Warning of the dangers of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on March 26 directing federal agencies to assess and mitigate the risks of an EMP event on the United States. The order, “Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic Pulses,” calls for integrated action by a wide range of federal agencies to address the threat of natural or malicious EMP events.
The concern over EMP attacks was reflected in the Republican platform during the 2016 presidential election campaign: “With North Korea in possession of nuclear missiles and Iran close to having them, an EMP is no longer a theoretical concern — it is a real threat.”
“The executive order sends a clear message to adversaries that the United States takes this threat seriously,” said Energy Secretary Rick Perry in a departmental release supporting the Trump action.
An EMP is a burst of electromagnetic energy that can “disrupt, degrade, and damage technology and critical infrastructure,” according to the executive order. EMP threats can come in two forms: high-altitude nuclear detonations and natural geomagnetic disturbances, such as solar flares.
Critics have long questioned the merits of devoting significant resources to defeating EMP attacks from U.S. adversaries. “Doomsday headlines in the press regarding [North Korea’s] potential EMP threat are grossly overstated,” wrote Jack Liu of 38 North in a 2017 commentary. “EMP is the new test case of seriousness in national security,” said Peter Singer of New America in 2016. “But not in the way advocates not in on the joke think.”—COLE FALKNER