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Behind the Nobel Peace Prize | CSS Essay Material

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By: Atle Hetland

Today, I shall again write about the Nobel Peace Prize, as I also did last week and the week before, noting that this year’s winner is the World Food Programme (WFP). I shall present some formal aspects regarding the prize and those who award it, and discuss how correct and fair the awarding has been.

The Nobel Peace Prize is a very prestigious prize—to receive and to award—in Oslo on 10 December. The Norwegian Nobel Committee’s five members are appointed for six years by the Norwegian Parliament, but the committee is meant to be both neutral and independent from party politics. Yet, most of the time, the members are retired top politicians. The current chair, Berit Reiss-Andersen, is a senior lawyer and was a Labour party politician some twenty-five years ago. Henrik Syse, deputy chair of the committee, is a philosopher, a part-time lecturer at a private university, and a researcher at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo (PRIO). His father was a Conservative politician and prime minister in the late 1980s. Outgoing member Thorbjørn Jagland, a former chair, has been a Norwegian Labur party politician, including foreign minister and prime minister, and has been secretary general of the Council of Europe (CoE). Anne Enger is a retired top politician of the Centre (former Agrarian) party and a county governor. Finally, there is Asle Toje, a political scientist who earlier was a research director at Nobel Institute. There are three substitute members, Kristin Clemet, Inger Skjelsbæk, and Sofie Høgestøl. Olav Njølstad, a historian and writer, is the ex officio secretary and director of the Nobel Institute.

Considering that hundreds of candidates are every year nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, the secretariat, the Nobel Institute and the Committee’s secretary, does most of the work, including researching the candidates’ backgrounds and achievements, and short-listing those they find most suitable. The winner or winners (up to three) are announced in Oslo at the beginning of October, and an award-winning ceremony on 10 December. Formally, the regulations for the Nobel prizes have been set by the Swedish Nobel Foundation, although it was decided by Alfred Nobel, the rich industrialist who established the prize and formulated the statutes in his will in 1895 (he died in 1897), that the Norwegian Parliament should appoint the awarding committee for the peace prize; this was at a time when Norway was in a political union with Sweden. The four other prizes are awarded by the Swedes, in chemistry, physiology or medicine, physics and literature; since 1968; a fifth prize has been added ‘in memory of Alfred Nobel’, notably in economics. The Nobel Peace Prize was for the first time awarded in 1901. Had Alfred Nobel lived today, he might well also have established prizes in other fields, such as in social sciences, environment, gender, development, human rights, and more. But then there are also other prestigious prizes in those fields.

When I today I am writing about issues behind the Nobel Peace Prize, it is because a new brick of a book of 400 pages has just been published. The book is still only in Norwegian. The author is Fredrik S. Heffermehl (81), a lawyer and peace activist, who has for many years written widely about the topic. The book’s title is ‘The Back of the Medal: The Nobel Peace Prize – Hundred Years of Unused Opportunities’ (In Norwegian, ‘Medaljens bakside: Nobels fredspris – hundre års ubrukte mulighetter’). Heffermehl’s book is indeed a critical account of the awarding of the prize, and he finds that just over 20 percent of the prizes have been awarded to worthy winners, based on the letter and spirit of Alfred Nobel’s will and his overall ideas. Heffermehl says that most of the time, the prize has not been awarded for disarmament and struggle for peace and international dialogue. That was what Alfred Nobel’s will said it should be for, not other well-meaning and good work in those or related fields—and certainly not for warmongers, such presidents and other leaders who have also been winners. He even says that some popular prizes were wrongly awarded, such as to the great humanitarian Mother Theresa (in 1979), Willy Brandt (in 1971), and even Desmond Tutu (in 1984). It is not a prize for doing good in the world; it is a prize for disarmament, reduction and abolishing of military weapons, including nuclear weapons, and for alternative thinking about how to end wars and conflicts, and how to mobilise people for that. One of the worst prizes, lacking understanding for the age-old Chinese history and civilisation, was the prize to Liu Xiaobo (in 2009), a poet and human rights activist; the prize to Henry Kissinger (in 1973), and to Anwar al-Sadat and Menachem Begin (in 1978), are extreme examples of prizes that should never have been awarded.

It is very pleasing to know that Heffermehl believes that in 1970, President of Pakistan Abdul Ghaffar Khan should have received the prize, not Norman Borlaug for the ‘Green Revolution’. Khan had been working in Ghandi’s spirit, and in Islam’s non-violent spirit, since before Independence in 1947; he had established schools and mobilised people against inequality, poverty and illiteracy. A prize to Khan would have given focus and inspiration to Asia’s problems and efforts. Khan was again nominated in 1984. Another Pakistani, Mariyam Bibi from North Waziristan/Peshawar has recently been nominated; and in 2014, Malala Yousafzai won the prize at the age of only 17.

Heffermehl considers each Nobel Peace Prize and evaluates if the prize was rightly awarded, or who should have received it if he finds it was wrongly awarded, or the prize was cancelled, which has also happened. Heffermehl’s list includes more women than the committee has chosen. But the most serious shortcomings in the work and awarding of the prize, which Heffermehl stresses, is simply that the Nobel Committee often does not base the awarding on Alfred Nobel’s will and on independent and systematic evaluations of the candidates. He finds they follow their time’s and their own opinions rather than basing it on firm and neutral considerations; also, sometimes, the committee is even influenced by political opinions and preferences, directly or indirectly, although it is said that the Nobel Committee shall indeed be independent, not look to what may be in the interest of major- or superpowers. And then, in the end, in spite of all the shortcomings that Heffermehl explains about the shortcomings awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize, and he is probably right most of the time, it remains one of the world’s most prestigious and finest prizes, perhaps the topmost.

Courtesy: The Nation

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