The prestigious Nobel Peace Prize, awarded almost every year by the Norwegian Nobel Committee along the rules laid down in the will of Norwegian capitalist- Alfred Nobel, also the inventor of dynamite, has had a long history, more than a century, established in 1901. However, this history of international recognition of peace is also the history of international criticism. From the awardees of the prize to the appointment of the Nobel Committee, all aspects of this prize have been put under public scrutiny.
Geir Lundestad, the former Secretary of the Nobel Committee, in his book titled ‘The Secretary of Peace’ talks about all the controversies the committee has been party to during his tenure. The highlight was the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Barack Obama in 2009. Many believed that giving the peace prize to Obama was a mistake as he hadn’t made any impact worthy of the award. Interestingly, this idea was shared by many of his supporters as well. The idea of presenting the peace prize to an individual who was responsible for military escalation in Afghanistan, and several drone attacks on Pakistan and Afghanistan, military initiatives which resulted in displacement and death of several hundred- is difficult to bear. Lundestad recalls in his book about how the news surprised even the White House who even considered skipping the ceremony altogether.
Another awardee of the Peace Prize Lundestad extensively talks about is Henry Kissinger (awarded in 1973) – who played a big role in the Vietnam war; killing more than a million, overthrowing a democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile which led to rising of a brutal military regime and, initiating the carpet bombings of Cambodia which killed more than 800,000- all of this before he received the prize. The list goes on of his ‘peaceful’ conduct.
One may ask what exactly is the purpose of the Peace Prize? Especially when it is awarded to those who have committed crimes against humanity. The simple answer to this: we must scrutinize the trends of the Nobel Committee and its nominated awardees. In 1978 the Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was bestowed with the same prize for signing the Camp David Agreement which not only led to the capitulation of Egypt to the west but also signaled the breakup of ‘Arab Unity’.
Here, I shall mention the Nobel Prize for Literature to forward my claim. Since the 1960s, a trend has been in practice to award the Nobel Prize for Literature to dissidents of the Soviet Blocs; in 2000, an exiled Chinese writer who called for political reforms in China was given the prize; in 2010 it was given to Mario Vargas, a Peruvian writer known for his right-wing tilt and criticality of the left-wing governments in Latin America. All this points towards the political nature and the ‘pro-west’ bias of the Nobel Committee and thus, politically motivated prizes.
According to Norwegian law, the Nobel Committee is an independent body free from any political control. However, when we look at the fact that the members of the Nobel Committee are retired Norwegian politicians, it’s hard to believe that the committee would be free from any political bias.
Nevertheless, in recent decades the Nobel Committee has deliberately disregarded its mission and selected prize winners based on its own preferences. Human rights defenders, environmentalists, and a large number of others have received the award, despite the fact that their efforts are in no way within Alfred Nobel's specific vision of peace. The guidelines set out in his Will which states that the peace prize must be awarded to “the person who did the best or the most work for fraternity between nations; for abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for holding peace congresses”.
Apart from all these debates, another criticism the Nobel Committee faces is its popular omissions; people who should’ve won but actually never did. Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, U Thant, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Fazl-e-Hasan Abed are among a few notable international personalities who have worked extensively for achieving peace but were never given the acknowledgement.
The question we must ask now is, “Why does the Peace Prize matter?” The Peace Prize could hardly be credited with ending the war. It also does not guarantee the future success and continuous accomplishments of its recipient. An exemplary example would be the 1991 recipient Aung San Suu Kyi who has faced widespread criticism for the genocide of Rohingya Muslims. The 1994 peace prize which honored the middle east peace process by awarding Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin is now in ruins.
Despite all this, it cannot be denied that the prize provides recipients with world exposure, sometimes bringing activists and their causes to international attention like Malala Yousufzai and Kailash Satyarthi.
Notwithstanding the controversies, the Nobel ‘tag’ has retained its prestige over the years. A sign, some say, that the Nobel Committee which makes the choices must be doing something right. Perhaps, it is Alfred Nobel’s inherently political nature of which narrowly defines ‘peace’ that makes it impossible for the committee to reach a decision that pleases everyone. Despite all this, the need for certain reforms within the Nobel Committee cannot be ignored. There is a need for greater transparency for the prize to get unanimous approval.
By Akib Saifi
Akib Saifi is a second-year History Honours student at Hindu College. He enjoys writing articles and expressing his opinion on a variety of political, social, and environmental issues.