Thomas Mahnken of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments warned:
[W]e find ourselves today once again in a period of great-power competition with an increasing possibility of great-power war. It is the most consequential threat that we face, and failure to deter and prepare adequately for it would have dire consequences for the United States, our allies, and the global order. Because of that, I believe that preparing for great-power competition and conflict should have the highest priority.
"For years we've had a strategy that says we'll do A, B and C, but only the funding available to do A. And we never made the strategy and the resources line up together," said Jacob Cohn of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis "I think, is going to take a different approach to military conflict," said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and a former Naval military strategist.
“The National Security Strategy is to be commended for acknowledging the reality that the United States is enmeshed in a long-term competition with China and Russia for international influence. It is also to be commended for highlighting the fact that the challenge is a multi-dimensional one,” says Tom Mahnken at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Importantly, he adds this caveat: “We will now need to see the extent to which this emphasis is reflected in investment in national security, diplomacy, and economic policy.”
That approach could assuage some of Trump’s longtime Republican critics. “It’s in the mainstream of conservative Republican thinking wrapped up in a lot of America first rhetoric,” said Eric Edelman, a former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy in the George W. Bush administration.
Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, was more direct.
“Most of our systems are not hardened against EMP. Some older analog or Cold War-era systems are,” Clark told The National Interest.
“It is unclear whether a high atmospheric nuclear explosion would cause a significant EMP effect at lower altitudes and whether North Korea could execute such an attack without also affecting their own capabilities.”
Mark Gunzinger, an air power analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and a former Boeing B-52 strategic bomber pilot, told The National Interest that the Pentagon been expect such asymmetric threats, but needs funding to address the challenge.
“Over the last decade, DoD [Department of Defense] has expressed its growing concern with ‘hybrid’ threats posed by potential aggressors with a mix of conventional, unconventional, and asymmetric capabilities including WMD [Weapons of Mass Destruction],” Gunzinger said.
“This will require funding to upgrade DoD's forces and weapon systems, including capabilities that can operate in WMD environments.”
On the specific issue of North Korea, Gunzinger said that an EMP would impact Pyongyang’s force too—but conceded that U.S. forces are probably more vulnerable to such effects.
“It is likely that NOKO's use of a relatively unsophisticated EMP weapon over the Korean Peninsula would affect their own forces and possibly their battlespace command and control infrastructure,” Gunzinger said.
Asked directly if U.S forces—which rely heavily on networks and advanced sensors are likely to suffer more—Gunzinger said that was a distinct possibility.
“Quite possibly, yes. Just didn't want to get into it too deeply,” Gunzinger said.
“It could have a crippling effect on military systems and networks that aren't appropriately hardened. Let's not forget the impact it could have on our allies...”