Discorso del Presidente Barack Obama in occasione della consegna del Premio Nobel per la Pace 2009 ad Oslo, Norvegia (10dicembre2009)


 Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Distinguished Members of the

Norwegian Nobel Committee, citizens of America, and citizens of the world:

I receive this honor 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 labors 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 honor 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 forty three 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 selfdefense;

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 thirty 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


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 sewn, 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 peace.

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 naïve – 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 Qaeda’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 peoples’ 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.

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-defense. 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


This becomes particularly important when the purpose of military action

extends beyond self defense or the defense 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 region.

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 waiver. 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 honor those who return home from

peacekeeping and training abroad to Oslo and Rome; to Ottawa and Sydney;

to Dhaka and Kigali – we honor them not as makers of war, but as wagers of


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 honor 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


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

behavior – 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 oppression.

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 labor 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


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 fulfillment for ourselves and our families.

And yet, given the dizzying pace of globalization, 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 – 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 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 us.

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 practiced 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 naïve; 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


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 protestor 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 depravation, 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.