The winner of the next presidential election will face a struggling world economy and a Middle East in the process of dramatic political transition, but GOP presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain appear intent on scaring the public about fanciful dangers of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack.
The threat of a rogue state or terrorist launching an EMP attack — the detonation of a nuclear warhead at a high altitude, shutting down electrical power across large portions of the U.S. — has become the nightmare scenario cited by defense hawks as justification for costly missile defense systems. But the likelihood of terrorists acquiring a nuclear weapon, which they would then affix to a ballistic missile, remains remarkably small.
EMP alarmism generally remains on the fringe circles of the Republican party — the Center for Security Policy‘s Frank Gaffney issued a dire warning that an EMP attack could kill “nine out of ten Americans” — but comments from Gingrich and Cain have brought the “pulsers” agenda into the Republican primary race.
Cain’s “Foreign Policy & National Security Pillars” [PDF] includes:
COUNTER URGENT THREATS
• Stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons
• Fix border security – for real
• Shield us against Cyber and
• Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) attacks
And Gingrich, listing the greatest threats to the U.S. at the Nov. 22, CNN National Security Debate, said:
The greatest threat to the United States was the weapon of mass in an American city, probably from a terrorist… [is] one of the three great threats. The second is an electromagnetic pulse attack which would literally destroy the country’s capacity to function.
Gingrich and Cain’s outspoken concern about the threat of a terrorist or rogue state’s EMP attack might appear to be simple paranoia, but the EMP campaign has been a go-to argument for proponents of costly missile defense shields and preventive war against North Korea and Iran.
While EMP rhetoric might be largely overlooked or ridiculed, EMP enthusiasts do little to hide the ulterior motives of pushing for dramatic increases in defense spending and leading the U.S. into preemptive wars with suspected nuclear proliferators.