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A profound speech on war and peace; a similar speech is needed on nuclear weapon policy
Ira Helfand, MD
December 10, 2009
President Obama's Nobel address was not the speech that many of us had hoped for. He did state again his commitment to nuclear disarmament but he certainly did not use the address to build the case for eliminating nuclear weapons nor to lay out a plan for achieving this aim.
Having said that, the speech was an extraordinarily thoughtful meditation on issues of war and peace. The address is referred to formally as the Nobel Lecture and the President seems to have taken the title very literally.
He began by addressing the irony of a leader at war receiving the Peace Prize, much as he began his address at the Notre Dame graduation this May by acknowledging the opposition to his invitation there by abortion foes. And, as was the case at Notre Dame, he did not offer a facile response to the situation. Many may disagree with his willingness, under certain circumstances, to use force in the pursuit of peace, but his arguments were substantive and eloquent, and it is hard to doubt the decency of his intentions.
In retrospect this may be just the speech that he needed to give at this point and from this place. It was a clear but nuanced statement of the approach he intends to take towards issues of war and peace and a useful insight into the policies he is pursuing, and it was warmly greeted by the audience here in Oslo that gave him a prolonged standing ovation.
But if this was the speech the President had to give today, there is another speech he has to give soon. His commitment to nuclear disarmament needs to be made more concrete, and the case for nuclear disarmament, which he will argue from the perspective of US national security interests, needs to be spelled out more clearly. The slow pace of the START negotiations, which failed to produce a follow on agreement before the old treaty expired last week, is not a cause for despair and it does not indicate a lack of commitment by the US or Russian governments. But it does underline the need for high level attention to, and direction of, the administration's efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons if these efforts are to move forward with the urgency and speed which ending the threat of nuclear war requires.