Saturday, December 27, 2008

What a Single Nuclear Warhead Could Do

Why the U.S. 
needs a space-based missile defense 
against an EMP attack.

The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have proven how vulnerable we are. On that day, Islamic terrorists flew planes into our buildings. It is not unreasonable to believe that if they obtain nuclear weapons, they might use them to destroy us. And yet too many policy makers have rejected three basic facts about our position in the world today:

First, as the defender of the Free World, the U.S. will be the target of destruction or, more likely, strategic marginalization by Russia, China and the radical Islamic world.

Second, this marginalization and threat of destruction is possible because the U.S. is not so powerful that it can dictate military and political affairs to the world whenever it wants. The U.S. has the nuclear capability to vanquish any foe, but is not likely to use it except as a last resort.

Third, America will remain in a condition of strategic vulnerability as long as it fails to build defenses against the most powerful political and military weapons arrayed against us: ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. Such missiles can be used to destroy our country, blackmail or paralyze us.

Any consideration of how best to provide for the common defense must begin by acknowledging these facts.

Consider Iran. For the past decade, Iran -- with the assistance of Russia, China and North Korea -- has been developing missile technology. Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani announced in 2004 their ability to mass produce the Shahab-3 missile capable of carrying a lethal payload to Israel or -- if launched from a ship -- to an American city.

The current controversy over Iran's nuclear production is really about whether it is capable of producing nuclear warheads. This possibility is made more urgent by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statement in 2005: "Is it possible for us to witness a world without America and Zionism? But you had best know that this slogan and this goal are attainable, and surely can be achieved."

Mr. Ahmadinejad takes seriously, even if the average Iranian does not, radical Islam's goal of converting, subjugating or destroying the infidel peoples -- first and foremost the citizens of the U.S. and Israel. Even after 9/11, we appear not to take that threat seriously. We should.

Think about this scenario: An ordinary-looking freighter ship heading toward New York or Los Angeles launches a missile from its hull or from a canister lowered into the sea. It hits a densely populated area. A million people are incinerated. The ship is then sunk. No one claims responsibility. There is no firm evidence as to who sponsored the attack, and thus no one against whom to launch a counterstrike.

But as terrible as that scenario sounds, there is one that is worse. Let us say the freighter ship launches a nuclear-armed Shahab-3 missile off the coast of the U.S. and the missile explodes 300 miles over Chicago. The nuclear detonation in space creates an electromagnetic pulse (EMP).

Gamma rays from the explosion, through the Compton Effect, generate three classes of disruptive electromagnetic pulses, which permanently destroy consumer electronics, the electronics in some automobiles and, most importantly, the hundreds of large transformers that distribute power throughout the U.S. All of our lights, refrigerators, water-pumping stations, TVs and radios stop running. We have no communication and no ability to provide food and water to 300 million Americans.

This is what is referred to as an EMP attack, and such an attack would effectively throw America back technologically into the early 19th century. It would require the Iranians to be able to produce a warhead as sophisticated as we expect the Russians or the Chinese to possess. But that is certainly attainable. Common sense would suggest that, absent food and water, the number of people who could die of deprivation and as a result of social breakdown might run well into the millions.

Let us be clear. A successful EMP attack on the U.S. would have a dramatic effect on the country, to say the least. Even one that only affected part of the country would cripple the economy for years. Dropping nuclear weapons on or retaliating against whoever caused the attack would not help. And an EMP attack is not far-fetched.

Twice in the last eight years, in the Caspian Sea, the Iranians have tested their ability to launch ballistic missiles in a way to set off an EMP. The congressionally mandated EMP Commission, with some of America's finest scientists, has released its findings and issued two separate reports, the most recent in April, describing the devastating effects of such an attack on the U.S.

The only solution to this problem is a robust, multilayered missile-defense system. The most effective layer in this system is in space, using space-based interceptors that destroy an enemy warhead in its ascent phase when it is easily identifiable, slower, and has not yet deployed decoys. We know it can work from tests conducted in the early 1990s. We have the technology. What we lack is the political will to make it a reality.

