REPRISE (from 2009): Wanted in Oslo—President Obama’s Vision of Peace

December 10 is Human Rights Day, commemorating the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Two years ago, the world awaited President Obama’s Nobel Prize speech, to be delivered in Oslo on December 10, 2009.

It is well worth reflecting now on his visit to Oslo, and what he did and did not say in his speech, particularly in the light of developments on the ground since then. The following article sets forth what the world needed to hear from the President in his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech two years ago:

Wanted in Oslo: President Obama’s Vision of Peace

(First published December 5, 2009)

On December 10, 2009, President Barack Obama will accept the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009, and deliver a Nobel “lecture” or acceptance speech.

This speech, following his December 2 speech on U.S. military and civilian strategy in Afghanistan, constitutes an extraordinary opportunity for the President to set forth his vision of peace, and how we, the citizens of the planet, can move on a path that leads beyond vague aspirations to concrete achievements in the conquest of peace.

With his renewed emphasis on the vision of a non-nuclear world, Mr. Obama has outlined a core requirement for lasting peace. To his credit, he has resumed the strategic arms control process, withdrawn plans for antiballistic missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland, and now stands on the verge of a new SALT agreement with Russia.

But there are other, important elements of the fabric of peace which he has not yet addressed with clarity. One is the status of international human rights as binding legal rights under both treaties and customary international law. He has spoken of universal norms, but needs to address the specifically legal nature of international human rights. December 10 is Human Rights Day, and this year it will be the 61st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. President Obama needs to speak unambiguously of the importance he believes should be given to international human rights by the United States, and other countries.

A second critical element in the battle for peace is the emphasis given by the United States and other countries to the creation, use, and observance of international law. To be sure, in the United States “international law” has become such a politically charged term that even its staunch advocates shrink from publicly saying the words. However, we need to speak clearly, and we cannot talk clearly about the path to peace without being able to speak forthrightly about international law, and the international law and institutions that must be used, modified, and created in order to coordinate the actions of over 200 countries in managing the affairs of the planet. President Obama should share with the world his thoughts on the subject.

It is commonly recognized that the President is a great orator. On December 10, 2009, the world will be listening intently to hear what he has to say about his vision of peace, and the path we must follow to achieve peace.

The Trenchant Observer