An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack would be perfect for implementing Russia’s strategy of “de-escalation,” where a conflict with the U.S. and its allies would be won by limited nuclear use. It’s their version of “shock and awe” to cow the U.S. into submission. The same kind of attack is viewed as an acceptable option by China and North Korea as well.
An EMP attack would be the most militarily effective use of one or a few nuclear weapons, while also being the most acceptable nuclear option in world opinion, the option most likely to be construed in the U.S. and internationally as “restrained” and a “warning shot.”
Because EMP destroys electronics instead of blasting cities, even some analysts in Germany and Japan, among the most anti-nuclear nations, regard EMP attacks as an acceptable use of nuclear weapons. High-altitude EMP attack entails detonating a nuclear weapon at 30-400 kilometers altitude — above the atmosphere, in outer space, so high that no nuclear effects, not even the sound of the explosion, would be experienced on the ground, except EMP.
An EMP attack will kill far more people than nuclear blasting a city through indirect effects – by blacking out electric grids and destroying life-sustaining critical infrastructures like communications, transportation, food and water – in the long run. But the millions of fatalities likely to eventually result from EMP will take months to develop, as slow as starvation.
Thus, a nation hit with an EMP attack will have powerful incentives to cease hostilities, focus on repairing their critical infrastructures while there is still time and opportunity to recover, and avert national extinction.