In Oslo, Norway today American president Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In his acceptance speech, the president outlined his vision for peace and the role which the United States must play in achieving it.
Recognizing the horrors of total war and genocide, Obama named the League of Nations and the United Nations as instruments in the preventing of another world war. At the same time he stressed the continued necessity of force. “A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies,” he said and “negotiations cannot convince Al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms.” American weapons of war have kept the peace in many parts of the world since the end of World War II although the advent of the Nuclear Age still poses a danger to world peace.
Yet the United States too have to abide to the rules of war lest their actions be regarded as “arbitrary”. America must be the “standard-bearer” of these rules, according to the present, and not condone torture and the meaningless suffering of civilians in warzones. In a world wrecked by global terror and violence in failed states, however “America alone cannot keep the peace.”
The president discussed three points that should help the world achieve “a lasting peace”:
1) “Alternatives to violence that are tough enough to change” the plight of millions and the hostility of regimes throughout the world. “If we want a lasting peace then the words of the international community must mean something,” said Obama. This is a position he took earlier this year, in April, when responding to North Korea’s missile threat. Since then, however, it would not appear that “words” have come to mean much more.
Bringing nuclear proliferation to a halt is one of Obama’s foreign policy centerpieces and it is directly linked to the significance he attaches to multilateral cooperation. It were negotiations and treaties that stopped the spread of nuclear weapons, said the president, and, as expected, he announced an upcoming treaty with Russia to accelerate that process.
On the possibility of Iran and North Korea acquiring nuclear weapons the president took a clear position: it is incumbent, he declared, “upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system.”
Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.
2) Peace means more than the absence of war, said the president. “Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.” If human rights are nor protected, “peace is a hollow promise.”
Obama rejected that conflict exists between idealism and realism — “a tension that suggests a stark choice between the narrow pursuit of interests or an endless campaign to impose our values.” Rather imposing America’s values is in its interests, for, as Obama put it, “America has never fought a war against a democracy.”
3) A just peace must not only come with civil and political rights — “it must encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want.” As such the world must “come together to confront climate change,” for one thing, for it is bound to “fuel more conflict for decades” to come.
Obama concluded his address by wondering out loud why, as the world becomes smaller, differences and conflict persist. Given the “dizzying pace of globalization,” he noted, “and the cultural leveling of modernity, it should come as no surprise that people fear the loss of what they cherish about their particular identities.”
Religion is being used to combat perceived threats to national identity and to justify atrocities. According to Obama however, “no holy war can ever be a just war.” Such perversion of scripture is “not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but the purpose of faith,” he said.
Nevertheless we should not be discouraged. “We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice,” said the president. “We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace.” Why? “[F]or that is the story of human progress.”