Tag Archives: national security

The sabotage of electricity means national catastrophe

power cablesImagine what life would be like if our current electrical infrastructure were destroyed.

Last week, thanks to the Wall Street Journal, the American public was informed about an extraordinary attack that took place last April near San Jose.  Several snipers, their identities apparently still unknown, performed a highly disciplined and damaging assault on a major electricity substation, knocking out 17 giant transformers that provide power to Silicon Valley and its environs. 

If these terrorist saboteurs had had more time to continue their attack, they could have caused a blackout lasting anywhere for months to possibly even years in a region hosting one of the most critical sectors of the American economy.

This was an attack of military sabotage that required extensive knowledge and training.  It targeted one of the most strategically important yet extraordinarily vulnerable installations in our nation’s critical infrastructure. 

The vulnerability of the 2,000 such transformers that are the central nodes of America’s electrical grid have been well-known to our homeland security establishment for a long time but, thus far, nothing has been done about it. 

The vulnerability not only involves this kind of kinetic military assault, but also potential cyber attacks, the threat of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) generated by solar activity, and an EMP that can be generated by the atmospheric detonation of a nuclear weapon 50 miles above American soil.

An EMP, from whatever source, could not only destroy the electrical grid in huge swaths of the United States, but also the electrical circuits in every computer and modern vehicle, including the trucks that bring food from the farms to the processing plants and then to the wholesalers’ warehouses and then to the grocery stores and restaurants.  Because American metropolitan areas do not have huge warehouses with stores of food sufficient to sustain the local population for months on end, serious studies of the effects of an electromagnetic pulse posit the possibility of up to 100 million deaths due to starvation and lack of clean water (which requires electricity to be pumped into your home).

Given the catastrophic consequences of widespread and prolonged electrical blackouts, it is amazing to me that our federal and state governments have done nothing to protect the most critical components of our nationwide electrical system, especially given that such protection can be secured at least for the 2,000 transformers at very modest cost. 

Apparently, no federal or state government agency has legal authority to impose such protection on the investor-owned private electric utilities that own and manage the grid.  If indeed it is true that no such legal authority exists, one of the highest public policy priorities in this nation is to pass legislation that would supply such protection.  This is a cost that should not be borne by individual utilities; rather, it should be a homeland security expenditure by the US government that is no different in concept than US naval protection of those sea lines of communication which are the conduit for the importation of foreign oil.

The absence of protection of our electrical infrastructure comes as close to reckless negligence as anything in our public life.

US-China nuclear security center in Beijing: A questionable initiative

Washington Times columnist Bill Gertz has just reported that the Obama administration is funding a new US-China “nuclear security center” in Beijing. The ostensible reason for this initiative is to work cooperatively with communist China to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation by supplying China with the necessary equipment, training, and knowledge to secure nuclear weapons facilities.

Unless there is some other reason underlying this project – and there may be a remote possibility that there is – it appears to be a highly dubious and counterproductive enterprise.

Countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is usually not a technical problem. It is first and foremost a political problem. Almost all proliferation occurs because of willful decisions by bad actors to put weapons of mass destruction in the hands of enemies of their enemies.

China views the United States as its main enemy. It has long facilitated the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran. This policy of deliberate proliferation has been accompanied by Beijing’s own major nuclear weapons buildup, their theft of the secret technology involved in every deployed US nuclear warhead, their concealment of their land-based nuclear arsenal in their astonishing network of underground tunnels, and their recently-publicized plans to target American cities with both ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Given the US government’s track record of nuclear weapons security cooperation with Russia, which, while contributing to the reduction of Russian nuclear warheads, also subsidized the modernization of the Russian nuclear arsenal, it is not unreasonable to cast a skeptical eye on the new US-China nuclear security project.

American tax dollars may well be going to subsidize Beijing’s nuclear buildup at the expense of US national security.

Part of America’s greatness is our appreciation of our veterans

Photo from DefenseImagery.milAmerica has sent so many of its best sons and daughters and to put themselves in harm’s way to fight for our vital interests and for the cause of freedom in the world. While not all decisions made by our government to engage in military interventions have always been the wisest course, what is undeniable is the fundamental spirit of patriotism that embodies those who are willing to serve and answer the call.

With very few exceptions, such as how shabbily our veterans were treated in the wake of their service in Vietnam, America has honored its veterans and has made a holiday to remember them and express appreciation for their selfless service. This bespeaks a spirit of patriotism within our own culture, because it is precisely love of country based on a deep appreciation of the rare political inheritance we have been given–which prizes rule of law, respect for the dignity of the human person, individual rights, personal responsibility, and political and economic liberty–that is the central pillar of our national security posture and the larger willingness to defend our civilization.

However ordinary and routine Veterans Day may seem to many Americans, there is nothing ordinary and routine about it. America is unique insofar as people with many different backgrounds can come here to these shores and realize the fullness of their God-given abilities without obstacles based on who they are and where they come from.

God bless our veterans, and God bless America.

