Award ceremony speech


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Presentation Speech by Thorbjørn Jagland, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Oslo, 10 December 2009.

Thorbjørn Jagland delivering his presentation speech

Thorbjørn Jagland delivering his presentation speech.
Copyright © Nobel Media AB 2009
Produced by NRK

Your Majesties, Mr. President and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Your Royal Highnesses, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

On the 9th of October this year, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 was to be awarded to President Barack H. Obama “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world free from nuclear weapons”.

Commenting on the award, President Obama said he did not feel that he deserved to be in the company of so many transformative figures that have been honoured by this prize, and whose courageous pursuit of peace has inspired the world. But he added that he also knew that the Nobel Prize had not just been used to honor specific achievements, but also to give momentum to a set of causes. The Prize could thus represent “a call to action”.

President Obama has understood the Norwegian Nobel Committee perfectly. We congratulate him on this year’s Nobel Peace Prize!

This year’s award must be viewed in the light of the prevailing situation in the world, with great tension, numerous wars, unresolved conflicts and confrontation on many fronts around the world. And, not least, there is the imminent danger of the spread of nuclear weapons, degradation of the environment and global warming. In fact, Time Magazine recently described the decade that is coming to an end as the worst since the end of World War II.

From the very first moment of his presidency, President Obama has been trying to create a more cooperative climate which can help reverse the present trend. He has already “lowered the temperature in the world”, in the words of former Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu.

The Committee always takes Alfred Nobel’s will as its frame of reference. We are to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the person who, during the “preceding year”, meaning in this case since the previous award in December 2008, shall have done the most or the best work “for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses” – to quote from the will.

The question was actually quite simple. Who has done most for peace in the past year? If the question is put in Nobel’s terms, the answer is relatively easy to find: it had to be U.S. President Barack Obama. Only rarely does one person dominate international politics to the same extent as Obama, or in such a short space of time initiate so many and such major changes as Obama has done. The question for the Committee was rather whether it would be bold enough to single out the most powerful man in the world, with the responsibility and the obligations that come with the office of the President of the United States.

The Committee came to the conclusion that it must still be possible to award the Nobel Peace Prize to a political leader. We cannot get the world on a safer track without political leadership. And time is short. Many have argued that the prize comes too early. But history can tell us a great deal about lost opportunities.

It is now, today, that we have the opportunity to support President Obama’s ideas. This year’s prize is indeed a call to action to all of us.

The Committee knows that many will weigh his ideals against what he really does, and that should be welcomed. But if the demand is either to fulfil your ideals to the letter, and at once, or to stop having ideals, we are left with a most damaging division between the limits of today’s realities and the vision for tomorrow. Then politics becomes pure cynicism. Political leaders must be able to think beyond the often narrow confines of realpolitik. Only in this way can we move the world in the right direction.

Obama has achieved a great deal. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld said that “the U.N. was not created to take humanity to heaven, but to save it from hell”. The U.S.A. is now paying its bills to the U.N. It is joining various committees, and acceding to important conventions. International standards are again respected. Torture is forbidden; the President is doing what he can to close Guantanamo. Human rights and international law are guiding principles. This is why this year’s Laureate has earned the praise of the leaders of international institutions. New opportunities have been created.

Your Majesties, Mr. President, Your Royal Highnesses, ladies and gentlemen,

The vision of a world free from nuclear weapons has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Under Obama’s leadership, the U.N. Security Council gave its unanimous support to the vision of a world without nuclear weapons. The new administration in Washington has reconsidered the deployment in Eastern Europe of the planned anti-missile defences and is instead looking at other multilateral options to secure the region. This has contributed to an improved atmosphere in the negotiations on strategic nuclear weapons between the U.S.A. and the Russian Federation. A new agreement between them will, we hope, soon be on the table.

We can see how the vision of a world without nuclear weapons is encouraging even the smaller nuclear powers to make cuts. And we can certainly not prevent the spread of nuclear arms to new countries unless the established nuclear powers meet their obligations. That was the clear premise underlying the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and it still applies today. The important Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference is being held next year. Either the nuclear powers will clearly signal their willingness to disarm, or the conference may prove a fiasco, with the danger of a new arms race. President Obama has sent his signal.

In today’s Washington, dialogue and negotiations are the preferred instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The United States is no longer on the sidelines regarding the nuclear program in Iran. As the President put it in his inaugural address: “…we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist”. There is no guarantee that negotiations always succeed, but in Obama’s opinion the U.S.A. is obliged to try. If the outstretched hand continues to meet a clenched fist, the global community will then stand more united in its further response.

