(RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Barack Obama today accepted the Nobel Peace Prize while, at the same time, defending his decision to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan for the fight against Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.
In his acceptance speech, billed as a lecture for the world, Obama acknowledged what he called "the considerable controversy" the Nobel Committee's decision had generated -- because it came only months into his presidency, and because he is commander in chief of a country in the midst of two wars.
He mentioned the word "war" 44 times as he spelled out his thinking about military conflicts, security and the pursuit of peace.
Obama said he was inspired by the nonviolent philosophies of Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. But he said the use of force was sometimes "not only necessary but morally justified."
"I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince Al-Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms," Obama said.
"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."
Obama said he raised the point because there is "deep ambivalence" in the world today about military action, no matter what the cause, that is sometimes "joined by a reflexive suspicion of America."
Obama said he, like any head of state, reserves the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend his nation. But he stressed that all nations -- strong and weak alike -- must adhere to international standards that govern the use of force.
"Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe that the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war," he said.
"That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength."
For dealing with countries that break international rules and laws, Obama said alternatives to violence must be developed that are tough enough to change behavior -- including sanctions that exact a "real price," and increased pressure that "exists only when the world stands together as one."
He said an urgent example is the effort to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
"It is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted," he said.
"Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war."
On human rights, Obama said the United States would bear witness to the bravery of people pressing for their rights round the world, including "the hundreds and thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran" in postelection protests.
But he said the promotion of human rights must sometimes include "painstaking diplomacy" with repressive regimes because "condemnation without discussion can carry forward a crippling status quo."
"We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice," Obama said. "We can admit the intractability of depravation, and still strive for dignity. Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace."
The Nobel Committee has said it awarded the peace prize to Obama for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."
Nobel Peace Prize Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland also cited Obama's push for global nuclear disarmament as a reason Obama received the award.
Jagland said Obama's efforts met the award criteria of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who created the Nobel Prize in 1901 with a $9 million endowment in his will:
"The question was actually quite simple: Who has done the most for peace in the world in the past year? If the question is put in Alfred Nobel's terms, the answer is relatively easy to find," Jagland said.
"It had to be U.S. President Barack Obama. Only rarely does one person dominate international politics to the same extent as Obama, or in such a short space of time, initiate so many and such major changes as Obama has done."
Critics say Obama does not deserve the award because of his limited foreign-policy successes since he took office in January and his decisions during the past year to deploy nearly 50,000 more U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
'Surprised' By Award
Earlier, speaking to journalists in Oslo ahead of the award ceremony, Obama struck a note of humility, saying news about the Nobel Committee's decision on the coveted award had come as a surprise to him.
"I have no doubt that there are others who may be more deserving," he said. "My task here is to continue on the path that I believe is not only important for America, but important for lasting peace and security in the world."
Obama said achieving lasting peace and security requires a host of issues to be addressed -- from dealing with global climate change in an effective way, to stabilizing countries like Afghanistan, and mobilizing an international effort to deal with terrorism that is consistent with Western values and ideals.
"It means addressing issues of development because we understand the connection between economic justice and peace," Obama said.
At a press conference with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, Obama also responded to critics who say he has not yet done enough in his presidency to earn the peace prize.
"The goal is not to win a popularity contest or to get an award -- even one as esteemed as the Nobel Peace Prize," Obama said. "The goal has been to advance America's interests, to strengthen our economy at home and to make ourselves a continuing force for good in the world."
Upon arrival, Obama and his wife Michelle went to the Norwegian Nobel Institute, where they met with the Nobel Committee that decides who wins the prestigious prize.
Signing the Nobel guest book in a room displaying photographs of past Nobel Peace Prize winners, Obama pointed out a photograph on the wall of Martin Luther King Jr. -- who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 -- and the ability of the award to "give voice to the voiceless and the oppressed around the world."
"If you look a the wall, you know, Michelle and I were commenting on the fact that when Dr. King won his prize, it had a galvanizing effect around the world -- but also lifted his stature in the United States in a way that allowed him to be more effective," he said.
"That's a legacy of the Nobel Committee that we are very grateful for."
Peace Prize At War?
Critics say Obama does not deserve the award because of his limited foreign-policy successes since he took office in January and his decisions during the past year to deploy almost 50,000 more U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The criticism has not come only from Obama's political opponents in the United States. Some residents of Oslo today expressed skepticism.
"I don't think he deserves the Nobel Prize, the peace prize, because he hasn't earned it yet. He hasn't done a lot yet," one man told Reuters.
"He only has sent some people to Afghanistan and Iraq. I don't think you deserve the Nobel Peace Prize for that."
But other Oslo residents, like businessman Terje Sunde Johnsen, say the award can help Obama better deal with the challenges his administration faces -- from war in Afghanistan and Iraq to nuclear stand-offs with Iran and North Korea.
"I think it is very good because it represents an active use of the peace prize to try to influence developments," Johnsen told Reuters.
Obama is the third U.S. president after Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson to win the Nobel Peace Prize while still in office. Former President Jimmy Carter was honored with the award in 2002, more than two decades after he left office.
with agency reports