EMP effects from nuclear bursts are not new threats to our nation.
The Soviet Union in the past and Russia and other nations today
are potentially capable of creating these effects. Historically, this
application of nuclear weaponry was mixed with a much larger
population of nuclear devices that were the primary source of
destruction, and thus EMP as a weapons effect was not the
primary focus. Throughout the Cold War, the United States did not
try to protect its civilian infrastructure against either the physical or
EMP impact of nuclear weapons, and instead depended on
deterrence for its safety.
What is different now is that some potential sources of EMP threats
are difficult to deter—they can be terrorist groups that have no
state identity, have only one or a few weapons, and are motivated
to attack the US without regard for their own safety. Rogue states,
such as North Korea and Iran, may also be developing the
capability to pose an EMP threat to the United States, and may
also be unpredictable and difficult to deter.
Certain types of relatively low-yield nuclear weapons can be
employed to generate potentially catastrophic EMP effects over
wide geographic areas, and designs for variants of such weapons
may have been illicitly trafficked for a quarter-century.
China and Russia have considered limited nuclear attack options
that, unlike their Cold War plans, employ EMP as the primary or
sole means of attack. Indeed, as recently as May 1999, during the
NATO bombing of the former Yugoslavia, high-ranking members of
the Russian Duma, meeting with a US congressional delegation to
discuss the Balkans conflict, raised the specter of a Russian EMP
attack that would paralyze the United States.
Another key difference from the past is that the US has developed
more than most other nations as a modern society heavily
dependent on electronics, telecommunications, energy, information
networks, and a rich set of financial and transportation systems
that leverage modern technology. This asymmetry is a source of
substantial economic, industrial, and societal advantages, but it
creates vulnerabilities and critical interdependencies that are
potentially disastrous to the United States. Therefore, terrorists or
state actors that possess relatively unsophisticated missiles armed
with nuclear weapons may well calculate that, instead of
destroying a city or military base, they may obtain the greatest
political-military utility from one or a few such weapons by using
them—or threatening their use—in an EMP attack. The current
vulnerability of US critical infrastructures can both invite and
reward attack if not corrected; however, correction is feasible and
well within the Nation's means and resources to accomplish.”
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