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Missile Defense Briefing Report - No. 250

Edited by Ilan Berman
November 25, 2008

The growing interest in nuclear technology by countries such as Iran presages the possibility that one or more nations may attempt to harness such a capability in the form of an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) attack against the United States, a prominent political scientist has warned. Such a scenario,
writes Brian Kennedy of the Claremont Institute in the November 24th edition of the Wall Street Journal, is not far-fetched. "It would require the Iranians to be able to produce a warhead as sophisticated as we expect the Russians or the Chinese to possess. But that is certainly attainable." And the effects, if such an attack was indeed carried out, would be devastating. As a result of disruptions in critical infrastructure, as well as food and water shortages, stemming from the electromagnetic pulse emitted during a nuclear detonation, "the number of people who could die of deprivation and as a result of social breakdown might run well into the millions."

The answer, according to Kennedy, is clear. "The only solution to this problem is a robust, multilayered missile-defense system. The most effective layer in this system is in space, using space-based interceptors that destroy an enemy warhead in its ascent phase when it is easily identifiable, slower, and has not yet deployed decoys. We know it can work from tests conducted in the early 1990s. We have the technology. What we lack is the political will to make it a reality."

[Editor's Note: EMP has been a serious issue of concern on the part of the U.S. government for some time. In 2001, Congress established the
Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack, a blue-ribbon study group chaired by former Reagan Science Advisor William Graham. In its 2004 Executive Report, the panel warned that "EMP is one of a small number of threats that can hold our society at risk of catastrophic consequences. EMP will cover the wide geographic region within line of sight to the nuclear weapon. It has the capability to produce significant damage to critical infrastructures and thus to the very fabric of US society, as well as to the ability of the United States and Western nations to project influence and military power." Consistent with Kennedy's admonition, however, implementation of the Commission's recommendations - which include the "hardening" of U.S. automotive, shipping and other commercial sectors against potential EMP attack - has been only halting.]

The Pentagon's top missile defense official is making the case to the incoming administration for continued investments in missile defense technologies,
the Associated Press (November 13) reports. In what amounts to a public appeal to the Obama transition team, Missile Defense Agency Director Henry "Trey" Obering has cautioned that the Bush administration's current missile defense program is essential for both coalition solidarity and the defense of deployed forces. "[I]f we were to walk away from these proposed deployments to Europe," Obering has told reporters, "it would severely hurt, number one, our ability to protect our deployed forces in that region and our allies and friends from what we see as an emerging threat. Number two, I think it would severely undermine U.S. leadership in NATO."

Nearly two-and-a-half years after it precipitated a month-long war with Israel, Lebanon's Hezbollah militia is strategically stronger than ever before. That's the warning being sounded by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who has told a session of the country's Knesset that the Iranian-sponsored terrorist powerhouse now has "three times the ability it had before the Second Lebanon War and now has 42,000 missiles in its possession." Moreover,
the Jerusalem Post (November 24) reports
Barak as saying, some of these rockets could reach as far as the Dimona nuclear reactor in the Negev Desert.