Award ceremony speech

Presentation Speech by Mrs. Aase Lionaes, Chairman of the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Storting

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen:

On January 23 of this year a ceasefire agreement was concluded between the United States of America and the Vietnamese Democratic Republic.

At its meeting on October 16 the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Storting decided to award the Peace Prize for 1973 to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, the two chief negotiators who succeeded in arranging the ceasefire after negotiating for nearly four years.

For many long and bitter years the civilian population of Vietnam and the fighting troops engaged on both sides had borne the sufferings and privations of war. This was a war that concerned not only Vietnam and its people; it was a war moreover that had poisoned the atmosphere in countries and between countries all over the world.

Never since the conclusion of the Second World War have the people of Vietnam enjoyed unbroken peace.

At the conclusion of the World War France was faced in Vietnam with a powerfully armed resistance movement under Communist leadership.

Attempts to negotiate a solution to the problem of establishing and recognising an independent Vietnamese state proved unsuccessful. Open war broke out. Although the number of French troops involved amounted to close on 400,000, France failed to crush the opposition. After the defeat of France at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 a ceasefire agreement was concluded at Geneva. A military line of demarcation was drawn at the 17th parallel. The intention was for the country subsequently to be unified after free elections had been held. This, however, was not to be: the new government in South Vietnam maintained that free elections could not be carried out under the Communist regime in the north. As a result two states emerged on the soil of Vietnam. Between 1954 and 1960 the two Vietnamese states took shape, a Communist state in the north and a non-Communist one in the south.

In South Vietnam a guerilla movement, opposed to the government in power, came into being. In the course of 1960 its activities increased. At the end of that year a joint organisation and command was established in the National Liberation Movement, the FLN. It was acclaimed in North Vietnam, and the South Vietnamese government maintained that the FLN was operating under North Vienamese control.

During the years that followed the South Vietnamese government failed to hold in check the increasing activities and influence of the FLN. It was also clear that attempts to create an effective administration and government in South Vietnam had failed.

In 1964 decisions were made that resulted in the United States during the next few years, committing American armed forces to acts of war on Asian soil. These troops were at that time engaged both in a civil war in South Vietnam and in a war between the two Vietnamese states. This took the form of a large-scale commitment of American forces on South Vietnamese soil, as well as air attacks on targets in North Vietnam and on supply lines, through Laos and Cambodia, for North Vietnamese troops. In March 1969 the number of American soldiers in Vietnam reached maximum figures of 541,500 men. The escalation of the American commitment was matched by a corresponding increase in North Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam.

The world today is aware of the misery that the war has inflicted on the people of Vietnam. The mechanical inhumanity of modern warfare has gone hand in hand with the horrors of civil war. There is no need here to repeat the uncertain but chilling figures of the victims of this war – the dead and wounded, the orphans, prisoners of war, deportees, and homeless multitudes, fleeing from the theatre of war. The war proved a nightmare not only to the people of Vietnam but to the entire world.

In 1969 the systematic withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam commenced. By December 1972, out of a one-time total of half a million, only 27,000 were still left. But the war continued, with major offensives in South Vietnam and fresh aerial attacks on North Vietnam – the latter as late as in December of last year.

Nevertheless, the negotiations for a ceasefire and peace in Vietnam, initiated in Paris in 1969, only suffered minor interruptions. Finally, on January 23 of this year the United States negotiator Henry Kissinger and the North Vietnam negotiator Le Duc Tho arrived at a ceasefire agreement, which they were able to sign on January 27.

The Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Storting was fully aware that a ceasefire and not a peace agreement was involved. They realised that peace has not yet come to Vietnam, and that the sufferings of the population of Vietnam are not at an end. They were also aware that events in Vietnam may yet endanger the détente in the world. The ceasefire agreement was only the first but a tremendously important step on the laborious road to full peace in Vietnam.

It is our hope that the two chief negotiators and statesmen who have been awarded the Peace Prize this year will show the same understanding of the purpose and intention of the award as that expressed by Chancellor Willy Brandt in his speech here in this Festival Hall when he received the Peace Prize for 1971:

“Nobel’s Peace Prize is the highest honour, but at the same time the one that imposes the greatest obligations, that can be bestowed on any man bearing political responsibility.”

