The Nobel President

Posted in politics by armalcolite on December 8, 2009

US President Barack Obama was announced as the winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize on October 9th 2009  for  his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples his vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons. While the announcement shocked many, a survey of the system of awarding the Peace Prize as well as it’s past winners shows that the Norwegian Nobel Committee were not really out of line in awarding this year’s prize.

Firstly, the Peace Prize is awarded by a Committee of 5 members selected by the Norwegian legislature or Storting. So unlike the other categories, the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded by politicians, and is hence coloured by the Norwegian world view. In fact the website of the Nobel prize has this to say about the Peace Prize and the Committee:

“…but, on a deeper level, they also generally reflected Norwegian definitions of the broader, Western values of an idealist, the often slightly left-of-center kind, but rarely so far left that the choices were not acceptable to Western liberal-internationalist opinion in general. The Norwegian government did not determine the choices of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, but these choices reflected the same mixture of idealism and realism that characterized Norwegian, and Scandinavian, foreign policy in general.”

So not only does the Peace Prize Committee admit that their choice is based on Norwegian ideals but they also go on to express their inclination to following  “western liberal-internationalist” values in choosing the price. While this may not ruffle too many feathers as, well, western notions of liberalism are the most rational right? Merits of any particular ideology aside, a predisposition towards one view would amount naturally amount to a disinclination towards other ideologies (amounting to the demise of the idea of the plurality of thought). To put it simply, from such a declared position, the Committe would, if it had to make a choice, choose the candidate who would ruffle fewer feathers. Thus, ruling out an objective, neutral approach which one comes to expect of a Committee invested with the responsibility of awarding what has come to be known the most prestigious prize for the preservation of peace

Alfred Nobel’s will states that the Peace Prize should be awarded by a Committee selected by the Storting. Now, the Storting though simply vested with the responsibility of selecting the Committee, has in its 100+ year history selected only previous or sitting members of the Storting i.e., politicians. The prudence of picking a Committee solely comprising politicians to award a Peace Prize (nominees of which are usually at loggerheads with the political class) is left to the imagination of the reader. Analysing the position and the ideals of the Norwegian Nobel Prize Committee is not merely a hairsplitting exercise as an examination of past winners shows how this bias has been repeatedly reflected in the choices of the Committee.

Barack Obama is one of four US Presidents (Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter) to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Also on the list from the US Government are two Vice Presidents (Charles Dawes and Al Gore) and five Secretaries of State who have been awarded the Prize. The fact that so many members of US government have been awarded the Peace Prize despite the fact that they have been directly responsible for many of the wars that the US has waged is not only shocking, but also confirms the partisan nature of the Committee.

The case for bias on part of the Committee is strengthened when one looks at the case of Gandhi not winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Mahatma Gandhi was nominated 5 times for the Peace Prize between 1938 and 1948, but was often rejected on the grounds that his efforts were towards the cause of one nation and not peace in general. When India gained independence in 1947 and the Gandhi’s nomination grew stronger, the Committee decided against awarding him the prize as he was too strongly committed to one side of belligerents in the India-Pakistan conflict post partition. In 1948, Gandhi was not awarded the Prize as the Committee did not award the Prize posthumously. However, in 1961 Dag Hammarskjöld was awarded the Prize posthumously as his nomination was made while he was alive. So, the Nobel Prize for Peace is not only a biased award but has also been used as a tool for political one-upmanship in pursuit of “Western Liberal-Intarnationalist Ideals”

Even if one were to accept the premise of the Committee in that Obama has strengthened international co-operation and diplomacy, two things stare in the face of such claims. One, while Obama has made the right noises in terms of his willingness to talk to countries that the US has difficult relations with, he has not made any appreciable changes to the foreign policy since Bush. Meaning that in terms of concrete action, Obama still follows the Bush regime but has appended it up with better PR. Two, even if Obama has succeeded in thawing the ice and creating a climate for peaceful negotiation rather than armed intervention, it must be pointed out that such a situation is fragile and is no mean achievement and the tables can be turned any day. So, instead of recognising efforts at creating lasting peace, the Nobel Committee has in fact lauded short-term achievements which may not lead to a peaceful resolution of disputes in a different time. In terms of awarding prematurely, 2009’s award bears resemblance to that of 1973 when Henry Kissinger and Lê Ðức Thọ (refused the award) were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the Paris Peace Accord, but soon after the US army left, South Vietnam quickly recaptured the rest of Vietnam, flouting the Paris Peace Accord rendering the Prize meaningless.

Therefore, the Nobel Peace Prize is far from the most prestigious prize for the preservation of peace as it does not recognise merit and are often recognitions of political effort and influence. The problem is in the amount of attention that is given to the Prize given its long tradition. But in the 21st century the Nobel Prize has long since lost it’s relevance and importance.

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One Response

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  1. slamdunk said, on December 8, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    “The problem is in the amount of attention that is given to the Prize given its long tradition. But in the 21st century the Nobel Prize has long since lost it’s relevance and importance.”

    Well said.

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