Our defense posture is weak, and not just because of the sequester

As we witness almost daily the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, where with sickening regularity, we learn reports of another 60 innocent people being killed by terrorist bombings, one is prompted to reflect about how our government establishes its priorities for the defense of our country.  Although the news from Afghanistan is not as disturbing, the prospect of American withdrawal and the continuation of civil war within that wretched country makes such reflection even more necessary.

Lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan

As painful as it may be for some people to look back on the strategic decisions that were made to conduct the wars in those two places in the ways that we did, we must nevertheless confront a bitter truth – namely, that the political-strategic situation in both countries is not markedly better than when we first ousted Saddam Hussein from power and when we removed the Taliban from its ruling position in Afghanistan.

In both cases, we decided to embark on nation-building projects, which necessitated the prolonged presence of American forces.  In both cases, we have attempted to implement radical political-cultural changes that have cut against the grain of long-established political arrangements.

In the case of Iraq, under the banner of bringing democracy to one of the most advanced Arab countries, we ousted the longtime Sunni Muslim governing class and effectively installed, under the aegis of a nationwide election, a Shia government that has been so mistrustful of the Sunnis that it has effectively frozen them out of meaningful influence within the country.  This is nothing less than a social revolution that is a recipe for protracted civil war.

Our actions were based very much on assumptions that Iraqi culture was malleable, and that perhaps culture itself–with the habits, traditions, customs, mentality, and modes of thinking, formed over centuries–didn’t really exist.

Similarly, in Afghanistan, we have attempted to install a central government in a country where no serious central government has ever existed for any length of time.  When there was a king, he regarded the country for what it was – a confederation of tribes whose autonomy he had to respect.  In return, the tribes, accustomed to paying their respect to the inheritor of the monarchical charisma, retained some identity with the “nation” of Afghanistan, even though their principal identity was tribal.

In both cases, American foreign policy optimistically assumed not only the malleability of culture but an adaptability and perhaps even a perfectibility of human nature–an assumption that has long characterized left-wing ideologies which have attempted to build heaven on earth.

The cost of what I consider to be utopian nation-building adventures will come to $6-8 trillion in actuarial terms, when you calculate the lifetime of medical care for the thousands who have been wounded, both physically and mentally, in the course of the protracted occupations of these countries.

There was another way

There was another way.  These extraordinary levels of blood and treasure need not have been spent.  But what would have been required was a proper ordering of our national security priorities where vital national interests take priority over mere interests and where the allocation of resources is configured appropriately.

Saddam Hussein’s capture in December 2003 is when our involvement in Iraq might much more profitably have ended.  Rather than embarking on nation-building, our intervention could have prompted a leadership change in Iraq, even if it remained Sunni Muslim and Baathist party-based.  But the message would have reverberated throughout the country that if you massacre Shia and Kurds and play shell games with weapons of mass destruction, there are consequences.

Thomas Jefferson did not send Stephen Decatur, the Marine Corps, and American privateers to the shores of Tripoli to invade, occupy, and democratize the radical Islamists of his day–the Barbary pirates.  He sent them on a behavior-modification operation.  The result was freedom of navigation for international commerce.

It is more realistic to deter gross conduct than it is to change an entire culture.

In Afghanistan, I believe that the proposal made by several members of Congress, notably Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, to restore the king to his throne was much more likely to win a national consensus that would have preserved tribal autonomy and the confederative status of the country.  If we needed forces which could help maintain some modicum of order nationwide, they could have been the very forces of the Northern Alliance, who, with our CIA and Special Forces, ousted the Taliban from power.

We could have made our country safer

Imagine if only a fraction of that $6-8 trillion had been spent.  Imagine how it could have enabled us to maintain the Navy that our global commitments require.  It is now under 300 ships, when it should be over 500, especially in light of the rapid development by China of its own blue water navy and its extraordinary muscle flexing and bellicosity in the South and East China Seas.

Today, our Army is being reduced to a bare-bones force where only two brigades are fully combat ready, according to General Ray Odierno, the Army’s Chief of Staff.

Our nuclear forces are in a very sad state of repair, and people in positions of senior responsibility are talking about a policy of minimum deterrence–maintaining a bare minimum of nuclear forces, when in fact, nothing could be less effective in deterring war, and not just nuclear war, than a skeletal strategic deterrent.

With just a few more resources, we could significantly enhance our missile defense.  We could pay more serious attention to the massive Chinese espionage and theft of both our industrial and military secrets.  We could even harden the transformers that are the hubs of our nationwide electrical grid to protect against the very real possibility of an electromagnetic pulse that could come either from solar activity or from a nuclear device detonated in the atmosphere above our country–a phenomenon that, according to the most serious scientific studies, would kill the vast majority of citizens in our country through the destruction of everything electrical, including our just-in-time delivery system the basic necessities of life.

As much as the sequester is being blamed for the budgetary strains that are plaguing our national defense posture, it was ill-conceived policy and strategic decisions made over the last decade that lie at the heart of one of our most critical national challenges.

One hopes that more Americans, and particularly our future leaders whom we are attempting to shape at IWP, will learn from such lessons of history.

This article by John Lenczowski is partially based on a speech delivered this fall to the Council for National Policy, and also appears on www.iwp.edu.