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Obama Nobel Speech: 'War Is Peace'

Obama Defends War as He Accepts Nobel Peace Prize

Ben Feller

Protesters from the group The World Can't Wait demonstrate in New York against the awarding of the Nobel Peace prize to President Barack Obama. A humble Obama joined a list of revered Nobel peace laureates, but in a steely speech he warned he would not hesitate to wage war if it was "morally justified. "(AFP/Getty Images/Chris Hondros)

OSLO, Norway - President Barack Obama evoked the cause of a just war
on Thursday, accepting his Nobel Peace Prize just nine days after
sending 30,000 more U.S. troops to war in Afghanistan but promising to
use the prestigious prize to "reach for the world that ought to be."

Obama became the first sitting U.S. president in 90 years and the
third ever to win the prize - some say prematurely. He and his wife,
Michelle, whirled through a day filled with Nobel pomp and ceremony in
this Nordic capital.

Obama delivered a Nobel acceptance speech that he saw as a
treatise on war's use and prevention. He crafted much of the address
himself and the scholarly remarks - at about 4,000 words - were nearly
twice as long as his inaugural address.

"I face the world as it is," Obama said, refusing to renounce war
for his nation or under his leadership, saying that he is obliged to
protect and defend the United States.

"A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies.
Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaida's leaders to lay down their arms,"
Obama said. "To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to
cynicism, it is a recognition of history."

The president laid out the circumstances where war is justified -
in self-defence, to come to the aid of an invaded nation, or on
humanitarian grounds, such as when civilians are slaughtered by their
own government or a civil war threatens to engulf an entire region.

"The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve
it," he said.

He also spoke bluntly of the cost of war, saying of the
Afghanistan buildup he just ordered that "some will kill, some will be

"No matter how justified, war promises human tragedy," he said.

Obama also emphasized alternatives to violence, stressing the
importance of both diplomatic efforts and tough sanctions to confront
nations such as Iran or North Korea, which defy international demands to
halt their nuclear programs, or those such as Sudan, Congo or Burma
that brutalize their citizens.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Text of Obama's Nobel Peace Prize
acceptance speech

OSLO, Norway - The text of President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize
acceptance speech, delivered Thursday in Oslo, Norway, as provided by
the White House:

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Distinguished Members of
the Norwegian Nobel Committee, citizens of America, and citizens of the

I receive this honour with deep gratitude and great humility. It
is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations - that for all the
cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate.
Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice.

And yet I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the
considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. In
part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my
labours on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history
who have received this prize - Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela
- my accomplishments are slight. And then there are the men and women
around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of
justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve
suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and
compassion inspire even the most hardened of cynics. I cannot argue with
those who find these men and women - some known, some obscure to all
but those they help - to be far more deserving of this honour than I.

But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of
this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in
the midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a
conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by 43
other countries - including Norway - in an effort to defend ourselves
and all nations from further attacks.

Still, we are at war, and I am responsible for the deployment of
thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will
kill. Some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the
cost of armed conflict - filled with difficult questions about the
relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with
the other.

These questions are not new. War, in one form or another,
appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was
not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease - the
manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled
their differences.

Over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within
groups, so did philosophers, clerics and statesmen seek to regulate the
destructive power of war. The concept of a "just war" emerged,
suggesting that war is justified only when it meets certain
preconditions: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defence; if
the forced used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians
are spared from violence.

For most of history, this concept of just war was rarely
observed. The capacity of human beings to think up new ways to kill one
another proved inexhaustible, as did our capacity to exempt from mercy
those who look different or pray to a different God. Wars between armies
gave way to wars between nations - total wars in which the distinction
between combatant and civilian became blurred. In the span of 30 years,
such carnage would twice engulf this continent. And while it is hard to
conceive of a cause more just than the defeat of the Third Reich and the
Axis powers, World War II was a conflict in which the total number of
civilians who died exceeded the number of soldiers who perished.

In the wake of such destruction, and with the advent of the
nuclear age, it became clear to victor and vanquished alike that the
world needed institutions to prevent another World War. And so, a
quarter century after the United States Senate rejected the League of
Nations - an idea for which Woodrow Wilson received this Prize - America
led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a
Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of
war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide and restrict the
most dangerous weapons.

In many ways, these efforts succeeded. Yes, terrible wars have
been fought, and atrocities committed. But there has been no Third World
War. The Cold War ended with jubilant crowds dismantling a wall.
Commerce has stitched much of the world together. Billions have been
lifted from poverty. The ideals of liberty, self-determination, equality
and the rule of law have haltingly advanced. We are the heirs of the
fortitude and foresight of generations past, and it is a legacy for
which my own country is rightfully proud.

A decade into a new century, this old architecture is buckling
under the weight of new threats. The world may no longer shudder at the
prospect of war between two nuclear superpowers, but proliferation may
increase the risk of catastrophe. Terrorism has long been a tactic, but
modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder
innocents on a horrific scale.

