Monday, November 28, 2011

EMP ICBMs and Other Bridges for Sale

I rarely delve into foreign policy on this blog, usually because it's not in my professional bailiwick (outside of the international scope of the drug war, at any rate), but sometimes something is so egregiously silly I have to say something. (That, and this is something loosely tied to the Cold War and Russia, both of which I do, in fact, know a bit about.)

A conservative IU alumna I follow on twitter led me to this #headdesk-worthy item over at Heritage's blog:

One particularly visceral threat is nuclear fissile material falling into the hands of non-state belligerents. The American public, however, is acutely aware of such a threat. The notion of a “dirty bomb” attack has been pounded into the nation’s collective consciousness by pop-culture hits such as the Fox television drama 24. What is less known, but equally disconcerting, is the danger posed by an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack.
An electromagnetic pulse results from the sudden burst of electromagnetic radiation emanating from the detonation of a nuclear weapon. An EMP can also result from natural phenomena, such as a geomagnetic solar storm; however, our nation’s national security apparatus should be prepared to deal with the consequences of an enemy EMP attack.
If a nuclear weapon were to be detonated hundreds of miles into the atmosphere above the continental United States, the resulting electromagnetic pulse could destroy the nation’s electric grid and render impotent all elements of society that rely on electricity. In short order, many aspects of American society would be thrust into the early 19th century.
Now, I will grant, the science behind what EMP would do to U.S. infrastructure is legit, as far as I know. But the likelihood of manufacture and delivery is something entirely different. Most nations are just not capable of launching an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) that could detonate a nuclear bomb in the U.S. atmosphere. Of the two non-NATO countries I can think of, neither is openly hostile (or dumb) enough to risk retaliatory annihilation, ruin the global economy, and bring the planet to the brink of nuclear holocaust.

The rest of the post reads like an ad for whatever defense contractors are responsible for missile defense.

The fact of the matter is, even though the nuclear club has added new members in recent decades, most don't have a reliable delivery mechanism capable of striking anything, much less the United States on the other side of the planet. I'm not saying they never will have that capacity, but it's a hefty financial investment just to step up to a pissing contest they have no intention of seeing through.

Given that Al Qaeda has (thankfully) had trouble getting chemistry sets to detonate in people's Fruit of the Looms, I don't think it's terribly responsible to think they're going to attain and deploy a nuclear missile with a technology only a few nations have ever been able to the cost of countless billions of dollars in design, technology, assembly, transportation, and maintenance. Barring that will-never-happen scenario, there's no extant state or organization on the planet with the motive and means to launch an atmospheric nuclear strike against the United States.

Just because a presidential candidate with a Ph.D. says something that sounds all sciency on the Tee Vee doesn't mean it isn't as ridiculous as it sounds. It really, really is.

N.B.: This is not to say that neighbors of hostile nuclear club members have nothing to worry about via shorter range missiles--though I think those worries are often overstated--but not even the most hawkish arguments for protecting South Korea or Israel could feasibly include a 'missile shield' for the United States as any way germane.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

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