An official website of the United States Government 
Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

.gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Obama Stresses Whole-of-Government Approach in U.N. Speech

You have accessed part of a historical collection on Some of the information contained within may be outdated and links may not function. Please contact the DOD Webmaster with any questions.

President Barack Obama today urged a whole-of-government approach to international problems, telling the United Nations General Assembly that the military is just one arrow in any nation’s quiver.

At the General Assembly’s opening in New York, the president spoke of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Russian actions in Ukraine and problems of sovereignty in the South China Sea.

Many people both inside and outside the United States say cooperation and diplomacy will not work, given the threats, the president noted.

“As president of the United States, I am mindful of the dangers that we face,” he told the delegates. “They cross my desk every morning. I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known, and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies unilaterally and by force where necessary. But I stand before you today believing in my core that we, the nations of the world, cannot return to the old ways of conflict and coercion.”

Hard Lesson in Iraq

In Iraq, the United States learned the hard lesson “that even hundreds of thousands of brave, effective troops and trillions of dollars … cannot by itself impose stability on a foreign land,” he said. The United States, he added, must work with other nations under international norms and principles and law.

“Unless we work together to defeat the ideas that drive different communities in a country like an Iraq into conflict, any order that our militaries can impose will be temporary,” he said.

History also shows that in today’s world, “dictatorships are unstable,” the president said.

“The strongmen of today become the spark of revolution tomorrow,” he added. “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.”

Iran Nuclear Pact

Obama pointed to the nuclear pact with Iran as an example of the type of international cooperation he would like to see. Iran was violating the U.N.’s Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. The U.N. Security Council tightened sanctions on the Iranian government.

“Together, we showed that laws and agreements mean something, but we also understood that the goal of sanctions was not simply to punish Iran,” Obama said. “Our objective was to test whether Iran could change course, accept constraints and allow the world to verify that its nuclear program will be peaceful.”

The agreement this year means “a lasting, comprehensive deal that prevents in Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, while allowing it to access peaceful energy and if this deal is fully implemented, the prohibition on nuclear weapons is strengthened, a potential war is averted, our world is safer,” the president said. “That is the strength of the international system when it works the way it should.”

Respect for International Law

The same respect for international law and principles should apply elsewhere. “Consider Russia’s annexation of Crimea and further aggression in Eastern Ukraine,” Obama said. “America has few economic interests in Ukraine. We recognize the deep and complex history between Russia and Ukraine, but 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.”

The United States does not want another Cold War, but it does want international norms and the will of the people respected, the president told the delegates.

The same is true in the South China Sea, he said. “The United States makes no claim on territory there,” he said. “We don’t adjudicate claims, but like every nation gathered here, we have an interest in upholding the basic principles of freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce and in resolving disputes through international law, not the law of force.”

The United States will defend these principles “while encouraging China and other claimants to resolve their differences peacefully,” the president said.

Large Nations Have an Obligation

Diplomacy is tough, the president said, and often the outcomes are unsatisfying and rarely are they politically popular. “But I believe that leaders of large nations, in particular, have an obligation to take these risks, precisely because we are strong enough to protect our interests, if and when diplomacy fails,” he said.

There will still be threats and challenges, the president said. “But we will be stronger when we act together,” he added.

The United States will do its part, Obama said, as it did in Libya, where a U.N. mandated coalition prevented a slaughter.

“Even as we helped the Libyan people bring an end to the reign of a tyrant, our coalition could have and should have done more to fill a vacuum left behind,” he said. “We are grateful to the United Nations for its efforts to forge a unity government. We will help any legitimate Libyan government as it works to bring the country together. But we also have to recognize that we must work more effectively in the future as an international community to build capacity for states that are in distress before they collapse.”

An Adequate Peacekeeping Force

Part of that is an adequate peacekeeping force, Obama told the General Assembly. “The United State will join with more than 50 countries to enlist new capabilities -- infantry, intelligence, helicopters, hospitals and tens of thousands of troops -- to strengthen United Nations peacekeeping,” he said. “These new capabilities can prevent mass killing and ensure that peace agreements are more than words on paper.

But the world’s nations must  do it together, the president said. “Together, we must strengthen our collective capacity where order has broken down and to support those who seek a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Dire Situation in Syria

The situation in Syria is dire, Obama said. Bashar Assad is killing his own people, he said, while Syria is the epicenter of ISIL and countless other extremist groups. Millions have fled Syria because of the violence.

“When a dictator slaughters tens of thousands of his own people, that is not just a matter of one nation’s internal affairs,” the president said. “It breeds human suffering on an order of magnitude that affects us all.

“Likewise, when a terrorist group beheads captives, slaughters the innocent and enslaves women, it’s not a single nation’s national security problem. That is an assault on all of our humanity,” he continued. “I said before and I will repeat: There is no room for accommodating an apocalyptic cult like ISIL and the United States makes no apology for using our military as part of a broad coalition to go after them. We do so with a determination to ensure that there will never be a safe haven for terrorists who carry out these crimes. And we have demonstrated over more than a decade of relentless pursuit of al-Qaida, we will not be outlasted by extremists.”

Solution Requires More Than Just Military Power

But even in Syria, military power is just one part of the solution, Obama said.

“Lasting stability can only take hold when the people of Syria forge an agreement to live together peacefully,” he said. “The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict. We must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the prewar status quo.”

Realism dictates that compromise will be required to end the fighting and stamp out ISIL, the president said. “But realism also requires a managed transition away from Assad to a new leader and an inclusive government that recognizes there must be an end to the chaos so that the Syrian people can begin to rebuild,” he added.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)

Related Stories