- Posted October 14, 2012 by
Nobel Peace Prize –Reductio ad Absurdum
The Nobel Prize for peace is a controversial award that has been granted to many who seemingly don’t deserve it, and not granted to those who do. As described in Nobel's will, this prize is dedicated 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". But the way it is awarded it is nothing more than an exercise in absurdity. One man introduced indefinite detention and expanded the deadly global drone war. Another was the architect of the deliberate mass killing of civilian populations in Indochina. What do they have in common? Both are Nobel Peace laureates. The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded 92 times to 124 Nobel Laureates between 1901 and 2011 – 99 times to individuals and 23 times to organizations
Sully Prudhomme – yes, Sully who? She won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1901. The runner-up? A certain guy called Leo Tolstoy who never won the prize, although he only died in 1910. This is one of the most obvious cock-ups in the award of the well-known prize – the Nobel Committee seems as capable as any other body of making an ass of itself. But what happens to Peace Prize takes the cake.
The award of the Nobel Peace Prize is usually the most controversial. It is clearly a political statement, and so, for instance, giving it to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Ang San Suu Kyi, and Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, have perhaps helped highlight the causes of the oppressed of the world.
The Nobel Prize is an often-politicized award that is criticized for increasing evidence of bias and possibly even corruption ¬Gandhi never got one. Al Gore did. In one of the stranger ironies befitting of both Kafka and Orwell, sometimes the makers of permanent war are awarded for bringing temporary peace. Sometimes they don’t even get that far.
With the winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize set to be announced in Oslo, Norway on Friday, the shadow of Barack Obama still looms large. In 2009, the committee awarded the current US president "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." Nominations for the award are due by February 1, meaning Obama had served as America's executive for less than two weeks when the Norwegian Nobel Committee selected him. Perhaps it was wishful thinking. With the winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize set to be announced in Oslo, Norway on Friday, the shadow of Barack Obama still looms large. In 2009, the committee awarded the current US president "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." Nominations for the award are due by February 1, meaning Obama had served as America's executive for less than two weeks when the Norwegian Nobel Committee selected him. Perhaps it was wishful thinking.
Since then, Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law, making it legal to indefinitely detain US citizens. There are also the deadly drone wars in Yemen and Pakistan, the war waged in Libya, the Afghan surge and a secret "kill list” revealed this year by The New York Times, which grants a select few American officials the option to mark perceived national security threats – foreign citizens or otherwise – for assassination. Ironic, yes, but they never could have known.
Even attempts for the committee to play it more conservatively have backfired. Last year, the committee decided to recognize three women for their role in a non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work. The three women included a Yemeni activist, Liberian President Johnson Sirleaf and her fellow citizen and civil society activist Leymah Gbowee.
Gbowee publically lambasted Sirleaf for failing to fight corruption and nepotism in Liberia. Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission even put Sirleaf on a list of 52 people who should be sanctioned for committing war crimes for supporting former Liberian warlord and President Charles Taylor in the late 1980s.
Since winning the Prize, Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law, making it legal to indefinitely detain US citizens. There are also the deadly drone wars in Yemen and Pakistan, the war waged in Libya, the Afghan surge and a secret "kill list” revealed this year by The New York Times, which grants a select few American officials the option to mark perceived national security threats – foreign citizens or otherwise – for assassination. Ironic, yes, but they never could have known.
But it was certainly comical to award it to Le Duc Tho and Henry Kissinger over the Vietnam war. Henry Kissinger was a borderline war criminal for his decision to bomb non-combatant Cambodia. It caused that country to be taken over by the Khmer Rouge, at the cost of the deaths of 15% of its population. So in fact Le Duc Tho, the Vietnamese politician who refused the award, was the one with the greater dignity and ethics.
Similarly, the award to Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin over the troubles in West Asia was also, to put it mildly, awkward, as there has been no sign of any peace in those parts then or even later.
It is widely believed that the biggest omission was Mahatma Gandhi, who was nominated in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947, and 1948, but never moved the Committee enough to give him the award. But look at the history of the winners:
1948: No-one. Unwilling to alter rules that the prize could not be awarded posthumously, the committee declared there to be ‘no suitable living candidate’ in the year Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated.
