Don't buy the hype about a North Korean EMP attack

  • 17 October 2017
  • NormanL
Don't buy the hype about a North Korean EMP attack

There was a dire warning issued at a congressional hearing, and in an op-ed piece in The Hill, that North Korea could launch an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) attack on the United States that could, within a year, claim the lives of 90 percent of the population.

There's a problem with such a radical, terrifying, assertion: it's very likely hogwash:

Back to The Hill article, which claims an EMP attack by North Korea would kill "9 of 10 Americans by starvation and societal collapse." The first clue that something is amiss with this claim is that, if you trace the link provided in the article, it cites the words of Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, who describes a novel he had read called One Second After. Bartlett says:

"I read a prepublication copy of a book called One Second After. I hope it does get published; I think the American people need to read it. It was the story of a ballistic missile EMP attack on our country. The weapon was launched from a ship off our shore, and then the ship was sunk so that there were no fingerprints. The weapon was launched about 300 miles high over Nebraska, and it shut down our infrastructure countrywide. The story runs for a year. It is set in the hills of North Carolina. At the end of the year, 90 percent of our population is dead; there are 25,000 people only still alive in New York City. The communities in the hills of North Carolina are more lucky: only 80 percent of their population is dead at the end of a year."

Bartlett was so spooked by this novel that after he left Congress he moved into the woods and became a survivalist, where he spends his days "cutting logs, tending gardens and painting walls." And just to be clear, the claim that North Korea could kill 90 percent of the American people was directly pulled from a science fiction novel.

There are even more problems with this claim. Nobody knows how large of a nuclear weapon it would take to destroy the U.S. electrical grid. Five megatons? Five hundred megatons? A gigaton? North Korea would only have one shot at this, because any such attack would result in a U.S. retaliatory nuclear strike that would leave everything from the DMZ to the Chinese border one smoking, radioactive crater. America's nuclear arsenal and command and control is hardened against EMP and would survive to dish out a ruthless counterstrike. That in and of itself would deter the North Korean leadership from committing what would amount to societal suicide just to watch Americans eat grass before they ultimately starve.

The problems with the claim don't end there:

Furthermore, North Korea does not have thermonuclear weapons. It claims to have tested a thermonuclear device last year but the device was not large enough to actually have been so. North Korea wants nuclear weapons and indeed may some day have them, but that is generally seen as being somewhere down the road. Even then, it would have to develop a rocket capable of delivering an extremely large warhead.

Warning against the threat of North Korean nuclear weapons is a public service. Warning that North Korea could kill 90 percent of the American people with EMP is not.

Does there need to be a constant awareness of, and readiness for, North Korea's lunatic dicator to lauch a missile of any sort toward the United States? Unquestionably. And that is exactly what the President has ordered his intelligence and military apparatus to do.

But unleashing a baseless claim that North Korea could lay waste to America with an EMP attack doesn't help. We need to be -- and are -- vigilant. But needlessly terrifying people? That's science fiction -- and fake news.