While most of the 2012 presidential candidates have focused their campaigns on worldly issues, like job creation and the Iranian nuclear threat, Republican frontrunner Newt Gingrich has more apocalyptic concerns.
For Gingrich, a self-described “futurist” with a predilection for doomsday scenarios, the greatest threat to U.S. national security — and to America as we know it — is an unlikely and poorly understood nuclear phenomenon known as an electromagnetic pulse attack.
On the campaign trail, Gingrich has frequently raised the specter of EMP in speeches and debates, warning that the prospect of an attack “should terrify us all” and that “millions would die within the first week alone.”
So what is this nightmare national security threat that no one has ever heard of and that no one in the military ever talks about?
Here’s the gist: Terrorists or a rogue state detonates a nuke above North America, and the resulting electromagnetic shock destroys the country’s power grid, satellites, computers, etc.. Obviously, chaos ensues.
Cold War-era tests proved that this phenomenon does exist, in some capacity, although there is no way of predicting the exact effects of nuclear disruptions in the Earth’s magnetic field.
As NYT science whiz Bill Broad explains, the threat of an EMP attack is hardly the impending doomsday that Gingrich and other serious GOP hawks claim it to be.
First of all, only the most advanced, high-altitude nuclear explosion would result in anything resembling what Gingrich has predicted. Any detonation in the middle of the Earth’s atmosphere would be a lot less bad.
Second, the U.S. military is pretty bad-arse, and has the capability to knock out any projectile it sees coming. “It doesn’t matter if the target is Chicago or 100 miles over Nebraska,” Richard Lehner, spokesman for the Pentagon’s Missile defence Agency told the Times. “For the interceptor, it’s the same thing.”
And third, anyone who wants to attack the U.S. is, in all likelihood, going to want something that is way more direct — like an aeroplane into a building or an actual nuclear bomb, for example.
“If terrorists want to do something serious, they’ll use a weapon of mass destruction — not mass disruption.” Yousaf M. Butt, an EMP expert, told the Times. “They don’t want to depend on complicated secondary effects in which the physics is not very clear.”