NORTH KOREAN EMP THREAT
Contrary to some arms control analysts, the danger posed by North Korea detonating a nuclear warhead over the United States and creating a destructive electronic pulse is real.
William R. Graham, a defense expert and physicist, warned in a recent article that a congressional commission that studied the danger posed by electromagnetic pulse, known as EMP, could inflict devastating damage on the United States.
The commission, headed by Mr. Graham, concluded that “even primitive, low-yield nuclear weapons are such a significant EMP threat that rogue states, like North Korea, or terrorists may well prefer using a nuclear weapon for EMP attack instead of destroying a city,” Mr. Graham wrote in the online newsletter 38 North.
High-altitude EMP involves the detonation of a nuclear weapon at an altitude of about 20 miles or higher. The blast creates an electronic pulse that can disrupt or destroy all electronics over large areas.
Mr. Graham, in his rejoinder, sought to counter the arguments of two arms control analysts who have dismissed the North Korean EMP threat as not credible.
Jack Liu, a Pentagon and intelligence contractor, has argued that a North Korean EMP attack is unlikely because Pyongyang lacks the large-size nuclear weapons needed for such a strike, and also does not have the needed missile delivery system. Jeffrey Lewis, a liberal arms control activist, has also dismissed a North Korean EMP attack as science fiction.
“This is the favorite nightmare scenario of a small group of very dedicated people,” he told NPR.
But Mr. Graham argues that a North Korean EMP attack poses an existential threat to the United States.
He points out that the commission of scientists and experts that studied the problem concluded in a 2004 report that “certain types of relatively low-yield nuclear weapons can be employed to generate potentially catastrophic EMP effects over wide geographic areas.”
Also, Mr. Graham said designs for variants of such weapons may have been illicitly trafficked for more than two decades. Furthermore, an intercontinental missile is not required for such an attack.
“An EMP attack does not require an accurate guidance system because the area of effect, having a radius of hundreds or thousands of kilometers, is so large,” Mr. Graham wrote. “No
re-entry vehicle is needed because the warhead is detonated at high altitude, above the atmosphere. Missile reliability matters little because only one missile has to work to make an EMP attack.”
North Korea also could covertly fire one of its many short-range Scud ballistic missiles from the deck of a freighter off the U.S. coast.
North Korea also could set off an EMP blast from an orbiting satellite by deploying a nucleararmed version of Pyongyang’s KMS-3 or KMS-4 satellites currently in orbit.
Mr. Graham said real-world failures of the U.S. electric grid bolster the arguments of the Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security and the congressional EMP commission, all of whom have concluded that “a nuclear EMP attack would have catastrophic consequences.”
A recent U.S. intelligence estimate concluded that North Korea is moving ahead with development of a missile capable of reaching the United States within the next four years. North Korea also is estimated to have between 10 and 20 nuclear weapons.
U.S. security experts worried about North Korea’s increasing missile tests say that Pyongyang could in theory detonate an EMP device in the atmosphere over America.