President Obama will soon be traveling to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon an individual or organization. In Alfred Nobel’s will, he stated that the Peace Prize should be awarded to the person who “during the preceding year…shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction or standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
The president will be receiving the award while America remains engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and continues to make drone incursions in a third country, Pakistan. While he seeks to disengage from the war in Iraq, he has recently announced his decision to expand the war in Afghanistan by sending an additional 30,000 American troops.
Against this background, what might the president say in Oslo? He will, of course, have his own ideas, but here are some thoughts.
First, acknowledge that militarism globally is making the world less secure for a majority of the inhabitants of the planet. The nearly $1.5 trillion spent for military purposes is taking food from the hungry, shelter from the homeless, healthcare from the impoverished, and education from hundreds of millions of the world’s children. He should pledge to reduce the military budget of the United States by half by the year 2015, and call upon other countries to do the same.
Second, recognize the role of inequality in generating conflicts throughout the globe and pledge to use the savings from military budgets in the US to help meet the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals by the year 2015, starting with dramatically reducing poverty and hunger and promoting education and health care.
Third, call for major reductions in arms transfers that fuel wars throughout the world and pledge that the US will reduce its arms transfers by half by the year 2015.
Fourth, reiterate his and America’s commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons, announcing new and urgent steps to reduce the reliance of the US on nuclear arms, including de-alerting the weapons currently on high-alert status, pledging No First Use of nuclear weapons, and convening the nine nuclear weapons states to begin negotiations on a treaty for the phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons by the year 2020.
Fifth, recognize, as did Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell, that the Nuclear Age demands not only the abolition of nuclear weapons, but the abolition of war. For too long, the US and other countries have sought to prevent war by preparing for it. Now, the time has come to prevent war by preparing for peace. Cultures of peace must be built upon foundations of justice and human dignity. This means that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the international law that supports these rights, must be respected and adhered to. It also means that human institutions must uphold these rights, and there must be accountability for leaders who violate international law.
Finally, introduce the concept of trusteeship of the earth and its resources as a vital element of building cultures of peace. All of us share in the responsibility to pass the earth on intact to the generations that will follow us on the planet. We are trustees for future generations. We cannot allow global warming to change the climate, the ozone layer to be further damaged, our soil to be depleted, or our atmosphere, rivers and oceans to be polluted beyond recovery.
President Obama might conclude his Nobel Lecture by noting that peace is a sacred right for children everywhere and that all countries, starting with his own, should end the barbaric practice of sacrificing their children at the altar of war. He might observe that if politicians cannot refrain from choosing war, they should themselves go off to fight and leave the young men and women at home to pursue their lives in peace. It would follow that if politicians were to fight their own wars, the institution of war would soon end, and peace would cease to be the intervals between wars. It would be celebrated in all seasons across the globe.
Of course, these ideas and commitments are unlikely to be in the president’s Nobel Lecture and have been made more so by his recent announcement of his intention to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan. It is pleasant to dream, though, that this young president might make such a speech and carry out a commitment truly deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize.