The Duck of Minerva

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Further Thoughts on Obama’s Oslo Speech

December 11, 2009

My previous remarks about the relative lack of attention to climate change in Obama’s speech were written after having read the text of Obama’s speech. I stand by those comments – he spent 160 words on nuclear proliferation, 663 on human rights, and 128 on poverty reduction; but only 79 on climate change, which was folded into “freedom from want” rather than separated out into its own section.

However, having now listened to the whole thing, I am considerably more blown away about the speech as a whole. For IR scholars and human security specialists, this speech will probably be one of those that define his Presidency.

I am completing focus groups with practitioners who work in the “human security” network today. We’ve recruited individuals working for NGOs, international organizations, UN specialized agencies, think-tanks, and ministries and donor agencies of governments whose diplomatic efforts are prominent in the areas of human rights, development, humanitarian affairs, conflict prevention and environmental security. While NGOs and UN officials have been eager to join us for these discussions, I’ve been interested to see what a difficult time we’ve had recruiting government officials to participate.

Possibly, it’s the term “human security” that is troublesome to people. Canada has long since abandoned this jargon. The US avoids it, while participating in the promotion of human security in many different ways abroad. I wonder if Obama’s speech, which ties together the elements of a broad human security agenda – peace with justice, just war, promotion of human rights, freedom from want, and environmental security – will reinvigorate our understanding of human security as a master paradigm for global governance in the new century.

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Charli Carpenter is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate, 2006), Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights
Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (Columbia, 2010), and ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda-Setting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security (Cornell, 2014). Her main research interests include national security ethics, the protection of civilians, the laws of war, global agenda-setting, gender and political violence, humanitarian affairs, the role of information technology in human security, and the gap between intentions and outcomes among advocates of human security.