Second Nuclear Age

Paul Bracken just published The Second Nuclear Agewhich examines the implications of nuclear proliferation. He criticizes American strategic thinkers for downplaying the importance of nuclear weapons in world politics, and for letting America’s nuclear stockpile become antiquated.

Although Bracken adds useful perspectives to the conversation about world politics, he fails to address the threat of EMP weapons. This surprises me, because the damage a single nuclear weapon can do through an electromagnetic pulse vastly exceeds any blast damage it might cause. He does mention that some weapons can affect communications and the electric grid, but he seems to regard these as short term problems and does not appreciate the grim and profound implications. For example, it does not make a big difference whether an enemy has one or one hundred nuclear warheads; he can destroy a large country with just a single warhead used to generate an HEMP.

The only good thing about EMP weapons is that all nations are vulnerable. This is good because it serves as an incentive to work together to find solutions. Israel and China may develop hardening technical fixes or antimissile defenses that can be used by everyone. Instead of the US saving Israel, Israel may save the US, if we can all just survive the next few years.

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