PORTLAND – On Sept. 11, 2001, I was sitting in a basement office four blocks away from Philadelphia’s twin Liberty Towers. I could feel the subway beneath me as it passed every 10 minutes. I had just moved to Philly from Maine two days prior.

By noon, I wanted to be back home.

First, we heard reports on the radio that a plane had hit one of the towers. Twenty minutes later, the radio reported a second plane had hit.

We all tried logging onto CNN, only to find the website so overloaded only one of us could get on. Our co-workers were on the Amtrak up to New York and all we could get was an automated voice telling us, “We’re sorry, all circuits are busy.”

We crowded around the computer, forgetting about the piles of paperwork sitting on our desks, the phone calls we needed to make. Suddenly, our country and our colleagues were far more important than our careers.

It wasn’t long before we heard reports that the Pentagon had been hit by yet another plane. And then reports came in that a plane went down just west of us.

While the country watched and waited, wondering if their city might be hit, for us it wasn’t a matter of if, but when. We were surrounded by devastation wondering if our colleagues or other friends were caught in the chaos of a day millions of Americans will never forget. Terrorists took control of something so ubiquitous in our lives and turned it into a deadly weapon of mass destruction.

Since that day, we have been leapfrogging over ourselves to up the security measures in our airports to prevent another terrorist attack like that on 9/11. However, for the last year, we have been unable to monitor the thousands of Cold War Russian nuclear weapons still sitting in storage facilities, often poorly guarded.

If those weapons land in the hands of terrorists, there could be even worse attacks on our cities — attacks that would make 9/11 look minor by comparison.

Ronald Reagan understood this paradigm best. Nuclear weapons are not just here to keep us safe from Russia. In the wrong hands, they actually become a danger to our country.

Operating under the principle of “Trust, but verify,” President Reagan began the process of developing a nuclear disarmament agreement with the USSR, including mutual inspections and methodical, systematic reduction of warheads and nuclear weapons.

This agreement, which became the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), was signed by President George H. W. Bush in 1991. During the unstable period following the fall of the Soviet Union, START I allowed us to keep an eye on Soviet nuclear weapons, ensuring that they stayed out of the wrong hands.

However, since the treaty expired more than a year ago, the United States has been unable to inspect Russia’s nuclear storage facilities to verify that their weapons are where they belong.

Do we really want nuclear weapons in the hands of Osama bin Laden, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong II?

We are living in a new world with modern terrorists. No longer are we in a Cold War arms race with the Soviet Union, working to one-up each other with our show of might. We used to know who and where our enemies are; that is no longer the case. Some may even live among us, as evidenced by recent arrests.

In the time since we last inspected Russia’s warheads, Iran has stepped up its rhetoric against the United States, threatening to bring harm to our nation and our allies. And in recent weeks, we have watched the remarkably unstable Kim Jong II demonstrate his intentions to unleash his own weapons of mass destruction.

Simply put, we must do everything we can to ensure that terrorists and rogue states do not obtain nuclear weapons. The New START Treaty will provide a state-of-the-art verification system to track Russian nuclear activities, verify nuclear reductions and improve US intelligence on Russian nuclear capacity.

Equally important, it provides funding to modernize our weapons system, ensuring we have the 21st century technology to protect the security of our own stockpile and maintain a nuclear deterrent.

We must put U.S. boots back on the ground in Russia to verify the security of Russia’s weapons firsthand; that way, we will know that these weapons are secure and have not fallen into the wrong hands. It is imperative that the U.S. Senate ratify the New START Treaty before the end of the year.

In the words of Ronald Reagan, the United States should “trust, but verify.”


– Special to The Press Herald