I was tempted to skip writing about the Nobel Peace prize. Rather obviously my primary interest has been the three big Nobel Prizes (Medicine, Physics, and Chemistry) that I wrote up earl;lier on in the week. The “Peace” prize however does perhaps deserve some attention, specifically because the entire endeavour is at times (if I may be brutally frank) bizarre.
Perhaps the First question to ponder is – What does it even mean?
The prize itself exists because the Swedish industrialist, Alfred Nobel, established within his will that his fortune should be utilised in that manner. He actually did define what it should mean. To be precise, his will states that this “Peace” prize is targeted at those who …
“shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”
… and also goes on to specify that the prize is to be awarded by a committee of five people chosen by the Norwegian Parliament. The others, are (as he also stipulated) decided by the Swedish science academies, and so involve a great deal more rigour. (Hint: Members of science academies tend to know a bit about science and thus can make good choices, which they usually do).
It is in many respects a nobel (no pun intended) endeavour and clearly the thinking is to nurture those that strive to make the world a better place. That is all a reflection of Mr Nobel feeling rather guilty about amassing his fortune within the arms industry. When he read a premature obituary which condemned him for profiting from the sales of arms, this moment of self-realisation motivated him to bequeath his fortune to institute the Nobel Prizes.
The choice for one dedicated to Peace is perhaps at odds with the other categories, but is also perhaps partially explained by the observation that Mr Nobel had a friendship with peace activist Bertha von Suttner, who then later went on to win the peace prize herself in 1905.
How has the Peace prize worked out then?
The actual award has not exactly been spot on the mark each and every time. Let me illustrate that with some of the previous awards …
- 1973 Henry A. Kissinger and Lê Ðức Thọ for a Vietnam ceasefire :
- The problem was that when the award was announced, both sides were still carpet bombing each other. At least Lê Ðức Thọ had the decency to decline the award. The fact that Kissinger accepted says a great deal about his personal lack of any integrity. Two Norwegian Nobel Committee members resigned to protest this one.
- 1979 Mother Teresa :
- She claimed to have the interests of the poor in mind, but actually used all the money she gathered to promote fanatical Catholicism and simply dumped the poor she was supposed to help into some truly appalling conditions. She announced during her acceptance speech that the number one cause of a lack of peace in the world was “abortion”. Indeed yes, it clearly has been all those abortions in Syria and Iraq that has challenged the region.
- 1989 Dalai Lama :
- OK, criticism of him might be like trying to shoot Bambi. The issue here is that this appears to have simply been a way to annoy China and was given to score political points.
- 1994 Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin for making peace between Israel and Palestine :
- Granting them the award at the time was within the remit, and the observation that they actually were striving to build a solution does perhaps merit them the award. However, we can look back now and see that it has not exactly gone all that well. Even at the time one of the five Norwegian Nobel Committee members could see how it would play out, so denounced Arafat as a terrorist, then quit in disgust.
- 2009 Barack Obama :
- Awarded, not for anything he had actually done, but basically because he was not a war-mongering Hawk like his predecessor who started several wars under false pretences. Even Obama himself was a bit mystified about it. Least you wonder, the closing date for nominations was 1st Feb 2009, just 9 days after he took office.
- 2013 The entire European Union :
- In one respect, I do get this one because the various European states have a long history of going to war with each other, and have ceased doing so since the formation of the EU. Now all they do is distribute a rather unequal form of financial chaos. I still find giving an award to an entire economic block on the sole basis that they have not ripped out each others throats to be a tad odd.
What perhaps makes the award even weirder are not just those they have chosen, but also those they have not selected. For example Mahatma Gandhi never won. If anybody should have, then it was him. He was nominated in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947, but never received it. That specific non-award has been publicly regretted. Geir Lundestad, Secretary of Norwegian Nobel Committee, said in 2006 …
“The greatest omission in our 106-year history is undoubtedly that Mahatma Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace prize. Gandhi could do without the Nobel Peace prize, whether Nobel committee can do without Gandhi is the question”
The primary problem here is that this prize is in essence one that bestows a reward for specific political positions and that is a rather stark contrast to the recognition of scientific milestones. In fact, some (specifically Norwegian historian Øivind Stenersen) have argued that the committee members utilise the granting of the award as a means of furthering Norwegian nation building and also promoting Norway’s foreign policy and economic interests. Since the committee is (as stipulated in Nobel’s will) composed of individuals chosen by the Norwegian Parliament, then this outcome is not exactly a surprise.
It is perhaps almost impossible for this to not be a political award.
Who Won this year?
It’s actually not a bad choice.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2016 to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for his resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year-long 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. The award should also be seen as a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace, and to all the parties who have contributed to the peace process. This tribute is paid, not least, to the representatives of the countless victims of the civil war.
President Santos initiated the negotiations that culminated in the peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas, and he has consistently sought to move the peace process forward. Well knowing that the accord was controversial, he was instrumental in ensuring that Colombian voters were able to voice their opinion concerning the peace accord in a referendum. The outcome of the vote was not what President Santos wanted: a narrow majority of the over 13 million Colombians who cast their ballots said no to the accord. This result has created great uncertainty as to the future of Colombia. There is a real danger that the peace process will come to a halt and that civil war will flare up again. This makes it even more important that the parties, headed by President Santos and FARC guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londoño, continue to respect the ceasefire.
The fact that a majority of the voters said no to the peace accord does not necessarily mean that the peace process is dead. The referendum was not a vote for or against peace. What the “No” side rejected was not the desire for peace, but a specific peace agreement. The Norwegian Nobel Committee emphasizes the importance of the fact that President Santos is now inviting all parties to participate in a broad-based national dialogue aimed at advancing the peace process. Even those who opposed the peace accord have welcomed such a dialogue. The Nobel Committee hopes that all parties will take their share of responsibility and participate constructively in the upcoming peace talks.
Striking a balance between the need for national reconciliation and ensuring justice for the victims will be a particularly difficult challenge. There are no simple answers to how this should be accomplished. An important feature of the Colombian peace process so far has been the participation of representatives of civil war victims. Witnessing the courage and will of the victims’ representatives to testify about atrocities, and to confront the perpetrators from every side of the conflict, has made a profound impression.
By awarding this year’s Peace Prize to President Juan Manuel Santos, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to encourage all those who are striving to achieve peace, reconciliation and justice in Colombia. The president himself has made it clear that he will continue to work for peace right up until his very last day in office. The Committee hopes that the Peace Prize will give him strength to succeed in this demanding task. Furthermore, it is the Committee’s hope that in the years to come the Colombian people will reap the fruits of the ongoing peace and reconciliation process. Only then will the country be able to address effectively major challenges such as poverty, social injustice and drug-related crime.
The civil war in Colombia is one of the longest civil wars in modern times and the sole remaining armed conflict in the Americas. It is the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s firm belief that President Santos, despite the “No” majority vote in the referendum, has brought the bloody conflict significantly closer to a peaceful solution, and that much of the groundwork has been laid for both the verifiable disarmament of the FARC guerrillas and a historic process of national fraternity and reconciliation. His endeavors to promote peace thus fulfil the criteria and spirit of Alfred Nobel’s will.
Oslo, 7 October 2016