Obama accepts peace prize, defends “just wars“

2009-12-10 13:55

 The United States must uphold moral standards when waging wars that are

necessary and justified, President Barack Obama said on Thursday as he accepted

the Nobel Prize for Peace.

In a speech at the award ceremony in Oslo, Obama said violent

conflict would not be eradicated “in our lifetimes”, there would be times when

nations would need to fight just wars and he would not stand idle in the face of

threats to the American people.

“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,” he declared.

Nine days after ordering 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to

break the momentum of the Taliban, Obama acknowledged the criticism of those who

have said it was wrong and premature to award the Nobel accolade to a president

still in his first year in office and escalating a major war.

He said America’s adherence to moral standards, even in war, was

what made it different from its enemies.

“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,”

he said.

By pledging to close the Guantanamo camp for foreign terrorist

suspects on Cuba, and moving to bring inmates to trial on U.S. soil, Obama has

attempted to recover the moral high ground that critics of the United States

accused his predecessor George W. Bush of surrendering by waging a

no-holds-barred “war on terror”.

“We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight

to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not just when it is easy,

but when it is hard,” Obama said.

Sanction must bite

Acknowledging “a reflexive suspicion of America, the world’s sole

military superpower”, he said his country could not act alone in confronting

global challenges in Afghanistan, Somalia or other troubled regions.

In seeking alternatives to force, it was necessary to be tough.

“Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable.

Sanctions must enact a real price,” Obama said in a passage that addressed North

Korea’s nuclear arsenal and U.S. suspicions that Iran, too, seeks to acquire the


“It is...incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran

and North Korea do not game the system,” Obama said. “Those who seek peace

cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.”

At a news conference earlier, Obama reaffirmed that U.S. troops

would begin transferring responsibility for Afghan security to local forces in

July 2011 but said there would be no “precipitous drawdown”.

Acknowledging the controversy surrounding his prize, he said: “I

have no doubt that there are others that may be more deserving. My task here is

to continue on the path that I believe is not only important for America but

important for lasting peace in the world.”

He said that meant pursuing a world free of nuclear weapons and

countering proliferation; addressing climate change; stabilising countries like

Afghanistan; “mobilising an international effort to deal with terrorism that is

consistent with our values and ideals“; and addressing development issues.

Some of these initiatives were beginning to bear fruit, Obama said.

“If I am successful in those tasks, then hopefully some of the

criticism will subside, but that is not really my concern. If I am not

successful, than all the praise and awards in the world will not disguise that.”

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told journalists the

prize was well deserved and “can contribute in itself to strengthening the

efforts of the president to work for peace”.

On a rainy day with temperatures just above freezing, thousands

lined heavily guarded Oslo streets to greet Obama.

Only handfuls of protesters were visible, with one group holding a

sign reading: “Obama you won it, now earn it.”

Environmentalists in the crowd called on the U.S. leader to sign an

ambitious deal to fight global warming when he visits nearby Copenhagen next

week for the climax of a U.N. climate conference involving nearly 200 countries.

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