CSIA Foundation

(Compiler's note: Must read and heed!)

by Frank Gaffney, Jr.

Editor’s note: This is the third in an 18-part series of excerpts from
Protecting America in the new Missile Age – A Reader. Published by The Heritage Foundation with a number of prominent contributors, its purpose is to inform and educate all Americans about the security challenges we face in an ever-changing world.
Failure to provide an effective defense against ballistic missile attack could prove extremely costly to the United States and its citizens. Just how high that cost might be can be found in the threat leveled by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly declared his goal of bringing about “a world without America” – a goal that he says is “not only desirable, but achievable.”
As a practical matter, the only way to realize such a horrific prospect would be through a nuclear attack against our country using ballistic missiles.
In the absence of a highly capable U.S. anti-missile system, an arsenal such as the one fielded by the former Soviet Union, Russia’s current arsenal, or the arsenal that Communist China is building could destroy our main population centers and key military installations. The result would be devastating. Millions of Americans would be killed, and millions more would be displaced, injured, and otherwise unable to sustain themselves. America would cease to exist. The cost of not being able to prevent such an attack would be literally incalculable.
Neither Iran, North Korea, nor any other hostile, emerging nuclear power has much prospect of amassing such formidable missile and weapons capabilities. Nonetheless, they could achieve a capacity to bring about a world without America: As all of our adversaries know, a few nuclear-armed ballistic missiles – possibly just one or two – could inflict catastrophic damage on this nation through electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack.
Detonating a nuclear weapon in outer space could unleash an extremely powerful burst of energy – an electromagnetic pulse perhaps a million times more powerful than the most powerful radio transmitter on Earth – upon the territory below. Unless electronic devices within line-of-sight of the blast are carefully shielded against EMP, they would likely be significantly damaged if not utterly destroyed. The higher the altitude of the blast, the larger the affected area would be.
The problem, of course, is that practically everything in our 21st century society depends on electronic chips and other pieces of electronic equipment. Most especially, America’s electrical grid relies on a small number of transformers that manage the flows of energy within and among the country’s various regions. We no longer manufacture transformers, and replacing one from overseas suppliers can take up to a year.
Hurricane Katrina was a vivid example of what can happen when the electrical system goes down – even briefly. The result is a cascading impact that seriously disrupts the telecommunications, transportation, food, water, sanitation, and health care infrastructures. Within days, if not hours, the ripple effects reach virtually every facet of society. The cumulative impact of one failure after another makes returning any of these systems to service – to say nothing of restoring all of them – vastly more difficult.
Without power, nourishment, clean water, and other vital services across large areas of its territory, the United States would quickly be reduced to a pre-industrial country. Or perhaps it would no longer be a country, just communities struggling to cope with the necessity of meeting the most basic human needs with none of the modern conveniences that allow concentrations of large populations in urban areas to function.
Unlike a massive nuclear attack, unleashing this sort of strategic electromagnetic pulse would not cause a huge loss of life – at least not immediately. Over time, however, malnutrition, dehydration, the lack of heat, and the unchecked spread of diseases would take their deadly toll. Eventually, the costs from the aftermath of an EMP attack would probably approach the costs from a full-scale nuclear attack – the former means of ridding the world of America. Either way, the costs would be incalculably high.
Available evidence suggests that the Islamic Republic of Iran could pull off such a feat after it acquires nuclear weapons. Tehran not only seeks this capacity, but is acquiring the required capabilities. Worryingly, not only would the intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that Tehran is developing permit an EMP attack, but the mullahs could attack America long before they have ICBMs to launch from their own soil.
By launching relatively short-range missiles (e.g., Scud or Shahab–3 missiles) from merchant ships off America’s coasts, a nuclear-armed Iran could mount a strategic EMP attack at practically any time. If the ships’ crews martyred themselves by scuttling their vessels post-launch, the U.S. might have no sure “return address” for a retaliatory strike, assuming that the U.S. could retaliate in a post-EMP environment.
Is such a seemingly outlandish scenario, with its attendant devastation of our country, possible if we lack the means to shoot down “Scuds on a tub”? According to a blue-ribbon congressional commission charged with studying the EMP threat, this scenario is a distinct possibility. This is especially true given that the Iranians have demonstrated the ability to launch missiles from ships and have tested the Shahab-3 in a manner that seemed designed to detonate a weapon in space.
The good news is that we possess proven and cost-effective means of intercepting the sort of EMP missile attack that an Iranian regime might launch to destroy the United States. Adapting the Navy’s Aegis ships to shoot down shorter-range and longer-range ballistic missiles offers the nation a countermeasure to meet this present and growing danger.
The bad news is that we have not yet deployed these sea-based defenses in anything approaching the numbers and configurations required to protect the homeland against attacks that could bring about a world without America. Unless and until we do, the costs of failing to defend ourselves will remain unimaginably greater than the costs of defending ourselves.
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