Nuclear arms still a threat in present day

Posted Oct. 20, 2010, at 7:06 p.m.

I had the unusual opportunity in Portland last week to co-host a preview of a major motion picture not yet in theaters. It’s called “Fair Game,” starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, and it premieres publicly on Nov. 5.

It’s a stirring portrayal of the events surrounding the “outing” of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame by Bush administration officials in retaliation for her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson’s allegation that the administration knowingly used false intelligence to justify the war in Iraq. The revelation destroyed his wife’s career as a CIA field officer and put her life, the safety of her family and that of countless others with whom she worked covertly in the field in grave danger.

For me, the movie is a suspenseful tale about two individuals, Wilson and Plame, each acting with real courage and conviction in standing up for what they believe in against forces much more powerful than themselves.

The screening was arranged for a small but attentive audience by The White House Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing women in leadership at all levels of politics, as part of their “Fair Game START Now Summit” in Washington, D.C. to promote the role of women in the field of nuclear security.

That’s right, I said nuclear security.

At first, I wondered whether this issue is particularly relevant in today’s post-Cold War, Great Recession environment. I certainly didn’t expect that just a few days after the event in Maine I’d be one of the only women who was not in some way an expert on the issue (including Valerie Palme herself) as a facilitator at The White House Project’s summit in Washington, D.C. But as it turns out, it’s a very relevant issue today, even to those of us here in Maine.

The theft or development of a nuclear weapon by a rogue state or terrorist organization is universally accepted as today’s “nightmare scenario.” Together, the U.S. and Russia possess 95 percent of the world’s 23,000 nuclear weapons — more than enough to destroy our entire planet many times over. Not only is this stockpile unnecessary and enormously costly, its size greatly increases the risk that nuclear weapons could fall into the wrong hands.

President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recognized this when they signed the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, last spring. This important agreement follows on the recent expiration of the original START negotiated, signed and ratified by the Reagan and Bush administrations in the early 1990s. The new START will lower the risk of a nightmare scenario by reducing the number of warheads by 30 percent and establishing a state-of-the-art verification system to monitor the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals. The treaty does not limit development or deployment of U.S. missile defense systems.

The Russian Duma has already ratified it. Now the U.S. Senate must vote to ratify it as well. After months of hearings, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted last month to send the treaty to the full Senate for consideration. The president, the secretary of state, the chairman of the joint chiefs and leaders of the Foreign Affairs Committee from both parties have called for speedy ratification of the treaty. However, it’s unclear whether the Senate will consider the treaty if it returns for a “lame duck” session.

What does all this have to do with Maine? Look no further than our two senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, neither of whom have declared their position on START. Their leadership and support will be critical to the ratification and I’m confident that they will once again demonstrate skill and common sense in putting national security above politics. It’s vital that they hear from their constituents here in Maine. You can take action by contacting their offices and by signing the START petition at http://wwww.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/426/029/495.

There’s a point in the movie where Joe Wilson’s character says “Democracy is not a free ride,” and quotes Benjamin Franklin’s reference to the republic being ours “if we can keep it.” I couldn’t agree more. Even though politics sometimes seem remote from our everyday lives, each one of us has a say and an obligation to use them. We don’t all have to take on the kind of unimaginable fights that Wilson and Plame did, but we can absolutely make a difference in making the world safer for our children.

One other thing we can do to keep this republic ours is vote on Nov. 2.

Rosa Scarcelli is CEO of Stanford Management, an affordable housing provider in Maine and three other states. As a Democratic candidate for governor, she gained a strong following in the 2010 primary. To see more, go to www.rosaformaine.com.

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