The United States is the only country to ever use nuclear weapons. On August 6th and 9th we mark the 71st anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is not enough to just remember the tragic (and many believe unnecessary) loss of civilian lives from these events. We must work to abolish nuclear weapons.

The leadership of our country is still mired in the old Cold War mentality. They still believe nuclear weapons are necessary for national defense. They have not learned from the mistakes of 71 years of excessively militarized foreign policy.

Many countries still suffer from the legacy of this Cold War mentality. Current problems in Guatemala, Iran, Cuba, Honduras, the Congo, Vietnam, and Laos are directly related. During the Cold War nuclear weapons did not prevent war. Although we did narrowly avoid a nuclear exchange between the major powers, there were many “proxy wars.” Korea, Vietnam, and the various Middle East conflicts were the most prominent. But there were many smaller conflicts in Latin American, Africa and Asia that were devastating for the economies and people of the affected countries. The political, social, economic, and environmental scars still affect people today.

Despite these failures, the same aggressive, militarized thinking shapes current policy. For example, the Obama administration is moving forward with a nuclear modernization program that will ultimately cost over $1 trillion. The plan includes redesigned nuclear warheads, new nuclear bombers, submarines, land-based missiles, weapons labs and nuclear production plants. The 2017 Pentagon and Department of Energy budgets plan to spend over $16 billion on the modernization program. Many experts believe this will make nuclear weapons more usable rather than obsolete. This spending shows that we are not honoring the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which requires signatories to make good faith efforts to negotiate the elimination of nuclear weapons.

In addition we are reigniting Cold War tensions with Russia by expanding NATO and deploying missiles on Russia’s doorstep in Eastern Europe. The “Pivot to Asia” policy involves shifting more military resources to the Pacific to counter China, a major trading partner. How can this make sense? These actions can only increase international tensions…not produce a more peaceful and secure world.

The huge expense of militarized foreign policy creates deficits and cripples efforts to create real homeland security. Real security is a living wage job, healthcare, and a secure retirement. Real security is a foreign policy that makes friends rather than enemies. Real security addresses the root causes of terrorism rather than increasing terrorist recruits with drones bombing innocent people.

We need a new, 21st century foreign policy. We need new thinking that “projects” cooperation and peaceful problem solving rather than military power. We need foreign policy that advances the needs of people, based on our democratic ideals that once inspired the world. We know the politicians will not act. We have waited for 71 years! It is up to us citizens to take action to build a better, safer, nuclear weapons free future.