Gingrich Goes Ballistic

As you may recall, about a month ago, when North Korea launched a ballistic missile which they claimed was intended to peacefully put a satellite in orbit, former House speaker Newt Gingrich – now a Fox News contributor, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and apparent front-runner among the self-anointed seeking to replace Obama as president – went ballistic himself:

"Those who claim that there is little to fear from Iran or North Korea because ‘at best’ they will have only one or two nuclear weapons ignore the catastrophic level of threat we now face from just ‘a couple’ of nuclear weapons.

"Again: One to three missiles tipped with nuclear weapons and armed to detonate at a high altitude – to achieve the strongest EMP over the greatest area of the United States – would create an EMP ‘overlay’ that triggers a continent-wide collapse of our entire electrical, transportation, and communications infrastructure."

Then, last week, the North Koreans announced they were going to test underground another nuke, and they proceeded to do just that. This time, according to Russian UGT-seismic experts, the Korean plutonium-239 implosion nuke produced a 12-15 kiloton yield, comparable to the uranium-235 gun-type nuke we dropped on Hiroshima, killing at least 60,000 Japanese civilians.

But before you join the pitchfork-carrying mob demanding that peacenik Obama be replaced immediately by neo-crazy Newt, scroll back to the fall of 1991, with the Warsaw Pact long gone and the Soviet Union on the verge of disintegrating.

The Bush-Quayle administration had begun to dismantle thousands of our "tactical" nukes, specifically designed for use against the massed Soviet armor expected to pour through the Fulda Gap into Western Europe.

Department of Energy (DOE) nuke-lab scientists Dowler and Howard published an article – “Countering the Threat of the Well-armed Tyrant: A Modest Proposal for Small Nuclear Weapons” (Strategic Review, fall 1991) – suggesting the development of four new types of small-yield nukes.

One of them was to be specifically designed to produce a humongous electromagnetic pulse (EMP) when detonated just outside the earth’s atmosphere.

Recall that the way our civilian/military system works is that the Pentagon issues a requirement for a nuke with certain capabilities, and the DOE weapons labs do all the necessary research and development necessary to produce a device meeting the Pentagon requirements. If the Pentagon is satisfied with the work of the DOE weapons labs, then the Pentagon asks the DOE to produce however many of that type of nuke the Pentagon needs. Once produced, the nukes are transferred to the Pentagon.

What Dowler and Howard were obviously attempting to do was short-circuit the system, to trigger a "requirement" from the Cheney-Wolfowitz Pentagon for one (or all) of the four new types of small nukes the nuke-designers believed they could provide.

The immediate response by the Democrat-controlled Congress was a total prohibition against even "research and development which could lead to the production by the United States of a low-yield [less than five kiloton] nuclear weapon."

But then George W. Bush won the White House and the prohibition on low-yield nuke R&D was repealed. However, the bill that repealed the prohibition said, "The secretary of energy may not commence the engineering development phase, or any subsequent phase, of a low-yield nuclear weapon unless specifically authorized by Congress."

As of this writing there is no reason to suppose that Congress has specifically authorized the engineering development of an EMP-producing nuke. Hence there is no reason to suppose that even we have developed and stockpiled the type of nuke that Gingrich would have you believe the North Koreans now have and that the Iranians may soon have.

In fact, what the Koreans have basically done is to semi-duplicate our test at the Trinity site in New Mexico in 1945 of a plutonium-implosion "device." When "weaponized," it weighed about 10,000 pounds and was barely deliverable by specially modified B-29s, at the time the "heaviest" bomber yet made.

Now, if the North Koreans can’t even put a 10-pound satellite into near-earth orbit, how does neo-crazy Newt expect you to believe they can put a 10,000-pound nuke into near-earth orbit?

Of course, if the North Koreans ever decided to use their nukes, either offensively or in retaliation for some future attack by neo-crazy Newt, there are targets of opportunity.

For example, there’s the recently enlarged Camp Humphreys, a U.S. Army installation near Pyeongtaek, South Korea, where the majority of U.S. forces stationed in and around Seoul and near the North/South Demilitarized Zone have been "relocated."

But the South Koreans (and the Chinese) have good reason to believe it wasn’t merely a relocation. To wit:

"With the planned relocation, the ultimate object of the U.S. Armed Forces stationed in Korea is changing from defending South Korea from North Korea to gaining rapid mobility for the defense of the Asia-Pacific region and blocking China. …

"When based in Pyeongtaek, the U.S. Forces can escape from North Korea’s [artillery] shooting range, which, combined with its advanced weaponry and increased mobility taking advantage of the K-55 Airstrip (Songtan) and the naval port, makes it easier for the U.S. to attack North Korea and contain China. …

"Military tension and conflicts will be increased around the peninsula, accordingly, which may put Korea right in the middle of a war the U.S. wages and its consequences in the worst case." 

Great Zot!

"Attack" North Korea and "contain" China?

Well, they don’t call them neo-crazies for nothing.

So what would a sane man – for example, Barack Obama – do now?

Well, approach the Chinese thusly:

We realize that those Bush-Cheney-Bolton neo-crazies – by abrogating the Agreed Framework, forcing North Korea to withdraw from the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons – created a monumental nuke problem for you next door, in a country for which you suffered more than a million casualties, restoring its southern boundary at the 38th Parallel.

And it seems like everything we’ve done since has made the problem worse. So why don’t you Chinese just do whatever you think is right about your neighbor, and you’ll have our complete support.

And, by the way, if there’s anything you Chinese can do to help us put out the raging inferno we’ve started in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we would be much obliged.

That might work.

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.