Thursday, March 7, 2013

North Korea threatens US with nuclear attack (and EMP blast); is such a strike even possible?

In the mid 1990s, when I was writing my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book and considering military policy (and recalling the days of the Vietnam era draft and the Cold War) I considered North Korea the most serious threat that we had.  I wasn’t fully aware of how dangerous Al Qaeda could be, and Saddam Hussein seemed to be “in his place”.  That was how it seemed during the Clinton area.

Early this morning, North Korea issued a threat of a nuclear strike against the United States, including Washington.  The Korean language version suggests that this would happen only if the US (or its ally South Korea) invades North Korea, but the English version, very loosely “translated” hints that the attack will happen per-emptively, probably in response to UN sanctions.

The statement seems to refute the idea that the new leader takes visits by ordinary American stars (Dennis Rodman) very seriously.  Maybe such visits play into his hands.

A recent test suggests that North Korea may have achieved the miniaturization necessary to carry a nuclear warhead on a long distance ICBM and explode it, possibly at high altitude for an EMP effect.

But intelligence suggests that the range of North Korean rockets might reach Alaska or northwestern Canada or conceivably the Pacfiic Northwest, or particularly Hawaii (Pearl Harbor).  An attack would sound at least technically conceivable.  It sounds unlikely that it could get past NORAD defenses.  Yet the threat behind the rhetoric is grave enough to make one wonder if a pre-emptive strike to wipe out all of North Korea’s installations is really in order.

Even so, George Tenet had told Senate intelligence in 2003 that North Korea was capable of lobbing a missile as far as the US Pacific Northwest.  

This is not something that can be "negotiated", like the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Iran does not have a comparable level of threat, but it is possible that Iran could “give” a warhead to a terror group that could launch an EMP attack from a cargo ship off shore.  That might be harder to stop with NORAD defenses, but still should be preventable. 
The Washington Post has a story this morning by Chico Harlan, link here
AOL greeted its users this morning with a graphic story in the Huffington Post by Edith M. Lederer and Hyung Jin Kim, here. 
This certainly brings back the mood of the Cold War that I grew up with, including the Domino Theory.  Now, its rogue states rather than ad hoc terror groups that could pose the greatest threat.  But we thought twenty years ago because of Saddam Hussein. 
So far Thursday morning, the story has a low profile on the major networks.  That could change.
Newt Gingrich may be right about some of this. Next time the power goes out and there is no storm, make sure your laptop boots up and your car starts.  If they don’t, it’s over for all of us.  Like in the NBC show “Revolution”.  


ABC World News started with this story and took it very seriously. The story by Johee Cho is here.

NBC buried the story in the middle of Nightly News and sounded less alarmed.

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NBC called it "predictable but worrisome" online. Neither network mentioned the grim EMP possibility. Tonight Jimmy Kimmel used the threat to make light of Rodman's trip, saying if smart people can't broker peace, then stupid people could.  He also said that this is real "news", whereas Facebook Timeline is not.

North Korea also says that its official "truce" with South Korea is over, as if it could attack at any time.  

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