Carter Nobel Peace Prize speech
The following is a transcript of the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter delivered Tuesday in Oslo, Norway:
CARTER: Your majesties, members of the Nobel Committee in Norway, your excellencies, distinguished guests, it is with a deep sense of gratitude that I accept this prize. I'm grateful to my wife, Rosalynn, to my colleagues at the Carter Center, and to many others who continue to seek an end to violence and suffering throughout the world.
The scope and character of our center's activities are perhaps unique, the center's activities are unique, but in many other ways, they are typical of the work being done by hundreds of nongovernmental organizations that strive for human rights and peace.
Most Nobel laureates have carried out our work in peace and safety. Others have acted with great personal courage. None has provided more vivid reminders of the dangers of peacekeeping than two of my close friends, [assassinated Egyptian President] Anwar Sadat and [assassinated Israeli Prime Minister] Yitzhak Rabin, who gave their lives for the cause of peace in the Middle East.
Like these two heroes of mine, my first chosen career was in the military. I was a submarine officer. And my shipmates and I realized we had to be ready to fight if combat was forced upon us.
We were prepared to give our lives for our nation and its principles. But at the same time, we always prayed fervently that our readiness would ensure that there would be no war.
Later, as president and as commander in chief of our military forces, I was one of those who bore the sobering responsibility of maintaining global stability during the height of the Cold War, as the world's two superpowers confronted each other.
Both sides understood that an unresolved political altercation or a serious misunderstanding could lead to a nuclear holocaust.
In Washington and in Moscow, we knew that we would have less than one-half hour to respond after we learned that intercontinental missiles had been launched against us. There had to be a constant and delicate balancing of our great military strength with aggressive diplomacy, always seeking to build friendships with other nations, large and small, that shared a common cause.
In those days, the nuclear and conventional armaments of the United States and the Soviet Union were almost equal. But Democracy ultimately prevailed, because of commitments to freedom and human rights; not only in our own country and those of our allies, but in the former Soviet empire as well.
As president, I extended my public support and endorsement to Andre Sakharov, who although denied the right to attend this ceremony, was honored here for his personal commitment to these same ideals.
The world has changed greatly since I left the White House. Now, there is only one superpower, with unprecedented military and economic strength. The coming budget for American armaments will be greater than those of the next 15 nations combined. And there are troops from the United States in many countries throughout the world. Our gross national economy exceeds that of the three countries that follow us.
And our nation's voice most often prevails, as decisions are made concerning trade, humanitarian assistance and the allocation of global wealth. This dominant status is unlikely to change in our lifetimes.
Great American power and responsibility are not unprecedented, and have been used with restraint and widespread benefit in the past. We have not assumed that super strength guarantees super wisdom. And we have consistently reached out to the international community to ensure that our own power and influence are tempered by the best common judgment.
Within our country, ultimate decisions are made through democratic means, which tend to moderate radical or ill-advised proposals. Constrained and inspired by historic constitutional principles, our nation has endeavored for more than 200 years to follow the now-almost-universal ideals of freedom, human rights and justice for all.
Our president, Woodrow Wilson, was honored here for promoting the League of Nations, whose two basic concepts were profoundly important: collective security and self-determination. Now, they are embedded in international law, and violations of these principles during the last half century have been tragic failures, as was vividly demonstrated when the Soviet Union attempted to conquer Afghanistan and when Iraq invaded Kuwait.
After the Second World War, our Secretary of State Cordell Hull received this prize for his role in founding the United Nations. And his successor, General George C. Marshall, was recognized because of his efforts to help rebuild Europe, without excluding the vanquished nations of Italy and Germany. This was a historic example of respecting human rights at the international level.
Ladies and gentlemen, 12 years ago [Soviet] President Mikhail Gorbachev received recognition for ending the Cold War that had lasted 50 years. But instead of entering a millennium of peace, the world is now in many ways a more dangerous place. The greater ease of travel and communication has not been matched by equal understanding and mutual respect. There is a plethora of civil wars, unrestrained by rules of the Geneva Convention, within which an overwhelming portion of the casualties are unarmed civilians who have no ability to defend themselves.
And recent appalling acts of terrorism have reminded us that no nations, even superpowers, are invulnerable. It is clear that global challenges must be met by an emphasis on peace, in harmony with others, with strong alliances and international consensus.
Imperfect as it may be, there is no doubt that this can best be done through the United Nations, which another American, Ralph Bunch, described here in this same forum as exhibiting a fortunate flexibility, not merely to preserve peace, but also make change, even radical change, without violence.
He went on to say -- and I quote -- "To suggest that war can prevent war is a base play on words and a despicable form of warmongering." He said, "The objective of any who sincerely believe in peace clearly must (be) to exhaust every honorable recourse in the efforts to save the peace. The world has had ample evidence that war begets only conditions that beget further war" -- unquote.
We must remember that today there are at least eight nuclear nations on earth, and three of these are threatening to their own neighbors in areas of great international tension.
For powerful countries to adopt a principle of preventive war may well set an example that can have catastrophic consequences.
If we accept the premise that the United Nations is the best avenue for the maintenance of peace, then the carefully considered decisions of the U.N. Security Council must be enforced.
All too often, the alternative has proven to be uncontrollable violence and expanding spheres of hostility. The most vivid example is that for more than half a century following the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, the Middle East conflict has been a source of worldwide tension and conflict itself.
