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An appropriate Nobel Peace Prize:
Two proposals

October 16, 2009

In the will on which the Nobel Peace Prize is based, Alfred Nobel clearly states the criteria that must be fulfilled.

The winner shall have done the best or the most work:

• for the fraternity between nations,

• for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, or

• for holding or promoting peace congresses, and

• he or she (or the organization) must be a “champion” of peace.

To put it crudely, the Prize shall be awarded to a person or organization that has succeeded in reducing the militarism/war/violence in the world. Noteworthy, it shall reward past achievements; the Committee’s self-aggrandizing idea that its Prize will help someone intending or trying to change the world is nowhere to be found in Nobel’s will.

Does Barack Obama meet any of these criteria? And could he, given that he took office 11 days before the nomination deadline?

• Has he worked for the fraternity among nations?
Perhaps, by creating hope in general and by his speech in Cairo. But so far no tangible results. He has not been able to move peace between Palestine and Israel one inch closer.  He has not been able to force Israel to abide by a single UN resolution. On the contrary, his administration has demanded, with strong pressure, that the Goldstone report on war crimes committed by both sides in the recent Gaza war, shall not be brought before the Security Council by the Palestine government. And while the tone vis-à-vis Iran is different from George W. Bush’s, the country is still under threat of bombings.

• Has he achieved the abolition or reduction of standing armies?
Certainly not.  He has ordered a considerable increase in the US forces in Afghanistan, the withdrawal of troops from Iraq is slow, and as many as 100.000 troops and mercenaries are likely to stay in fortified basis throughout the country. U.S. spending for military purposes has further increased to record levels.

• Has he held any peace congresses?
No. And this qualification has not been quoted by the Norwegian Nobel committee for at least a half century for any laureate.

• Has he been a champion of peace?
He certainly has spoken very eloquently in favour of both justice and peace, with great words and, we believe, sincere feeling. He wants to achieve the abolition of nuclear weapons, the greatest threat to the survival of mankind. Here he has entered into negotiations with Russia for the continued decrease in strategic nuclear weapons. For this both he and his Russian counterpart, President Medvedev, deserve praise.

But he has not taken the necessary first step to remove the “hair trigger alert”; thus, President Obama and President Medvedev are still expected to press the buttons that can bring about the extermination of human civilization, if the call comes to either side that “we are under attack by nuclear weapons”; this is unspeakably dangerous because the response must be decided within less than 15 minutes – not a long time to determine whether the alarm is false or true.

Obama has indeed changed the tone of his predecessor and presented visions which hold the potential to improve international relations and brought hope to many. It is also a hope that his country will engage in world affairs in a constructive manner. We do sincerely hope that in a few years time President Obama will have achieved at least some of the steps to a world without nuclear weapons, to peace in the Middle East and to a reduction of US militarism which remains second to none.

If so he would become a worthy winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Thus, we do not criticize President Obama, since he needs more time to prove his peace capacity. Indeed, he has himself stated that ‘I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize’ and he intends to give the money to charity.

But we do criticize the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Over several decades it has shown a remarkable disregard for its duty to abide by the will of Alfred Nobel, its words as well as its spirit. The Committee has often tried to play a political role itself by giving the award to active politicians such as Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho or to Shimon Peres, Yitzak Rabin and Yassir Arafat – while for instance M. K. Gandhi didn’t receive it (the only year the Prize was not awarded to anyone was 1948 when Gandhi was killed).

Given that the Committee has made such catastrophic decisions and freed itself from its obligation to adhere to the will, it is indeed remarkable that its Prize is still being considered by many as the most coveted prize in the world. But then again, most people presumably do not know the content of Nobel’s will, neither how the decision is actually made.

We think there are two basic reasons for the mistakes and the direction the Prize has taken. One, the Committee that makes the decision consists of former members of the Norwegian parliament. Two, without a keen public eye on the institution, the Committee has been able to disregard the explicit will of Alfred Nobel even if that will must be interpreted in a contemporary framework and cannot be taken literal as written in 1895.

Alfred Nobel stated that the Committee members shall be appointed by the Norwegian Parliament. He did not say that they shall be members of that parliament; they could just as well be experts in the field of peace; neither did he state that they have to be Norwegians.

Are politicians particularly well suited to judge who has done a great service to peace? Take a look at our world and there are indeed strong arguments to the contrary.

Would it not be bizarre if 5 retired Norwegian parliamentarians were to decide who should receive the Nobel prizes in, say, medicine, physics or literature? It would, because in these fields we expect a certain expertise based on solid knowledge. But when it comes to peace, it seems that no expertise or knowledge is needed.

Furthermore, we believe peace is a subject like others, with theories and practices – somewhat like medicine. It’s indicated for instance by the fact that there are now 800+ peace research institutes, 15.000 researchers and 450 academic peace studies programs worldwide. Simply put, not anyone qualifies as a peace expert and amateurs in the field are bound to make mistakes.

The Nobel Committee has, in all other fields but that of peace, been very careful to follow Nobel’s will. The price in medicine, for instance, is not awarded for excellent work in developing more efficient health care systems; the prize in physics is not given for contributions in pure mathematics. But it seems that the Peace Prize can be awarded for a wide range of good causes, far outside the range mentioned in Nobel’s will – indeed, even in contravention of it.

We shall therefore make two proposals:

1) That the present Committee be dissolved and the Norwegian Parliament appoints a new Committee consisting of Norwegian experts in peace, peace research and conflict-resolution as well as perhaps a previous Nobel Peace Laureate or two (it might well solicit the views of international experts too). There is no shortage of competent candidates. The prize is clearly world-oriented; thus, the Committee could be multi-national. Basically it is in need of a continuing rejuvenation of its membership.

2) The chair as well as the members should not hold other offices that could taint their integrity or blur their focus on peace.  
The present chairman of the Committee, Thorbjørn Jagland, ought not remain in that position since on September 29, 2009, he was elected Secretary-General of the Council of Europe. The potential conflicts are simply too many; just imagine that the Committee with him as Chair would select a peace candidate who was a dissident in one of his member states.

We need a debate on the Nobel Committee, at least as much as on its Laureates. We need public scrutiny. The fact that President Obama was chosen this year has been met with surprise and skepticism and with more critique of the Committee than it had probably expected given Obama’s relatively widespread popularity. The media have raised more eyebrows, and the press conference in Oslo revealed quite some critical attitudes from the world press.

We must hope that this signifies one step in the direction of a prize for peace and anti-militarism in the spirit of Alfred Nobel.


Founders and members of the Board of the Transnational Foundation, TFF

Ina Curic
Jan Oberg
Annette Schiffmann
Christina Spannar
Gunnar Westberg


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