In his letter of November 2 to the Nobel Committee Henry Kissinger expresses his deep sense of this obligation. In the letter he writes among other things:

“I am deeply moved by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize, which I regard as the highest honor one could hope to achieve in the pursuit of peace on this earth. When I consider the list of those who have been so honored before me, I can only accept this award with humility.

The people of the United States, and indeed of the whole world, share the hope expressed by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee that all parties to this conflict will feel morally responsible for turning the ceasefire in Vietnam into a lasting peace for the suffering peoples of Indochina. Certainly my Government, for its part, intends to continue to conduct its policies in such a way as to turn this hope into reality.”

I feel convinced that all right-minded people will share the Nobel Committee’s pleasure at this statement of Dr. Kissinger.

The Nobel Peace Prize is often awarded to persons who do not have direct responsibility or share in the responsibility for the policy of governments, for peace or war among nations. It has been awarded to individuals and to organisations promoting cooperation between nations in the endeavour to create a better world – a world without hunger, a world of justice for workers, a world in which human rights are respected everywhere, a world without racial discrimination and racial antagonism. And the Prize has been awarded to persons filled with the dream of a world in which war is inconceivable.

But Nobel’s Peace Prize has also been awarded to persons exercising political responsibility and heavily committed to the confusing maelstrom of events. They were awarded the Peace Prize because in the course of their activities they had indicated the road that should be followed. No one could know whether this road would be followed; but they had lit a torch on the long and difficult road to peace among men. They were awarded the Peace Prize because, within the framework of the politically possible, they championed a peace which, though it might not be perfect, was nevertheless a step along this road.

In the present-day situation it might be useful to go right back to 1950, when the Prize was awarded to Ralph Bunche, the United Nations representative in Palestine, for his contribution in negotiating a ceasefire between Israel and the Arab states.

On three occasions since the days of Ralph Bunche – in 1956, in 1967, and now once again in 1973 – the ceasefire has been superseded by open war in the Middle East. The road he indicated by his own actions was not followed.

Today, finally, after the fourth war in the Middle East, there are prospects that the new ceasefire, as Bunche had hoped, could form the basis of a peace which would provide lasting security to all the people living in this part of the world.

In 1971 the Prize was awarded to a responsible statesman, Chancellor Willy Brandt, for his personal contribution to a détente, and to a policy of cooperation in Europe.

He had succeeded in convincing the majority of the German people that the basis for a policy of peace and negotiation in Europe must be a recognition of the actual power relationship in Europe, and in this way of the fact that two German states are now in existence on German soil.

This was not a perfect solution. But as a responsible statesman and the leader of a nation in the heart of Europe Willy Brandt opted for the peace policy which was the only possible one.

In awarding the Prize in 1973 as well to two responsible politicians at the centre of events, the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Storting emphasises its belief that the approach to a solution of the many controversies that have led to or may lead to war must be via negotiations, not through total war aiming at total victory.

The two negotiators who were awarded the Prize represent widely differing systems – one an essentially western system, such as the one in which our own Storting functions, the other a Communist system. We are under no illusion that the differences between systems and ideologies can be ignored; but the Nobel Committee has been anxious to emphasise that in a world yearning for peace, no one can assume the right to force his particular system on others by armed might. Nations with different systems of government must be able to live together in peace and solve their controversies by negotiation.

Le Duc Tho has informed the Committee that at present he is not in a position to be able to accept the Prize, giving as his reason the present situation in Vietnam. In accordance with current regulations the Committee has been able to withhold the Prize until October 1, 1974. It hopes that conditions in Vietnam will develop in accordance with the aims of the ceasefire concluded on January 23, and this will make it possible for him to accept the Prize.

This year Henry Kissinger was appointed Secretary-of-State in the United States. In his letter to the Committee he writes as follows:

“I greatly regret that because of the press of business in a world beset by recurrent crisis I shall be unable to come to Oslo on December 10 for the award ceremony. I have accordingly designated Ambassador Byrne to represent me on that occasion. However, I would hope and consider it a privilege, should you so wish, to visit Oslo at a future appropriate date to deliver the lecture which I understand is customarily given by Laureates of the Nobel Peace Prize.”

The Committee is, of course, aware of Dr. Kissinger’s burden of work this autumn. Nevertheless they profoundly regret that he was unable to come here today to receive the Prize in person. We are looking forward to hearing his lecture at a later date.

Henry A. Kissinger was born in Germany in 1923 of Jewish parents. In 1938 his family escaped to the United States. His father, who had been a teacher, worked in an office in New York. Henry Kissinger was called up for military service in 1943, and became an American citizen. He took part in the concluding military operations in Europe, and was responsible for the administration of a small South German town administered by the occupying allied powers. In 1946 he won a scholarship for study at Harvard University. In 1954 he received his doctor’s degree for a thesis on the European peace settlement after the Napoleonic Wars.

In the 1950s he conducted a study group at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York. This group analysed the relations of the USA to the Soviet Union, in particular problems of military security in the nuclear age.

In 1957 he returned to Harvard, where he was appointed professor in 1962. In the 1950s and likewise in the 1960s he wrote a great deal on various political subjects. He also carried out research projects for President Eisenhower and President Kennedy. Without associating himself with any party he also helped to draw up Nelson A. Rockefeller’s programme during the presidential election of 1968. After 1968 he worked in an advisory capacity for President Nixon. From January 1969 he was to play a central role as advisor to the President on questions of national security. In 1973 he was appointed Secretary-of-State.

In all Dr. Kissinger’s writing we catch sight of a basic attitude which made him particularly suited to the role he was destined to play in 1969. This attitude emerges already in local German accounts of his conduct as an American administrative officer in 1945-46.

People still remember the way in which this young German-Jewish emigré, who returned to the land of his birth seven years later, wearing an American uniform, and seventeen of whose relations had been murdered under the Nazis, made it clear at once: “We have not come to take our revenge.”

This attitude reveals an early developed concept of the relations between people and nations, an attitude which tolerated no fanaticism – not even in a young man of German-Jewish blood, not even in his dealings with a people that had allowed fanatics to plunge them into a moral abyss.

In his doctoral thesis Kissinger deals with the protracted period of peace that reigned in Europe after 1814, a period that lasted with infrequent warlike interruptions for a hundred years, right up to 1914.

In dealing with this period many historians emphasise exclusively the military balance of power: no single great power was militarily strong enough to endeavour to dominate the whole of Europe – as Napoleon had done before 1814 and Germany was to do after 1914.

Kissinger, on the other hand, places a great deal of emphasis on the fact that peace was bound up with an international order, based on universally accepted principles for the behaviour of states in their relations to one another. In those days, too, political systems differed widely, and the great powers had a great many conflicting interests. But by and large they respected these principles and rules, and on this basis they tried to prevent differences of systems and interests leading to war.

It was therefore quite natural that Kissinger should place very great emphasis on diplomacy as a factor for the promotion of peace as well, diplomacy both as a profession and as an art.

The overriding idea in Kissinger’s views on foreign policy is that peace must be based on rules to which all states, at any rate the great powers, adhere in their conduct. It is not sufficient for one single state, or a number of states, to do so. On the contrary, a dangerous situation may arise if some states desire peace at any price and fail to ensure that other states, too, adhere to the rules.

In his doctoral thesis he expressed this as follows:

“Whenever peace – conceived as the avoidance of war – has been the primary objective of a power or a group of powers, the international system has been at the mercy of the most ruthless member of the international community.”

A policy of this kind could lead to war, and the most frightening example was the Munich agreement of 1938, in which the western powers sacrificed Czechoslovakia to Hitler. There were people who believed that as the result of this deal peace would be secured “for our lifetime”. At the time there was a failure to understand that Hitler entirely ignored all the rules of the game in international relations.