1961: Dag Hammarskjold. Despite its Gandhi stance, the committee awarded the prize to the Swedish diplomat, the second secretary general of the United Nations, after his death months earlier in a plane crash en route to ceasefire negotiations in Zambia. He remains the only posthumous laureate.
1973: Henry Kissinger. The former US secretary of state, national security adviser and architect of the Richard Nixon administration’s policies in Vietnam was awarded the prize jointly with Vietnamese revolutionary Le Duc Tho for a ceasefire that would ultimately prove short-lived.
1994: Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. In an award meant to celebrate the prize’s commitment to honouring those who turn from a path of violence to peace, Kare Kristiansen, a Norwegian member of the committee, resigned in protest, dubbing Palestinian leader Arafat a terrorist.
Mindful of how detractors back home could use the prize as a stick to beat him with, Obama gave an acceptance speech extolling the power of the US military to do good.
2002: Jimmy Carter. The one-term US president was awarded the prize for what the committee described as decades of peaceful solutions to conflicts. The prize coincided with the then US president George Bush making preparations for the invasion of Iraq.
2004: Wangari Maathai. The Kenyan activist was honoured for promoting sustainable development, democracy and peace, but had been accused of claiming HIV/Aids was spread deliberately in Africa by Western scientists.
2007: Al Gore. The former US vice-president and presidential candidate shared the prize with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but attracted controversy on the grounds the environmental work was not related to conflict.
2008: Martti Ahtisaari. The committee was largely tipped to award the prize to a Chinese dissident (it eventually did two years later) but threw a traditional curveball to honour the Finnish diplomat and former prime minister instead.
2009: Barack Obama. The US president received the prize months into his first term for commitments to reduce nuclear proliferation. Mindful of how detractors back home could use the prize as a stick to beat him with, Obama gave an acceptance speech extolling the power of the US military to do good.
2010: Liu Xiaobo. The Chinese government said dissident Liu did not promote international friendship, disarmament and peace meetings, the stated goals of the prize. The political prisoner was also criticised for supporting the US invasions of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
What really makes the award risible is what they did in 2009, and then again in 2012. In 2009, they gave it to Barack Obama, within weeks of his being sworn in as the US President. In 2012, they gave it to the European Union.
Why on earth did they give it to Barack Obama, who had done nothing whatsoever to deserve it? The excuse was that they gave it to him for his potential – which of course he demonstrated amply by escalating the war (not peace, note) in Afghanistan, approving many more drone strikes, and generally showing himself to be about as peaceful as a raging bull. The real reason, though, was white European guilt trip about racism — they are so racist that they wanted to prove they are not by giving it to the first black fellow that showed up.
And now, the masterpiece — the European Union - a squabbling bunch of bureaucrats who couldn’t find their way out of a paper bag. An economics professor I talked to gravely intoned that their continent had been at war for a thousand years, but the EU brought peace. Not quite, learned professor — the EU was formed because they found a way not to kill each other at least for fifty years. And the EU is primarily an economic union, which if of course in great danger of unraveling, as the poorly-performing PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain) are pulling down the more frugal economies such as Germany.
The prize’s organizers have stopped worrying so much about whether the recipients are actually deserving, and instead decided simply to pick people who will annoy right-wingers?
I mean, come on. In 2009, Barack Obama while the ink was still wet on his inauguration documents. In 2002, Jimmy Carter . Now the EU, even while the Greek public is burning Nazi flags for Angela Merkel’s visit.
The prize reflects how profoundly cut off from reality European supporters have become. It’s quite something to watch news footage of riots in Athens this week and conclude this project is promoting peace.
The idea the EU is all that stands between us replaying World War Two is deeply foolish. It pays no attention to the rarity of western capitalist democracies going to war with one another.
In actual fact, it is the EU which creates hatred between nations because of the tensions inherent in its formulation. Despite the surreal utopian dreams of its defenders, people still associate strongly with the nation state and the linguistic, cultural and historical contexts it represents. It feels profoundly unjust for nations to find themselves losing sovereignty while EU officials studiously refuse to give them a vote on further integration I am betting that the prize for the EU will, over time, be seen as the worst-ever Peace Prize award. To be charitable though, maybe they did it as an epitaph – if the euro falls apart, the EU may soon follow.
Dr. Bikram Lamba, a political and business strategist, can be contacted at 905 848 4205. Email:email@example.com