Lat­est peace prize win­ner hon­ours No­bel in­ten­tions

Un­like some past se­lec­tions, this year’s No­bel Prize win­ner is a fit­ting choice, says

The Dominion Post - - Opinion -

This Sun­day the Nor­we­gian No­bel Com­mit­tee will award the 2017 No­bel Peace Prize to the In­ter­na­tional Cam­paign to Abol­ish Nu­clear Weapons (ICAN).

ICAN is re­ceiv­ing the prize for rais­ing aware­ness of the cat­a­strophic hu­man­i­tar­ian con­se­quences of nu­clear weapons use and for its ef­forts to pro­duce a treaty pro­hibit­ing such weapons.

Few peo­ple will dis­agree with this choice, es­pe­cially given the in­creas­ing ten­sions be­tween North Korea and the United States.

The award was es­tab­lished by the Fi­nal Tes­ta­ment of Al­fred No­bel, an ex­traor­di­nar­ily gifted in­ven­tor and shrewd busi­ness­man who amassed a for­tune in the late 19th cen­tury. He is fa­mous for in­vent­ing dy­na­mite. The in­ter­est ac­crued by No­bel’s vast es­tate funds an­nual prizes awarded to those who, dur­ing the pre­ced­ing year, con­ferred the great­est ben­e­fit on mankind.

There are five No­bel Prizes – for Physics, Chem­istry, Phys­i­ol­ogy or Medicine, Lit­er­a­ture, and Peace – and in 1968 Swe­den’s cen­tral bank es­tab­lished The Sveriges Riks­bank Prize in Eco­nomic Sciences in Mem­ory of Al­fred No­bel.

Un­like the other prizes which are awarded by Swedish in­sti­tu­tions, the No­bel Peace Prize is awarded by the Nor­we­gian No­bel Com­mit­tee, which was created by the Nor­we­gian Par­lia­ment in 1897. Ac­cord­ing to Al­fred No­bel’s will, the peace prize must be awarded to the person who has done the most or the best work for the broth­er­hood among na­tions, for the abo­li­tion or re­duc­tion of stand­ing armies, and for hold­ing and pro­mot­ing peace con­gresses.

It is easy to see the com­mit­tee’s ad­her­ence to this sim­ple cri­te­rion dur­ing its early years. The very first prize, for in­stance, was awarded jointly to Fred­eric Passy (an ac­tive cam­paigner for peace) and Henry Du­nant (one of the co­founders of the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross).

But since the end of the Sec­ond World War, the com­mit­tee has been sharply crit­i­cised for award­ing prizes to Henry Kissinger, Le Duc Tho, An­war al-Sa­dat,

Per­haps the com­mit­tee now se­lects high-pro­file actors in world af­fairs in or­der to at­tract at­ten­tion to the prize.

Me­nachem Be­gin, Yasser Arafat, Shi­mon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, and US Pres­i­dent Bar­rack Obama.

It is dif­fi­cult to see how any of these men have done the most or the best work for the abo­li­tion or re­duc­tion of stand­ing armies. These men are en­meshed in the world of mil­i­tarism. None are com­mit­ted to a world with­out arms.

Gandhi would have been a bet­ter choice. Or per­haps one of our own peace re­searchers at Otago Uni­ver­sity’s Na­tional Cen­tre for Peace and Con­flict Stud­ies.

Last year, the prize went to Colom­bian Pres­i­dent Juan Manuel San­tos. Ac­cord­ing to the com­mit­tee, San­tos de­served the award for his res­o­lute ef­forts to bring his coun­try’s civil war to an end, a war that has cost the lives of at least 220,000 Colom­bians and dis­placed close to six mil­lion peo­ple.

Most peo­ple would agree that end­ing any of the world’s in­ter­nal armed con­flicts is a very com­mend­able en­deav­our, wor­thy of much ac­claim and ap­plause.

But the No­bel Peace Prize is not sup­posed to be awarded on those grounds.

One rea­son for those poor se­lec­tions, which have clearly de­vi­ated from No­bel’s in­tent, is the com­mit­tee’s com­po­si­tion. In 1948 the Nor­we­gian Par­lia­ment del­e­gated the se­lec­tion of the com­mit­tee’s mem­bers to the ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties based on their re­sults from the pre­vi­ous Gen­eral Elec­tion. Up un­til that point the se­lec­tion of com­mit­tee mem­bers was de­bated pub­licly by par­lia­ment and based on the ‘‘peace’’ cre­den­tials of the var­i­ous can­di­dates.

Dur­ing the Cold War a con­sen­sus de­vel­oped within Nor­way’s po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment that the use of armed force is a fun­da­men­tal as­pect of the coun­try’s for­eign and de­fence poli­cies. That view is at odds with the world No­bel wanted to en­cour­age and help shape.

Per­haps the com­mit­tee now se­lects high-pro­file actors in world af­fairs in or­der to at­tract at­ten­tion to the prize, rather than us­ing the prize to at­tract at­ten­tion to in­di­vid­ual cham­pi­ons of peace. The prize­money ac­com­pa­ny­ing the award, now over US$1 mil­lion, would en­able grass­root ac­tivists and peace re­searchers to con­tinue their work for the world en­vis­aged by No­bel’s Fi­nal Tes­ta­ment.

When the com­mit­tee con­venes at the Oslo City Hall on De­cem­ber 10, the date Al­fred No­bel died, the award cer­e­mony and all the pageantry that sur­rounds it will, on this oc­ca­sion, re­spect their bene­fac­tor’s wishes. It will serve as a pow­er­ful re­minder that peace can­not be achieved through a bal­ance of ter­ror founded on the pos­ses­sion of nu­clear arms.

❚ Dr Damien Rogers is a se­nior lec­turer at the Cen­tre for De­fence and Se­cu­rity Stud­ies, Massey Uni­ver­sity, Albany.


A bust of Al­fred No­bel on dis­play in Stockholm, Swe­den.

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