“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...”
The passage of the NDAA shows an “appetite for more defense spending if you don’t have to make any difficult compromises,” said Katherine Blakeley, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “Republicans are going to have make difficult compromises because the Democrats in the Senate hold all the cards.”
From Ukraine to the South China Sea, the past several years have reminded us that international peace and stability are not givens. The great issues of war and peace, order and disorder, are returning to the forefront of global affairs. My end-of-year reading list is thus made up of books that help us understand the causes and consequences of global upheaval -- and that underscore the exceptional role America has played in holding back the forces of chaos over the past 70 years.
Ryan Boone, an analyst at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, says the policy revision mostly keeps with the 2008 memo, including the dud rate of 1% or lower, but widens the scope by retaining existing inventory, permitting their use after 2018. It also allows the use of modern techniques for disabling submunitions and reducing potential harm to noncombatants. To not change course would result in a “self-imposed capability gap,” he says.
“It’s a stop-gap measure, buying time for the Army and other services to develop and field more compliant counters to some of the capabilities now being fielded by Russia and others,” Boone explains. “The new measures correct what was perhaps an overly stringent previous interpretation of UXO: that anything left behind that did not explode would count as UXO. This ignored technologies that could disarm the bomb or otherwise render it inert, even if it did not explode.”