The North Korean Crisis: Immediate Considerations

Real Clear Defense, By Michael J. Del Rosso, Brian Kennedy & Stephen Meyer, August 17, 2017: (H/T John Guandolo)

Whatever respite there may be between North Korea and the United States, make no mistake that the possibilities of a nuclear conflict with North Korea and, by extension, the People’s Republic of China, remain.  As our nation faces this threat, there are very few options to deter this perilous situation. This does not have to be the case. We have an opportunity to remedy long standing vulnerabilities.

Strategic nuclear affairs are poorly understood by the American public and their representatives in Congress. Few know that the condition of our nuclear arsenal is suspect, our missiles defenses are of uncertain effectiveness and coverage, the probability for nuclear deterrence failing is quite high, and our national civil defenses are severely atrophied.

The United States is at this point because members of Congress have relied upon military leaders and defense experts, who over time, seemed driven by political correctness and flawed nuclear deterrence theories. As a matter of policy, the United States has decided to leave the American people vulnerable to missile attack and to rely, instead, on the threat of nuclear retaliation. This policy was continued at the same time both the Russians and Chinese proliferated nuclear weapon and ballistic missile technology to the likes of Iran and North Korea and built or are building their own missile defenses.

Both Democratic and Republican administrations have presided over the systemic national security failure to address the threat of ballistic missile attack that now confronts President Trump. This failure presents an existential threat to the United States that must be immediately addressed.

A factual threat analysis will show that the United States should:

  1. Introduce a robust and more certain, multi-tier, national missile defense capability that includes introducing both Space-Based and Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPV)-based Boost Phase Interceptors (BPI) which can be rapidly developed using existing, mature technologies. Unlike existing ballistic missile defense systems, BPIs are less expensive and have a higher kill probability, targeting missiles in the most vulnerable phases of flight. Why deploy both basing schemes? Because we have committed adversaries who threaten the further existence of the Republic and it is about time America respond proportionately.
  2. Harden our critical infrastructure to the effects of a nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) attack.
  3. Modernize our nuclear triad for enhance deterrence.
  4. Reintroduce national civil defense down to the community, household, and individual level. This initiative should be instituted immediately no matter what other courses of action are decided upon. It is immoral not to alert the U.S. population of the probability and severity of the risks they face and educate them on how to mitigate that risk. A prepared population adds to our overall deterrence.
  5. Re-evaluate the responsible executive branch agencies’ decision-making processes and methodologies by which risks from threats and hazards are rank-prioritized and recommendations for risk-proportionate mitigation and response activities generated.

The Threat

Russia and the People’s Republic of China both possess large arsenals of intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads. According to defectors, these warheads are currently targeting the major cities of the United States and that of our allies in Europe, Asia, and Israel. The revolution in precision guidance gives these weapons decapitating, first-strike thermonuclear capabilities against our nuclear forces. For more than 20 years both the Russians and the Chinese have been modernizing the lethality of their warheads and expanding their arsenals.

Of concern are nuclear electromagnetic pulse (NEMP) devices that detonate at 100 to 150 km altitude.  Indeed, Kim Jong-un’s threat of final doom is likely based on a single NEMP.  A single NEMP permanently destroys power and communication infrastructures over many hundreds of miles and does not require either re-entry or precision guidance.

We must assume that North Korea possesses NEMP devices.

In 1995 the Russian military think tank that serves the Russian General Staff, known as INOBIS, issued a paper recommending that Russia deliberately proliferate missile and nuclear weapon technology to nations hostile to the United States.  The rationale was that nuclear proliferation would balance growing U.S. power, and thwart Washington’s efforts to establish a New World Order dominated by America.

In 2004 Russian flag officers gave testimony to the U.S. Congressional EMP Commission that super EMP weapon technology in fact “leaked” to North Korea; and it is being developed with help from Russia, China, Pakistan and elsewhere.