Obama has insisted that the U.S.A. has to build coalitions and make friends rather than to create enemies. He is pursuing this strategy also in Afghanistan. The struggle against violent extremism in Afghanistan rests on broad international foundations and is supported actively by many governments around the world. In the long run, however, the problems in Afghanistan can be solved only by the Afghans themselves. This is also the basic logic behind the President’s new strategy there.

Regarding the fight against climate change, we can see the same underlying idea: the U.S.A. cannot be indifferent to global challenges; while it cannot solve such challenges alone, they cannot be met without the U.S.A. Obama has presented concrete proposals for what the U.S.A. will do. This has improved chances of reaching an effective global agreement, if not this year then, we hope, at least next year.

China is steadily moving to the forefront of international politics and the global economy. There has been a sense in America that many of the greatest challenges can only be met in close cooperation with the People’s Republic of China. For instance, no country has polluted more than the U.S.A., and no country will pollute more than China in the future. The economies of the two countries are closely intertwined. The rise of new Great Powers often leads to war and conflict. There are those in America who fear that history may repeat itself in that respect. The Obama administration’s cooperation with Beijing means that we have little reason to fear such a repetition.

Obama’s diplomacy rests on the idea that whoever is to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population. That was how they put it, those earlier American presidents who, above all others, were seen as world leaders also outside the United States: Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. America’s ideals were the world’s ideals: they lived, in Reagan’s words, “not only in the hearts and minds of our countrymen but in the hearts and minds of millions of the world’s people in both free and oppressed societies who look to us for leadership”.

Obama’s ideals coincide to a large extent with the ideals that have underpinned the activities of the Norwegian Nobel Committee throughout our 108-year history: to strengthen international institutions as much as possible; to advance democracy and human rights; to reduce the importance of arms and preferably do away with nuclear arms altogether; to promote dialogue and negotiations; and, in the last few years, to adopt effective measures to meet the climate threat.

Looking at the history of the Nobel Prize, we can see several examples of awards to persons or institutions that have achieved fundamental agreements or other results which have stood the test of history. We will find at least as many awards that have gone to those who tried to bring about fundamental changes in international politics, but where the results were still unclear at the time when they received their awards. Woodrow Wilson’s prize came when he was at his weakest both politically and personally, after suffering a stroke. He had created the League of Nations, but the United States would not join. Wilson was a hero to the world, but not in the U.S.A. The American Secretary of State Cordell Hull received the award after the establishment of the United Nations, but so early that no one could be sure how significant the U.N. would be.

Many have been awarded the Peace Prize for their courage, even when the results for a long time seemed modest: Carl von Ossietzky, Andrej Sakharov, Lech Walesa and the Dalai Lama, to name a few. When Albert Lutuli received his Peace Prize, the struggle against apartheid was in its infancy: there were few results to point to. When Martin Luther King, Jr., received his award, he had proclaimed his dream that “my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”, but there was still a long way to go from dream to reality.

Mr. President, we are happy to see that through your presence here so much of Dr. King’s dream has come true.

In the Middle East, there have been many wars, and many Peace Prizes have been awarded. Why does the Nobel Committee not wait until final peace agreements have been concluded? Nothing is final in history. It always moves on. Peace must be built again and again. The Norwegian Nobel Committee can not award a Peace Prize where nothing has been achieved. If the principles are important enough, however, and the struggle over them is vital to the future of the world, the Committee can not wait until we are certain that the principles have won on all fronts. That would make the Prize a rather belated stamp of approval and not an instrument for peace in the world.

Your Majesties, Mr. President, Your Royal Highnesses, ladies and gentlemen,

Mr. President, in both the First and the Second World War, your great country came to Europe’s rescue. We will never forget that. After the First World War, Woodrow Wilson sought to build a world founded on international cooperation and democracy. His success was limited. During and after the Second World War, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman took initiatives to create the United Nations and other global institutions. Their creation still lives on today. The lesson was that the power of nation states could not be unlimited. States must commit themselves to international law and universal rights. The world moved away from unrestrained nation states and towards greater internationalism.

Today yet another American president is trying to renew internationalism. He reaffirms that the U.S.A. must lead together with others. Walls must be torn down. As he put it in his speech in Berlin in July 2008: “The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christians and Muslims and Jews cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down”.

This must surely be Nobel’s “fraternity between nations”.

Your Majesties, Mr. President, Your Royal Highnesses, ladies and gentlemen,

President Obama is a political leader who understands that even the mightiest are vulnerable when they stand alone. He is a man who believes in the strength of a community, be it the local community where he started his career many years ago or the global community which he leads today. Obama has the audacity to hope and the tenacity to make these hopes come true.

This is what makes him so important. By his own behaviour and leadership he is demanding that we all “take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges”.

We congratulate this year’s Laureate, President Barack H. Obama, on what he has already achieved, and wish him every possible success in his continuing efforts for a more peaceful world. May you receive the help you truly deserve!

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2009

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