During the last four years the dispute over the implementation of Nobel's prize for the "champions of peace" has come to a head. The Norwegian awarders seem to reinterpret Nobel's wishes and award the prize for whatever in their judgment is good and valuable, based on "a broad concept of peace." A Norwegian peace researcher and lawyer, Fredrik S. Heffermehl, in his book: The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted (Praeger 2010) claims to have proved that Nobel had specific recipients in mind, that Nobel wished to support what he called the "champions of peace," meaning those who promote global law and demilitarization. His book led, in January 2012, the Swedish Foundations Authority to open an investigation into the mandate and whether Norwegian parliamentarians entrusted with the stewardship/management of the prize are misappropriating it for other purposes than Nobel had in mind.
The Nobel Peace Prize Forum in Minnesota is an annual event proudly claiming to "inspire peacemaking... for students and other citizens to become active participants in peacemaking efforts around the world. For 23 years it has been the Norwegian Nobel Institute's only such program or academic affiliation outside of Norway."
On March 3, 2012, I attended the third and final day of the Nobel Peace Forum in Minneapolis, and was able to interview the Oslo-based long-time Secretary of the Nobel Committee Geir Lundestad after he spoke at a Forum event at Augsburg College on the topic: "Controversial Nobel Peace Prizes: Successes or Failures?".
I only had time to scratch the surface with my questions regarding the ongoing investigation of the Nobel Committee recently launched by the Stockholm County Administrative Board. But check out the video above of Lundestad's dismissive responses for yourself and see if you don't agree they should lead to more questions. Combined with some of the militaristic pronouncements made earlier in the morning by 1993 Nobel laureate Frederik Willem de Klerk, the Nobel Peace Forum's claims to "inspire peacemaking" instead seem to write a new chapter for Orwell's 1984 and "war is peace."
(Fair Disclosure: I had helped draft this "Petition (to) Investigate Betrayal of the Nobel Peace Prize" a few days earlier which was published online and has now gathered the endorsements of over 40 peace organizations.)
Secretary Lundestad began the interview by denying he has been dodging Heffermehl's questions and advising that "a very long response" has been prepared to respond to the allegations lodged against his Committee. Lundestad said Heffermehl's problem is he is a "purist" and an "originalist" who thinks the prize should only go to peace activists as narrowly defined; that Heffermehl's understanding of Alfred Nobel as a "one-dimensional person" is wrong. (Note: Lundestad had begun his earlier talk by describing Alfred Nobel as profoundly unhappy, romantically frustrated and someone who would have been diagnosed with mental problems or institutionalized if he had lived now.) Lundestad repeatedly referred to the fact that Alfred Nobel contradicted his own last will, written in 1895, that left funding for a prize to be awarded to "the person 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," by once remarking, "my invention (dynamite) will do more for peace than your peace congresses."
By contrast, Lundestad's "non-purist" interpretation of Nobel and his extremely broad view of "peacemaking" was echoed in W.F. de Klerk's keynote in which de Klerk proclaimed that upcoming security challenges, given the "unresolved clash of liberal Western materialism with fundamental Islam," means "it will still be necessary for the U.S. and Europe to maintain strong military forces and to be able to project them to any part of the world when crises arise." W.F. de Klerk also commented that "the question should not be what factors caused the decline and fall of the Roman Empire but what systemic factors enabled it to last for 1000 years? Surely its system of law and military organization played important roles."
Lundestad had explained in his talk about "controversial prizes" that the Committee begins a weeding out process after nominations are final (on Jan. 31 of each year). The entire process is top secret but the Committee eventually conducts more in depth research on the smaller number of candidates it selects in April for closer consideration. When questioned about Obama's Nobel nomination -- which was in fact submitted only 11 days after Obama became president, Lundestad denied that Obama was awarded for his campaign promises or his election to the presidency but instead claimed that since their selection of Obama did not become final until September 2009, it was therefore based on the president's actions during his first months in office (eight and a half months to be precise). (However in an earlier interview, Lundestad emphasized how Obama's election as a black American to president of the United States -- something "believed impossible" -- had inspired the world.)
