Obama: Through Democracy, Countries Can Realize Their Full Potential

Barack Obama

Today’s leaders must be strong enough to recognize the world’s common interests and common humanity, and that principles such as human rights and human dignity “are universal,” President Obama told the United Nations General Assembly September 28.

In the 21st century, a country’s strength is no longer defined by its control of territory. Instead, it depends on “the success of their people — their knowledge, their innovation, their imagination, their creativity, their drive, their opportunity,” which requires “individual rights, good governance and personal security,” he said.

The president said inclusive democracy, which allows peaceful political opposition, civil society, a free media, immigration and gender equality, strengthens countries and allows them to realize their full potential.

“The facts show that nations succeed when they pursue an inclusive peace and prosperity within their borders, and work cooperatively with countries beyond their borders,” he said. “Our nations are more secure when we uphold basic laws and basic norms, and pursue a path of cooperation over conflict.”

Obama said catastrophes, like what is happening in Syria, “do not take place in countries where there is genuine democracy and respect for the universal values this institution is supposed to defend.”

Today’s strongmen “become the spark of revolution tomorrow,” he said. “You can jail your opponents, but you can’t imprison ideas. You can try to control access to information, but you cannot turn a lie into truth.”
The president said no country can insulate itself from the world’s common dangers, such as terrorism, climate change and economic instability.

“The people of our united nations are not as different as they are told,” he said. “We live in an integrated world — one in which we all have a stake in each other’s success.  … And if we cannot work together more effectively, we will all suffer the consequences.”

Much can be accomplished when countries work together and are held accountable for violating international rules, Obama said.

The agreement on Iran’s nuclear activities prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and allows it to access peaceful energy. “If this deal is fully implemented, the prohibition on nuclear weapons is strengthened, a potential war is averted, our world is safer. That is the strength of the international system when it works the way it should,” he said.

At the same time, the U.S. commitment to international order is guiding its response to Russia’s activities in Ukraine.

“We cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated. If that happens without consequence in Ukraine, it could happen to any nation gathered here today,” he said.
For the past 70 years, the United Nations has helped to create an international order “that has underwritten unparalleled advances in human liberty and prosperity,” the president said. “This progress is real. It can be documented in lives saved, and agreements forged, and diseases conquered, and in mouths fed.”