Far-Fetched EMP Doomsday Part Of Cain And Gingrich Foreign Policy Platforms

Reposted by arrangement with Think Progress

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:

• 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.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.



  1. Regardless of the diversity of opinions of the nuclear EMP threat or suspicions of so-called ulterior motives, the effect of a severe solar storm or coronal mass ejection on our electric grid is real, is widely acknowledged regardless of political party, and legislation to protect the electric grid has support from Democrats, too. Look into it. The time to protect the grid is NOW, because it will take time to implement hardware protections, and we never know when the next solar event on the scale of the Carrington Event will occur.

  2. You might want to research this subject in more depth. There is significant evidence to support that some countries have motivation to do this. The delivery technology exists in most of these countries in a tested format. Nuclear capability either already exists or is fairly close in those. Masking an attack by utilizing terrorists in an leased freighter is the easiest part.

    Sticking your head in the sand because it’s easier doesn’t make these things go away. Democrat or Republican.

  3. Both comments express legitimate concerns. We should indeed harden our most essential electrical and communications infrastructure from EMPs and Solar Storms. However, we should also refrain from connecting this to terrorism. While many nations possess the capacity to launch nukes at high altitudes, there is essentially no threat from terrorists.

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