By Dr. Peter Vincent Pry
Headline: “Chinese Nuclear Scientists Urge Readiness For Electromagnetic Pulse Attack” (South China Morning Post 12 July 2021).
Reportedly, according to a recent study by China’s nuclear weapon experts:
—”Exploding nuclear weapons at high altitude can produce electromagnetic waves that can cripple power and communications without killing humans.”
—”China should bolster its defenses so that critical infrastructure could withstand future electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks that can wipe out power grids and communication, according to a Chinese military research institute.”
—”The United States is vulnerable to damage caused by extremely powerful electromagnetic pulses, but by 2032 it will have built-up the capability to protect its vital infrastructure from such an attack, according to Chinese researchers’ assessment, based on their analysis of recent U.S. government and military documents.”
—U.S. capability to make EMP attacks, if U.S. critical infrastructures are protected from EMP, “could tip the strategic balance among world powers.”
Theoretically, EMP attack is a way of winning a nuclear war by paralyzing critical infrastructures, without killing people immediately—a highly attractive option to military planners not only in China, but in Russia, North Korea, and Iran too. See the EMP Commission reports at www.firstempcommission.org
EMP can indirectly kill millions in the long-run, by blacking-out electric grids and other life-sustaining critical infrastructures for weeks, months, or forever, causing starvation and societal collapse. Threatening EMP mega-deaths is also attractive to adversaries for purposes of nuclear diplomacy and blackmail against the United States.
Moreover, an EMP attack would immediately cripple U.S. military power projection capabilities and incentivize a U.S. president — instead of defending Taiwan or fighting World War III — to focus on using all remaining national assets, including the Defense Department, to recover U.S. critical infrastructures before millions of Americans die.
China has been planning EMP attacks against the U.S. for more than 20 years. See my report “China: EMP Threat” (June 10, 2020).
What is new is the allegation that China’s nuclear experts fear the U.S. will have protected its electric grids and other critical infrastructures against EMP, possibly have Super-EMP weapons, and be able to defeat China with a nuclear EMP attack by 2032.
The once prestigious South China Morning Post, now owned by Alibaba Group, according to critics writing in the New York Times, Atlantic, and Der Spiegel, has since 2016 become an instrument of China’s propaganda.
Maybe the article is intended to move Western anti-nuclear groups to oppose EMP protection of U.S. critical infrastructures? Prominent arms control activists, like Jeffrey Lewis, recently called for the U.S. to limit strategic defenses because these supposedly are driving the nuclear arms race with Russia and China.
But maybe not.
Totalitarian states, just like us, do “mirror imaging” in their threat assessments. Unlike us, their strategic culture is not one of dysfunctional optimism, but dysfunctional pessimism–paranoia.
Consequently, since China has Super-EMP weapons and plans to do an “EMP Pearl Harbor” on the U.S., they assume the U.S. is developing (or already has) Super-EMP weapons and plans for a surprise attack against China.
Imagine a paranoid Chinese intelligence officer reviewing the evidence. He would see President Trump’s “Executive Order on Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic Pulses” (March 26, 2019) to protect U.S. electric grids and other critical infrastructures against EMP.
He would assume the U.S. is like China, and that the U.S. government is moving full-speed ahead to EMP harden critical infrastructures in response to a Presidential Executive Order— because that is what would happen in China, if Chairman Xi Jinping ordered EMP protection of China’s critical infrastructures.
China’s intelligence officer has probably read the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently declassified report “Joint Nuclear Operations” (April 17, 2020) that has a sentence describing EMP attacks as a targeting option: “Some high-altitude bursts, in excess of 100,000 feet, will produce widespread electromagnetic pulse (EMP) events . . .”
China’s intelligence officer has probably read the Congressional EMP Commission reports describing scenarios, derived from China’s own military doctrine, depicting EMP attacks on the U.S. and its allies.
So China’s paranoid intelligence officer would put all this and other data together to conclude the U.S., just like China, is preparing not only to survive an EMP attack, but to strike first. He would write a report exactly like the one described in the South China Morning Post.
Little does China’s intelligence officer know how deeply incompetent is the U.S. government, that U.S. preparedness for EMP is all on paper, that our political-military leaders are so afraid of our own nuclear weapons that the possibility of the U.S. developing Super-EMP warheads is zero.
During the Cold War, Soviet paranoia often led them to overestimate Western capabilities, seeing the U.S. as “10 feet tall” — mistakenly. “Mirror imaging” by China and Russia that greatly exaggerates the “U.S. threat” may be the only thing keeping us alive.
Washington urgently needs to move full speed ahead protecting critical infrastructures from EMP, before Beijing decides to make an EMP preemptive strike before 2032, so the U.S. cannot “tip the strategic balance among world powers.”
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, served as Chief of Staff of the Congressional EMP Commission, and on the staffs of the House Armed Services Committee and the CIA. He has authored numerous books and articles on EMP and Cyber Warfare.