Obama Nobel Prize speech: There are times when force is necessary

In his Nobel Prize acceptance in Oslo, Obama said that we will not eradicate violence in our lifetimes. Some 5,000 people were expected to protest the Afghan war and other issues.

Thomas Peter/Reuters
Nobel Peace Prize laureate President Barack Obama delivers a speech after receiving the prize at an award ceremony in Oslo City Hall on Thursday.

US President Barack Obama acknowledged today the paradox of receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo while the US is in the midst of two wars, but justified the use of force to achieve peace.

"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," President Obama told the audience of hundreds gathered at the Oslo City Hall Peace Prize ceremony to hear his 4,000-plus word acceptance speech.

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

Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples," and his work toward a world without nuclear weapons.

But the Peace Prize committee has been criticized for giving Obama the award so early in his presidential term and when he is commander in chief of a nation at war. The decision last week to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan fueled the debate even more.

In Oslo, up to 5,000 people are expected to demonstrate later this evening to protest the president's engagement in Afghanistan as well as Israeli settlements, arms trading, and nuclear proliferation. Among the demonstrators will be Cindy Sheehan, the US antiwar activist, who had sharp reaction to Obama's remarks. "Between Obama and the Nobel committee," she told the Monitor, "they were telling us the only alternative to any problem is war, and the only way to peace is war."

But even among his critics, his speech drew praise for its eloquence and honesty about the necessity of war. Siv Jensen, leader of Norway's opposition Progress Party, said she still believed Obama has received the award too early in his career, but applauded his speech.

War necessary – not glorious

In his remarks, Obama hailed the non-violent approach of previous Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr., while also drawing attention to its limits, particularly in fighting Hitler's armies or when negotiating with Al Qaeda.

"But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such," he added. "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."

Afghanistan was one of the central themes in Obama's meeting with Jens Stoltenberg, Norway's prime minister, ahead of the award ceremony. The Norwegian government pledged $110 million in additional support to the Afghan Army and police. However, Norway stopped short of offering more troops.

Stoltenberg said he had not been asked during his meeting with Obama today to contribute more troops. Norway has about 500 soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

"It's not about counting heads, but what types of heads you send," Stoltenberg said.

Norway's new commitment entails distributing $60 million to the Afghan Army and $50 million toward training police between 2010 and 2014. This comes on top of Norway's current $120 million in annual assistance to Afghanistan.

"We are extremely grateful to the people of Norway in this effort," Obama said in a joint press conference following his meeting with Stoltenberg. "[The $110 million] will be absolutely critical for us to build capacity."

Obama also reiterated his promise to start bringing home US troops from Afghanistan starting in July 2011.

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