Moreover, wars between nations have increasingly given way to
wars within nations. The resurgence of ethnic or sectarian conflicts,
the growth of secessionist movements, insurgencies and failed states
have increasingly trapped civilians in unending chaos. In today?s wars,
many more civilians are killed than soldiers; the seeds of future
conflict are sown, economies are wrecked, civil societies torn asunder,
refugees amassed and children scarred.

I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the
problems of war. What I do know is that meeting these challenges will
require the same vision, hard work and persistence of those men and
women who acted so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think
in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not
eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when
nations - acting individually or in concert - will find the use of force
not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in
this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It
solves no social problem: It merely creates new and more complicated
ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King?s
life?s work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I
know there is nothing weak, nothing passive, nothing naive in the creed
and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I
cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and
cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For
make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement
could not have halted Hitler?s armies. Negotiations cannot convince
al-Qaida?s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is
sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism - it is a recognition of
history, the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

I raise this point because in many countries there is a deep
ambivalence about military action today, no matter the cause. At times,
this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world?s sole
military superpower.

Yet the world must remember that it was not simply international
institutions - not just treaties and declarations - that brought
stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made,
the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped
underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of
our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of
our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from
Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the
Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our
will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest - because we seek
a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that
their lives will be better if other people's children and grandchildren
can live in freedom and prosperity.

So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in
preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another -
that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier?s
courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country,
to cause and to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and
we must never trumpet it as such.

So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly
irreconcilable truths - that war is sometimes necessary, and war is at
some level an expression of human feelings. Concretely, we must direct
our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. "Let
us focus," he said, "on a more practical, more attainable peace, based
not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in
human institutions."

What might this evolution look like? What might these practical
steps be?

To begin with, I believe that all nations - strong and weak alike
- must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I - like any
head of state - reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to
defend my nation. Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to
standards strengthens those who do, and isolates - and weakens - those
who don?t.


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The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks, and
continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan, because of the horror
of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defence.
Likewise, the world recognized the need to confront Saddam Hussein when
he invaded Kuwait - a consensus that sent a clear message to all about
the cost of aggression.

Furthermore, America cannot insist that others follow the rules
of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves. For when we don?t,
our action can appear arbitrary, and undercut the legitimacy of future
intervention - no matter how justified.

This becomes particularly important when the purpose of military
action extends beyond self-defence or the defence of one nation against
an aggressor. More and more, we all confront difficult questions about
how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to
stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire

I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as
it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by
war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly
intervention later. That is why all responsible nations must embrace the
role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.

America?s commitment to global security will never waver. But in a
world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex,
America cannot act alone. This is true in Afghanistan. This is true in
failed states like Somalia, where terrorism and piracy is joined by
famine and human suffering. And sadly, it will continue to be true in
unstable regions for years to come.

The leaders and soldiers of NATO countries - and other friends
and allies - demonstrate this truth through the capacity and courage
they have shown in Afghanistan. But in many countries, there is a
disconnect between the efforts of those who serve and the ambivalence of
the broader public. I understand why war is not popular. But I also
know this: The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to
achieve it. Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice. That
is why NATO continues to be indispensable. That is why we must
strengthen UN and regional peacekeeping, and not leave the task to a few
countries. That is why we honour those who return home from
peacekeeping and training abroad to Oslo and Rome; to Ottawa and Sydney;
to Dhaka and Kigali - we honour them not as makers of war, but as
wagers of peace.

Let me make one final point about the use of force. Even as we
make difficult decisions about going to war, we must also think clearly
about how we fight it. The Nobel Committee recognized this truth in
awarding its first prize for peace to Henry Dunant - the founder of the
Red Cross, and a driving force behind the Geneva Conventions.

Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest
in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we
confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe that the
United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct
of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That
is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is
why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I
have reaffirmed America?s commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions.
We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to
defend. And we honour those ideals by upholding them not just when it is
easy, but when it is hard.

I have spoken to the questions that must weigh on our minds and
our hearts as we choose to wage war. But let me turn now to our effort
to avoid such tragic choices, and speak of three ways that we can build a
just and lasting peace.

First, in dealing with those nations that break rules and laws, I
believe that we must develop alternatives to violence that are tough
enough to change behaviour - for if we want a lasting peace, then the
words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes
that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a
real price. Intransigence must be met with increased pressure - and such
pressure exists only when the world stands together as one.

One urgent example is the effort to prevent the spread of nuclear
weapons, and to seek a world without them. In the middle of the last
century, nations agreed to be bound by a treaty whose bargain is clear:
All will have access to peaceful nuclear power; those without nuclear
weapons will forsake them; and those with nuclear weapons will work
toward disarmament. I am committed to upholding this treaty. It is a
centerpiece of my foreign policy. And I am working with President
Medvedev to reduce America and Russia?s nuclear stockpiles.

But it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations
like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to
respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are
flouted. 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.

The same principle applies to those who violate international law
by brutalizing their own people. When there is genocide in Darfur,
systematic rape in Congo or repression in Burma - there must be
consequences. And the closer we stand together, the less likely we will
be faced with the choice between armed intervention and complicity in

This brings me to a second point - the nature of the peace that
we seek. For peace is not merely the absence of visible conflict. Only a
just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every
individual can truly be lasting.

