Thanks to a link from Defense Tech (much appreciated!), I've gotten some e-mail and comments taking issue with my views on EMP. I'm not complaining, mind you; I'm happy to hear dissenting views, and to clarify my position, and - I hope - to learn new things.
With that in mind, I'm posting an adapted version of my response to one of the comments I received, in hopes that it'll explain my point of view to
everyone's a couple of people's satisfaction.
First off, I don't think the threat of an EMP attack is absurd, in and of itself. I think the threat of an EMP attack by Iran is absurd.
North Korea, unless I'm mistaken, could possibly pull off an EMP attack. Same with China. But we're not talking about North Korea or China here, nor are we talking about EMP in general. We're talking about something very limited in scope:
1) Does the article cited by Farah provide any reason whatsoever to believe that Iran has "publicly considered" attacking the US via EMP?;
2) Does Iran have - or will it develop - the ability to launch such an attack?
Obviously, I'd answer both questions in the negative. But I concede that I may have expressed this a bit too...uh...energetically, for some people's taste. You can put it down to youthful exuberance.
I understand that the second question is debatable. I understand that, as Noah Shachtman says, you can't rule it out categorically. Nonetheless, I don't think Iran is likely to develop the capability to launch an EMP attack. And if they do launch one, I seriously doubt Lowell Wood's assertion that it might
literally destroy the American nation and could cause the deaths of 90 percent of its people and set us back a century or more in time as far as our ability to function as a society.That said, my complaint is not that EMP is being discussed as a threat. My complaint is that a particular group of people is promoting a specific - and, in my opinion, unlikely - attack scenario through demonstrably dishonest means.
That's unethical, of course. But I think it's also irresponsible. If EMP truly is a serious threat, then it needs to be assessed honestly by neutral people who have no vested interest in drumming up support for a war on Iran, or shaking loose more money for missile defense. It seems to me that whether or not one agrees with me about the EMP danger posed by Iran, we should all be able to agree that articles like Farah's only serve to muddy these already murky waters.
One last point: Considering that we've had almost 45 years to reduce our vulnerability to EMP, I'm kind of surprised to learn that we haven't done it. We've spent an awful lot of money on the problem, and we've conducted a lot of tests; the consensus back in 1968 seemed to be that our electronic infrastructure needed to be "hardened" to withstand EMP. Basically, that meant shielding. And that was precisely the course of action the military took, as far as I can tell.
The Trestle EMP simulator at Kirtland AFB in New Mexico cost taxpayers almost $60 million in the late 1970s. Its purpose was to guide the design of effective EMP shielding (same with many aerial nuke tests in the late 1960s, if memory serves). If EMP still threatens us with annihilation, almost thirty years later, perhaps we ought to get at least a partial refund.
Apropos of which, we might want to revisit the findings of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project. According to their figures, the United States spent $13.2 trillion (in 1996 dollars) on national defense between 1940 and 1996. And it spent a further $5.5 trillion on nuclear programs, including missile defense (and therefore, including failed projects like the $25 billion Safeguard system, which was put out of its misery in 1976 by none other than Donald Rumsfeld).
And yet, somehow, we find ourselves incredibly vulnerable to a single high-altitude nuclear weapon.
UPDATE: Jeffrey Lewis has posted the full English text of the Iranian article Arms Control Wonk. I can't begin to say how grateful I am for his help with this stuff.