At Camp David in 1978, and in Oslo in 1993, Israelis, Egyptians and Palestinians have endorsed the only reasonable prescription for peace, United Nations resolution 242. It calls -- it condemns the acquisition of territory by force, and it calls for the withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories, and provides for Israelis to live securely and in harmony with their neighbors. There is no other mandate whose implementation could more profoundly improve international relationships.
Perhaps of more immediate concern is the necessity for Iraq to comply fully with the unanimous decision of the [United Nations] Security Council that it eliminate all weapons of mass destruction and permit unimpeded access by inspectors to confirm that this commitment has been honored. The world insists that this be done. I thought often during my years in the White House of an admonition that we received in our small school in Plains, Georgia, from a beloved teacher, Miss Judy Coleman. She often said, "We must adjust to changing times but still hold to unchanging principles."
When I was a young boy, the same teacher introduced me to Leo Tolstoy's novel "War and Peace," that powerful narrative she interpreted as a reminder that the simple human attributes of goodness and truth can overcome great power.
She also taught us that an individual is not swept along on a tide of inevitability, but can influence even the greatest human events. These premises have been proven by the lives of many heroes, some of whose names were little known outside their own region until they became Nobel laureates.
Albert John Lutuli, Norman Borlaug, Desmond Tutu, Elie Wiesel, Aung San Suu Kyi, Jody Williams and even Albert Schweitzer, and Mother Teresa. All of these and others have proven that even without government power and often in opposition to it, individuals can enhance human rights and wage peace actively and effectively.
The Nobel Prize also profoundly magnified the inspiring global influence of Martin Luther King Jr., the greatest leader that my native state has ever produced.
On a personal note, it's unlikely that my own political career beyond Georgia would ever have been possible without the changes brought about by the civil rights movement in the southern part of our country and throughout the nation.
On the steps of our memorial to Abraham Lincoln in Washington, Dr. King said much more eloquently than this, "I have a dream that on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood."
The scourge of racism has not been vanquished, either in the red hills of my state or throughout the world, and yet we see ever more frequent manifestations of his dream of racial healing. In a symbolic, but a very genuine way, at least in the case of two Georgians, it's coming true in Oslo today.
I'm not here as a public official, but as a citizen of a troubled world, who finds hope in a growing consensus that the generally accepted goals of society are peace, freedom, human rights, environmental quality, the alleviation of suffering and the rule of law.
During the past decades, the international community, usually under the auspices of the United Nations, has struggled to negotiate global agreements that can help us achieve these essential goals. They include the abolition of land mines and chemical weapons, an end to testing, proliferation and further deployment of nuclear warheads, constraints on global warming, prohibition of the death penalty, at least for children, and an international criminal court to deter and to punish war crimes and genocide. Those agreements, already adopted, must be fully implemented, and others should be pursued aggressively.
We must also strive to correct the injustice of economic sanctions that are -- seek to penalize abusive leaders, but all too often inflict punishment on those who (are) already suffering from the abuse.
The unchanging principles of life predate modern times. I worship Jesus Christ, whom we Christians consider to be the prince of peace. As a Jew, he taught us to cross religious boundaries in service and in love. He repeatedly reached out and embraced our Roman conquerors, other Gentiles and even the more-despised Samaritans.
Despite theological differences, all great religions share common commitments that define our ideal secular relationships. I'm convinced that Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and others can embrace each other in a common effort to alleviate human suffering and to espouse peace.
But the current era is a challenging and disturbing time for those whose lives are shaped by religious faith based on kindness toward each other. We have been reminded that cruel and inhuman acts can be derived from distorted theological beliefs, as suicide bombers take the lives of innocent human beings, draped falsely in the cloak of God's will.
With horrible brutality, neighbors have massacred neighbors in Europe, Asia and Africa.
In order for us human beings to commit ourselves personally to the inhumanity of war, we find it necessary first to dehumanize our opponents, which is in itself a violation of the beliefs of all religions. Once we characterize our adversaries as beyond the scope of God's mercy and grace, their lives lose all value. We deny personal responsibility when we plant land mines, and days or years later, a stranger to us, often a child, is crippled or killed.
From a great distance, we launch bombs or missiles with almost total impunity, and never want to know the number or the identity of the victims.
At the beginning of this millennium, I was asked to discuss, here in Oslo, in fact, the greatest challenges that the world faces.
Among all the possible choices, I decided that the most serious and universal problem is a growing chasm between the richest and poorest people on Earth.
It's interesting to note that citizens of the 10 wealthiest countries are now 75 times richer than those who live in the 10 poorest ones. And the separation is increasing every year. Not only between nations, but within them.
The results of this disparity are the root causes of most of the world's unresolved problems, including starvation, illiteracy, environmental degradation, violent conflict, and unnecessary illnesses that range from guinea worm to HIV and AIDS.
Most work of the Carter Center is in remote villages in the poorest nations of Africa, and there, I have witnessed the capacity of destitute people to persevere under heartbreaking conditions. I have come to admire their judgment and wisdom, their courage and faith, and their awesome accomplishments when given a chance to use their innate abilities. But tragically, in the industrialized world, there's a terrible absence of understanding or concern about those who are enduring lives of despair and hopelessness.
We have not yet made the commitment to share with others an appreciable part of our excessive wealth. This is a necessary and potentially rewarding burden that we should all be willing to assume.
Ladies and gentlemen, war may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other's children. The bond of our common humanity is stronger than the divisiveness of our fears and prejudices. God gives us a capacity for choice. We can choose to alleviate suffering. We can choose to work together for peace. We can make these changes. And we must.