among other publications.