It goes without saying that in the case of a man with Kissinger’s background the experiences of the 1930s were bound to set their mark on his thinking. Whenever political extremists acquired power in a state, they were dangerous, in his opinion, because they were unwilling to accept any permanent rules in relationships between states. For this reason he looked with profound misgiving at the Communist governments, and this was to affect his thinking with regard to the situation in the West and its security in the 1950s.

At the same time, however, he was aware, at an earlier stage than most people, of the dangers to mankind that the new atomic arms involved. He was concerned with the problem of how the United States and Western Europe would be able to defend themselves without having recourse to supremely absurd means – strategic atomic arms.

He pinned his hopes on the thought that in the age of atomic arms all great powers must realise that their most important task is to prevent the outbreak of nuclear warfare. It was of vital importance to them to realise this, no matter what political systems and ideologies they represented.

But recognition of this fact would also of necessity compel them to develop a new relationship to one another, a new system based on universally accepted rules, as had been the case in Europe prior to 1914. This was Kissinger’s working hypothesis, the basis of his great experiment in foreign policy.

In a world of this kind the United States should not, in his opinion, try to play the role of “world policeman”. The other powers, first and foremost the Soviet Union and China, should be invited to join in as equal partners, enjoying the same rights in this policy and with the same responsibility for peace in the world.

Kissinger is no technocrat: when he set out on his journeys to Moscow and Peking after 1969 he had no cut-and-dried solutions to the problems, devised at his desk in Washington. He approached these problems with his working hypothesis, his message, his queries.

This great experiment indicates a way out of the world situation created by the Second World War and the Cold War.

The policy Kissinger has attempted to put into effect since 1969 is closely bound up with the ideas he had arrived at long before 1969. No one is in any doubt as to his personal contribution to the policy of détente.

In a recent interview he made it quite clear that it is precisely because they have conflicting interests and different systems and ideologies that it has become imperative to seek a détente in the relationship between the great powers. This is why it is so important to reduce the danger of nuclear warfare. The détente provides governments with opportunities to negotiate, and to act swiftly when required, as well as the opportunity to show moderation. This was emphasised in connection with the crisis in the Middle East.

This year’s Nobel Prize winner has been called a realist. He cautions against the markedly ideological and emotionally conditioned approach in foreign policy, in his own country as well. This realism of his is deeply rooted in a considered conviction, a fundamental ethical attitude which has remained unshaken through changing times and situations. His preoccupation has been the responsibility of the statesman in an imperfect and multifarious world, full of danger. Now he himself bears the burden of such responsibility.

In the years that lie ahead we shall know how far his experiment will take us on the road to a safer world. But this depends not only on Henry Kissinger, nor only on the United States.

One of the touchstones in the conflict is the Middle East; another touchstone is the conflict in Vietnam. Here the result depends on all parties involved in the conflict, both the states in the actual area of conflict and the superpowers who are involved.

In our part of the world, too, in Europe, negotiations are at present going on for a détente, security and cooperation within the global framework which this great experiment has provided.

Today a handful of great statesmen are sitting down at the conference table, deciding the question of war and peace in the world.

But the millions of people whose fate is at stake cannot allow the politicians to carry the burdens and responsibility alone. By means of an active and positive world opinion we must make our contribution to the fulfilment of our hopes for peace.

Irrespective of national boundaries the peoples of this world, and not least the peace organisations, must speak with one voice, the voice of peace, so loudly that the politicians are forced to listen.

There are people today who cynically shrug their shoulders at negotiated agreements. This is an amoral, nay, a dangerous attitude. Ceasefire agreements between states must not be called in question, they must not be interpreted merely as paper resolutions, but as a moral and inviable obligation between the states that have signed them. Only with an honest approach of this kind to the intentions and obligations of international agreements can they help us along the road to peace.

The peace at which we must aim must not be limited merely to the avoidance of military conflict. Real peace in the world can only mean that all of us, in every country, should make it possible for people, irrespective of race, religion, ideology, or nationality, to live a life free from fear, free from violence, free from terrorism – a life in which the fundamental human rights are the secure and imperishable possession of every single human being.

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1971-1980, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Irwin Abrams, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1997


Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1973

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