An EMP attack is not one from which America could recover as we did after Pearl Harbor. Such an attack might mean the end of the United States and most likely the Free World. It is of the highest priority to have a president and policy makers not merely acknowledge the problem, but also make comprehensive missile defense a reality as soon as possible.


Anonymous said...

It isn't a case of if, but when. One or more Islamic nuclear attacks on the West are inevitable.

Democracies have a poor track record in taking pre-emptive action against totalitarian aggressors.

midnight rider said...

Even though it's from the Wall Stret Journal I'm still a little surprised they're talking about possible EMP attacks launched from rogue freighters etc. Years late but at least domeone is stating it in a major -- and credible -- publication. Just hope it ain't too late.

Pastorius said...

I agree. What's very sick is our Congress has gotten this message repeatedly over the years, and some of our Senators and Congressman have, themselves, been the one's to dispense this message of inevitability, and yet we are acting if we have nothing to worry about.

For God's sake, what would the next step be after we are hit with nuclear weapons? It is likely that we will use nukes ourselves.

Considering the fact that we could probably settle a lot of these problems relatively peacefully, IF WE WOULD ONLY ACT NOW, it is a tragedy that we are doing nothing.

England has announced on several occastions that they are monitoring a certain number of thousands of dangerous Muslims. I believe America has a similar list, but does not announce it.

I believe we ought to simply round up those people and ship them to the Sharia-state of their choice.

And then, when we are done doing that, we ought to sit back and watch who complains, and take note, monitor, and then ship people from that group out as well.

And, keep doing it, rinse and repeat as necessary.

We would make ourselves much safer doing that.

But instead, we seem to be waiting to be attacked. And the day we are attacked we will likely unleash nuclear hell on other countries.

What fucking good is that? Oh yeah, some may enjoy the retaliation, and many of us will agree that there will be a deterrent factor, but there will also be an instigating factor. Once the nuclear genie is out of the bottle, it will be hard to put it back in.

We ought to act now. Our dawdling is going to make the future a very sad place to live.

Pastorius said...

I agree; it is about time our major newspapers are getting this info out.

Epaminondas said...

Actually we are not even at the stage of the major media getting this worry out.
Except for places like the Danger Room, WSJ Editorial OP Ed's and 1 or 2 other spots, this kind of news is regarded as the province of the anti Iranian neo-con fringe.

Facts make no difference.
The task is large, the hour grows late, and the bell ringers are tired and the sound lost amid GM and Chrysler

So what?

midnight rider said...

Epa -- taht's my oint, those of us talking about this are considered lunatic fringe. WSJ gives us at least a little legitamacy I would hope.

My favorite Fallaci quote-- we are warriors and warriors cannot get tired.

That's us.

2 minutes to midnight, my friends.

Pastorius said...

Look at the story at the top of the page right now about the East London Mosque hosting an event called "The End of Time".

They're promoting it with a photograph of New York in flames.

We need to remove these people from our countries. Send them to the Sharia-state of their choice. We need them out NOW.

Anonymous said...

The result of an EMP attack would be unimaginable, therefore making it the most probable type of attack that the Iranians will make. Millions and millions of Americans are probably going to starve to death. The USA has the most advanced and specialized agricultural system ever. A system highly dependent upon modern power and transportation, which would collapse without such supplies.... EZK14:13 'Son of man when the land sinneth against me by trespassing grievously, then I will stretch out my hand upon it, and will break the staff of the bread thereof,'

Pastorius said...

Good quote.

midnight rider said...

Pasto -- I assume you're talking about CJK's quote which I feel with a high degree of certainty you can source yourself ;>)

However, if you're refering to the Fallaci quote it's from one of her last speeches. Atlas had it here:

SamenoKami said...

Make sure you store some electronics in a faraday sheilded box. Short wave, walkie-talkie etc. Have access to at least one non-fuel-injected (aka old) vehicle. Pray.