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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 9/16/19

The Sorry State of the Nobel Peace Prize

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From To The Point Analyses

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Part I -- Criteria for a Peace Prize

The Nobel Peace Prize was established by Alfred Nobel in his will of 1895. Nobel was a Swedish chemist (he invented dynamite) and wealthy arms manufacture. He died in 1896, and the first Peace Prize was awarded in 1901. It has been awarded annually ever sinceexcept, reasonably enough, during periods plagued by worldwide war.

Nobel may or may not have created this award out of remorse for how he made his fortune. However, that he was both a purveyor of the means of violence, and a supporter of peace through arbitration and negotiation, turns out to be a contradiction that also characterizes some of the winners of his Peace Prize. How did this evolve?

As described in his will, Nobel meant the Peace Prize to be awarded to those who 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." Note that the first two criteria are really bold, idealistic goalsones that might be expected to have lasting consequences. Nominations can come from a wide range of sources, but the final selection is, again according to Nobel's will, made by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, a five-member group appointed by the Parliament of Norway.

The problem that periodically arises with the Peace Prize rests with the way the Nobel Committee makes its selections. Nobel's idealistic goals for the prize seem to have been abandoned and much narrower criteria adopted. There also appears to be a lack of thoroughness in the vetting of candidates as well as any detailed understanding of the specific hostilities being adjudicated. This may have arisen out of the practice of just concentrating on one narrow peace-related event -- an event often bound to be undone by longer-term circumstances that have been ignored by both the winner of the prize and the selection committee that awarded it.

To proceed in this fashion means that you ignore what Nobel very likely understood to be a guiding principle -- the principle that peacemaking should be an act with some enduring meaning. That is, achieving even temporary peace should at least lay down the possibility of building "fraternity" between adversaries -- and this always requires a modicum of justice to be part of the realized peace. Thus, those deserving of a Peace Prize should be seen as assisting in the reworking of an otherwise violent human culture. As it presently stands, this higher ideal is being ignored in order to award the Peace Prize to those who may have "contributed to peace" in a much more narrow fashiona peace that is often lacking justice and thus short-lived. In some cases the winner turns out to be someone who, like Alfred Nobel himself, was also a purveyor of war or other forms of violence.

Part II -- Some Examples of Bad Judgment

Theodore Roosevelt:Roosevelt received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for his "successful mediation of the Russo-Japanese war" (1904-1905), and for his alleged "interest in arbitration" to settle inter-state conflicts. The problem with this nomination is that just a few years earlier, in 1898, Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, strongly pushed for an unnecessary American war against Spain. Even before that war broke out, Roosevelt had arranged for Commodore George Dewey and a U.S. battle fleet to be poised to attack the Philippines, then a Spanish colony. After the Spanish-American War broke out, Roosevelt, who had a romantic rather than realistic notion of warfare, resigned his government post and formed a volunteer cavalry unit known as the "Rough Riders." Roosevelt and his regiment saw action in Cuba. So who was Theodore Roosevelt? Was he a champion of peace through arbitration, or a purveyor of unnecessary war? This was a question the Nobel Prize Committee seemed to ignore.

Henry Kissinger: Kissinger received the prize in 1973 for his part in negotiations that were "intended to bring about a cease-fire in the Vietnam war and a withdrawal of the American forces." While the talks did result in a signed ceasefire document, it never was fully observed in the field. Kissinger was awarded the Prize along with his North Vietnamese counterpart Le Duc Tho. However, having a much more sober sense of what was and was not accomplished, Le Duc Tho refused to accept the award.

Kissinger is a good example of an influential man who is so enamored of his personal idea of realpolitik that the goal of peace is little more than an abstraction. His negotiations with the North Vietnamese were carried on against the background of a deadly bombing campaign waged by the Nixon administration -- a campaign which Kissinger approved and relied upon in the hope of forcing the North Vietnamese to acquiesce to American demands.

Kissinger would go on to become an ally of the fascist Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and did all he could to sideline the Carter administration's effort to bring to justice the Chilean assassins of Orlando Letelier, a prominent Chilean dissident and former ambassador to the United States. Letelier was killed by a car bomb in Washington, D.C., at a site that is only a 20-minute walk from the White House. This was "the first known act of state-sponsored terrorism ever to take place in the American capital," and was an act of which Kissinger seemed to have no objections.

Henry Kissinger was such a bad choice for the Nobel Peace Prize that two dissenting members of the selection committee withdrew in protest.

Menachem Begin: Begin, along with Anwar al-Sadat, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978 for agreeing to a negotiated peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. Sadat, who was the Egyptian leader, surely deserved the award. He risked a lot for peace: the isolation of Egypt within the Arab world, the enmity of the Palestinians, and eventually his life.

The problem here was that you could not reward Sadat's courage without also awarding the Israeli leader Menachem Begin, whose primary objective was to be as crafty and mendacious as possible while pacifying Israel's western border. This was seen as a necessary step that would allow further illegal, and quite violent, Israeli expansion eastward. In other words, for Begin, a peace treaty with Egypt was a tactical move -- a small sacrifice for the sake of winning a bigger war. The man had no interest in peace or fraternity as self-evident worthwhile goals.

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Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign
Policy Inc.: Privatizing America's National Interest
; America's
Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli
; and Islamic Fundamentalism. His academic work is focused on the history of American foreign relations with the Middle East. He also teaches courses in the history of science and modern European intellectual history.

His blog To The Point Analyses now has its own Facebook page. Along with the analyses, the Facebook page will also have reviews, pictures, and other analogous material.

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