It was this insight that drove drafters of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights after the Second World War. In the wake of
devastation, they recognized that if human rights are not protected,
peace is a hollow promise.

And yet all too often, these words are ignored. In some
countries, the failure to uphold human rights is excused by the false
suggestion that these are Western principles, foreign to local cultures
or stages of a nation?s development. And within America, there has long
been a tension between those who describe themselves as realists or
idealists - a tension that suggests a stark choice between the narrow
pursuit of interests or an endless campaign to impose our values.

I reject this choice. I believe that peace is unstable where
citizens are denied the right to speak freely or worship as they please,
choose their own leaders or assemble without fear. Pent up grievances
fester, and the suppression of tribal and religious identity can lead to
violence. We also know that the opposite is true. Only when Europe
became free did it finally find peace. America has never fought a war
against a democracy, and our closest friends are governments that
protect the rights of their citizens. No matter how callously defined,
neither America?s interests - nor the world?s - are served by the denial
of human aspirations.

So even as we respect the unique culture and traditions of
different countries, America will always be a voice for those
aspirations that are universal. We will bear witness to the quiet
dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi; to the bravery of
Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the
hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of
Iran. It is telling that the leaders of these governments fear the
aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation.
And it is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to
make clear to these movements that hope and history are on their side.

Let me also say this: The promotion of human rights cannot be
about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking
diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the
satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without
outreach - and condemnation without discussion - can carry forward a
crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path
unless it has the choice of an open door.

In light of the Cultural Revolution?s horrors, Nixon?s meeting
with Mao appeared inexcusable - and yet it surely helped set China on a
path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty, and
connected to open societies. Pope John Paul?s engagement with Poland
created space not just for the Catholic Church, but for labour leaders
like Lech Walesa. Ronald Reagan?s efforts on arms control and embrace of
perestroika not only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but
empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe. There is no simple
formula here. But we must try as best we can to balance isolation and
engagement, pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity
are advanced over time.

Third, a just peace includes not only civil and political rights -
it must encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is
not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want.

It is undoubtedly true that development rarely takes root without
security; it is also true that security does not exist where human
beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the
medicine they need to survive. It does not exist where children cannot
aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The
absence of hope can rot a society from within.

And that is why helping farmers feed their own people - or
nations educate their children and care for the sick - is not mere
charity. It is also why the world must come together to confront climate
change. There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we
will face more drought, famine and mass displacement that will fuel more
conflict for decades. For this reason, it is not merely scientists and
activists who call for swift and forceful action - it is military
leaders in my country and others who understand that our common security
hangs in the balance.

Agreements among nations. Strong institutions. Support for human
rights. Investments in development. All of these are vital ingredients
in bringing about the evolution that President Kennedy spoke about. And
yet, I do not believe that we will have the will, or the staying power,
to complete this work without something more - and that is the continued
expansion of our moral imagination, an insistence that there is
something irreducible that we all share.

As the world grows smaller, you might think it would be easier
for human beings to recognize how similar we are, to understand that we
all basically want the same things, that we all hope for the chance to
live out our lives with some measure of happiness and fulfilment for
ourselves and our families.

And yet, given the dizzying pace of globalization, and the
cultural levelling of modernity, it should come as no surprise that
people fear the loss of what they cherish about their particular
identities - their race, their tribe and, perhaps most powerfully, their
religion. In some places, this fear has led to conflict. At times, it
even feels like we are moving backwards. We see it in the Middle East,
as the conflict between Arabs and Jews seems to harden. We see it in
nations that are torn asunder by tribal lines.

Most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to
justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled
the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from
Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of
God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind
us that no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe
that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for
restraint - no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or even a
person of one?s own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just
incompatible with the concept of peace, but the purpose of faith - for
the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we
do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Adhering to this law of love has always been the core struggle of
human nature. We are fallible. We make mistakes, and fall victim to the
temptations of pride, and power, and sometimes evil. Even those of us
with the best intentions will at times fail to right the wrongs before

But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us
to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not
have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that
will make it a better place. The non-violence practised by men like
Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every
circumstance, but the love that they preached - their faith in human
progress - must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.

For if we lose that faith - if we dismiss it as silly or naive,
if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and
peace - then we lose what is best about humanity. We lose our sense of
possibility. We lose our moral compass.

Like generations have before us, we must reject that future. As
Dr. King said at this occasion so many years ago: "I refuse to accept
despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to
accept the idea that the ‘isness' of man's present nature makes him
morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal 'oughtness' that
forever confronts him."

So let us reach for the world that ought to be - that spark of
the divine that still stirs within each of our souls. Somewhere today,
in the here and now, a soldier sees he?s outgunned but stands firm to
keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protester awaits
the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on.
Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time
to teach her child, who believes that a cruel world still has a place
for his dreams.

Let us live by their example. We can acknowledge that oppression
will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the
intractability of deprivation, and still strive for dignity. We can
understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do
that - for that is the story of human progress; that is the hope of all
the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here
on Earth.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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