In 2013 South Korea’s intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Service (NIS), said in a report to parliament that North Korea was using Russian technology to develop electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons aimed at destroying military electronic equipment south of the border.

We also must assume that North Korea’s Hwasong-14 missile is now capable of attacking the United States with an NEMP device.

Additionally, North Korea has two satellites, KMS 3-2 and KMS 4, which are presently orbiting at an altitude of 300 miles. Their trajectories put them over the continental U.S. daily. Their payloads may be NEMP devices waiting to be used. Erring on the side of caution, consideration should be given to shoot them down preemptively so that the debris field falls upon a benign area of the earth, with WC-135C Constant Phoenix “sniffer” aircraft on the ready to sample the debris paths for radiological indications of the payloads.

The Islamic Republic of Iran, despite the flawed agreement with the Obama administration, continues to pursue the building of nuclear warhead technology.  It is very likely that they already possess a handful of nuclear warheads acquired from Russia, China, North Korea or Pakistan.  The quality and reliability of these warheads are questionable, and their numbers are insufficient for power projection. For this reason, Iran is seeking to build nuclear warheads. It is believed every nuclear test conducted in North Korea has included Iranian scientists.

Iranian nuclear war fighting doctrine scenarios include the use of their Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile launched from a freighter ship. Twice during the 1990s, the Iranians conducted successful tests from a barge in the Caspian Sea where they launched such a missile. In both tests, the warheads exploded in the high atmosphere simulating an electromagnetic pulse attack.

If the Iranians can deploy the right kind of nuclear warhead on such a missile, and if they are able to detonate one over a region of the United States, they could destroy some or all of the electric and electronic infrastructure of the United States.  Such a nuclear explosion in the high atmosphere destroys both critical microelectronics and the large transformers that distribute electric power through the three major electric grids of the United States.

A highly successful EMP attack could result in a sovereignty ending event. A less successful attack could mean the destruction of the U.S. economy. Because the missile was launched from a ship, attribution of the culprit may not be immediately possible.  If an adversary were to launch an EMP weaponized missile from a vessel in the Gulf of Mexico, not only are there no missile defense assets in place to defend against it, we even lack southern-facing radar to detect such a launch.

Finally, the Russians and the Chinese, in addition to their own nuclear ballistic missile arsenals, have spent decades developing their surrogates, Iran and North Korea, into existential, nuclear threats to the United States and the West. They have given them material and technical support and may have even transferred nuclear warheads to them directly.

The purpose of these actors’ nuclear arsenals is to destroy the civilian population of the United States, exert influence over a U.S. President with nuclear blackmail, and check the strategic capabilities of the United States.

Re-introduce Civil Defense

It should be something of a scandal that we have left the people of the United States undefended from a nuclear attack. Even more so because the Russians have their own national missile defense, however crude, it may be, and the Chinese are building their own missile defense as well. Both Russia and China believe that if war comes, they should be able to win. In October 2016, Russia performed a three-day nuclear war training exercise in which 40 million people engaged in civil defense drills. China also maintains extensive public shelters for nuclear war protection.

In contrast, national Civil Defense capabilities no longer exist in the United States. The logic behind abandoning Civil Defense, explained in declassified Presidential Decision Memoranda from the Kennedy administration, might best be described as immoral; politicians thought it would be “destabilizing” for Americans to be stronger and more survivable than the Soviets.  In the early decades of the Cold War, billions of dollars were spent understanding how to mitigate nuclear weapons effects. For the past several months the state of Hawaii has started to reintroduce this knowledge. The rest of the nation should follow suit, immediately, including community, household, and individual resiliency and preparedness. Leadership and informed citizens are primarily all that is needed. Civil Defense is a very cost-effective means of mitigating nuclear weapons effects and saving millions of American lives. It also contributes to America’s overall deterrence.

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Michael Del Rosso is Vice President of the American Strategy Group

Brian T. Kennedy is President of the American Strategy Group

Dr. Stephen C. Meyer is a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute