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President Carter Addresses 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates

[Thanks, acknowledgements, and president's joke]

The key goal for this 12th summit is for Nobel laureates to inspire younger generations. Having been a college professor for thirty years and with four children, 12 grandchildren, and 6 great-grandchildren I have personal experience and responsibilities to advise and educate young Americans. Remember that this is the audience I am addressing in my remarks.

Peace, justice, human rights, the environment, and alleviation of suffering are Nobel principles. These are also shared commitments of great religions, global political ambitions, and personal moral values that most people profess to adopt.

[Brief description of principles and projects of The Carter Center: non-partisan; take chance on failure; fill vacuums. Also describe transition over the years from emphasis on peace to health (but continuing democracy & peace).

I also belong to a group of elders, including several Nobel laureates: Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan, Martti Ahtisaari, Aung San Suu Kyi (who is resigning because she now holds public office). We have learned that goals are easy to proclaim, but difficult to achieve.

Each of us citizens, especially in a democracy, must examine ourselves - individually and as a nation – to see how we can improve. We do this not with condemnation, but constructively.

Let's look at America, a global superpower, with great responsibility for promoting these Nobel values, and begin by talking about the most obvious and important: peace. Since World War II our country has been almost constantly at war, in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Grenada, Libya, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many others – and now we're looking at Iran as our next potential adversary. People around the world see us as the most warlike of all nations.

I am not opposed to all military action. I was a career officer in the Navy, having served on two battleships and three submarines. I was prepared to give my life to defend my country and its interests and values. In fact, since the Civil War era only President Eisenhower has had more years of military service.

But all people should be constrained to observe the basic requirements of a just war. Here are a few principles:

  • Only as last resort, after all peaceful moves have been exhausted;
  • Weapons used must discriminate between combatants and others;
  • Violence proportional to injury suffered – certainly not "preemptive;"
  • Military attacks should comply with decision of society, such as through the United Nations;
  • Prospective results clearly superior to what originally exists.

Most U.S. wars have failed to meet these criteria or were totally unnecessary.

Let me mention long-term economic punishment as an alternative to armed conflict, many years after military action is ended. For more than a half century we have maintained a counterproductive embargo against the 12 million people who are neighbors of ours in Cuba, who are already suffering under a communist system. We have also tried for almost 60 years to restrict and destroy the economic system of North Korea. Both the Cubans and North Koreans are already suffering under the rule of communist dictators, who can blame their economic plight on our restrictions. We could at least find a way to alleviate the starvation of children in North Korea without strengthening the oppressive regime.

Now let's consider elements of justice, or humanitarian causes. We are the only industrialized nation with the death penalty, and ninety percent of all executions are carried out in four countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. In addition, we have the highest prison population on earth. Both death sentences and incarceration are mostly confined to the poor, minorities, or to people with mental deficiencies.

Although all other nations defer to America to resolve problems in the Middle East, for the first time since 1967 we are making no tangible effort to bring peace to Israel and its neighbors and to alleviate oppression of the Palestinian people.

Eleanor Roosevelt and other Americans were in the forefront of developing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the 1940s, and subsequently we were considered to be its champion. However, since the 9/11 terrorist attacks we have abandoned many of those principles. Human rights organizations, including those represented here, say that the U.S. is now violating 7 of the 30 paragraphs of the universal declaration.

There is one specific element of human rights I want to mention: the treatment of immigrants. In 1931, a Chicago woman, Jane Addams, won the Nobel Peace Prize for dealing humanely with the immigrant community. We need a fair and responsible national policy that enforces laws and protects the human rights of those on our country who are not yet citizens.

Just to mention one other Nobel principle, the environment: America is now one of the most laggard nations, opposing many of the commitments made by European and other countries to deal with the threat of global warming.

Almost all Nobel peace laureates have worked within their own community, to detect challenges and to search for ways to improve people's lives. That is what our own young people and those in other countries are exploring this week at this summit. Each of us, young and old, must do what we can - searching for an arena of life where we can be most effective.

Your generation, including my grandchildren, can join in making our great country a superpower in all meanings of the word: an exalted example of being a champion of peace, justice, democracy, human rights, environmental quality, and generosity to those in need. This is America's destiny, which you must help to shape.

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