Latest peace prize winner honours Nobel intentions
Unlike some past selections, this year’s Nobel Prize winner is a fitting choice, says
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.