Secretary Lundestad mentions Nobel Prizes being "aspirational" but he denied that Obama's Prize was completely aspirational. During an earlier panel discussion that followed the de Klerk speech in which all of the South African panelists were largely critical of de Klerk, Naomi Tutu criticized de Klerk's Nobel award as "premature," stating that after he shared the prize with Mandela, de Klerk never sincerely followed up or participated in the truth and reconciliation efforts. The potential for such embarrassing and contradictory aftermaths of too hastily-given awards didn't matter, however, to the Nobel Secretary who strongly affirmed that no peace prize would ever be rescinded, not even if the "peace" prize recipient immediately starts wars after receiving the "peace" award. (In this 2009 interview, Lundestad repeats several times that the Norwegian Committee "always stands by its laureates and never denounces them," no matter what they do.)
When asked how giving the Nobel Peace Award to militaristic political leaders squares with the Award maintaining its integrity -- not to mention maintaining its adherence to Alfred Nobel's will -- Secretary Lundestad could only point to the Oxford Dictionary of Contemporary History as defining the Nobel as "the world's most prestigious prize."
When Lundestad was asked for examples of awards for "the reduction or abolition of standing armies," he claimed that at least ten had been handed out for efforts to reduce the nuclear stockpile. Obama's major cited "achievement" was one example in this category, his "Global Zero" speech given on April 5, 2009 wherein Obama outlined his vision for a nuclear-free world. The timing of that April 4 speech, given only 10 weeks after Obama took office, would jibe with April being key in the Nobel Committee's secret weeding out selection process previously described by Lundestad: "So we go very quickly from almost 250 candidates, down to five or six and then we spend much time (conducting research) on these remaining five or six candidates."
Unfortunately haste often makes waste. The Atlantic later revealed the reality of basing Obama's Nobel Award on one speech in his ten-week presidency:
Nuclear-weapons policy has become yet another area where the heady optimism of the administration's early days has largely evaporated...many of those following weapons policy say Obama's effort to begin reshaping the U.S.'s own massive nuclear arsenal in light of the zero goal has proceeded far more slowly than expected. In fact, despite Obama's pledge, he's spending more than President Bush did to upgrade and modernize our weapons.
An aspirational award was thus given for an aspirational speech to a militaristic president involved in two wars who, even worse, went on to escalate one war, escalate drone bombing and launch new undeclared wars. When asked in 2009 about the two wars currently being waged by Obama, Lundestad even dodged use of the term "war" by responding that it's understandable that a "superpower like the United States is bound to be involved in all kinds of complex situations." This seems precisely why the Nobel Committee, in earlier decades, was reluctant to give awards to nation-state politicians when it was impossible to tell what those politicians might later do:
Even the hypothetical possibility that Canadian Lester Pearson might return to active politics was seen as a sufficient obstacle and no prize was awarded in 1957. A similar attitude was expressed to Nehru in 1960. As a potential political officeholder, Pearson was not considered eligible, definitely different from the standard that permitted Obama to win in 2009. [Excerpt from The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted]
These concerns about awarding political leaders, also bring up the larger politicization of the Nobel selection process mentioned by panelists throughout the March 3 Forum Day. Lundestad himself commented that "the parties in (the Norwegian) Parliament are represented according to strength." Also the Secretary does little to counter the general impression that the Committee's selections are political when he repeatedly tells American audiences about Obama's popularity in Europe, Africa, Latin America and other regions of the world in order to justify the Committee's 2009 choice.
There is a long history, according to Lundestad, of awarding Nobel "Peace" Awards to outstanding humanitarians like Mother Teresa or to people and/or organizations for their human rights work. Although it may seem a bit of a stretch, such human rights work is said to fall under "working for fraternity between nations." Lundestad went on to note that more and more political scientists and writers are linking the fight for democracy and human rights to peace although these links "don't necessarily support Bush's policy on Iraq or mean you should bomb countries into democracy." Lundestad ended the interview before responding to my last question about the similar dangers of using "humanitarian intervention" as the guise to rationalize and enable Obama's and NATO's recent bombing of Libya.