CHICAGO — Poverty, a lack of education and arms proliferation present daunting obstacles, yet peace can be achieved if world leaders are more willing to talk and young people are encouraged to get involved, Nobel Peace Prize winners said Monday at their annual meeting.
Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and former presidents Mikhail Gorbachev of the former Soviet Union and Lech Walesa of Poland were among the peace prize winners in Chicago for the start of the three-day World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. The summit comes just weeks before Chicago hosts President Barack Obama, also a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and foreign leaders for the NATO summit, a meeting that is expected to draw large numbers of anti-war protesters. Obama did not attend Monday's meetings.
Carter said that, as the last global superpower, the U.S. has a responsibility to be a leader in peace efforts and set an example to the rest of the world. Instead, he said, the U.S. is "too inclined to go to war" and is contemplating going to war again, "perhaps in Iran."
"Humankind has got to say that war comes last" and negotiation comes first, Carter said during a panel discussion with Gorbachev, Walesa and former South African President F.W. de Klerk.
All said that more young people need to adopt the ideals of peace – including human rights, justice and environmental issues – whether it's in the rest of the world or their own communities.
"We need to be reminded of the standards that the Nobel laureates have always tried to achieve ... just because in their own communities they saw a need for change," Carter said.
But de Klerk said many are vulnerable to bad influences because of poor education, poverty and unemployment.
"They are vulnerable because they have nothing to lose," he said.
It is the first time the Nobel Peace Prize summit has been held in North America. The Nobel Laureates also toured more than a dozen Chicago Public Schools on Monday.
Former President Bill Clinton gave the keynote address late Monday at the opening night dinner, during which actor Sean Penn was presented with the 2012 Peace Summit Award for his work in Haiti.
Clinton said peace isn't just the absence of bad things but also when people make good things happen, and said people could choose a world of peace and cooperation. He referred to his personal experiences with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and conflicts in Yugoslavia and Rwanda while he was president and as head of the Clinton Foundation.
He also said leaders attending the conference had shown courage in the past and must continue to do so.
"You also have to find a way to step into the gap of where we are and where we ought to be," Clinton said.
The Nobel summit – titled "Speak Up, Speak Out for Freedom and Rights" – runs through Wednesday.
The NATO summit will be held May 20-21 at McCormick Place, and preparations for the meeting of global leaders have been intense. The city has amped up security plans with Chicago police, the Illinois National Guard and state police, as thousands of activists are expected to protest the event. Chicago was also supposed to host the G-8 summit, but the Obama administration moved it to Camp David.