The Peace Prize committee has had another tough year finding worthy nominations. So it’s time to ditch the charade, avoid honouring those who later disgrace themselves and stop bestowing undue virtue upon global organisations.
One of the world’s great ironies is that the Nobel Peace Prize has honoured so many men of violence.
Bomb-happy killers, terrorists, dictators, authoritarian monsters, the lot… they’ve all won the hallowed Peace Prize. But still its guardians continue their unending hunt for validation, offering up an annual slate of nominees whose characters are dissected and debated as to the worthiness of their inclusion on such an ‘important’ list.
This year’s full list of nominations, which closed just yesterday, has not been confirmed. But bookmakers seems to think it includes such luminaries as grumpy teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, that old fella off the BBC nature shows David Attenborough, ex-US President Donald Trump as well as his gopher son-in-law Jared Kushner, Princess of Woke Meghan Markle, Covid-19 survivor Boris Johnson, Turkish hardman President Recep Tayip Erdogan, the World Health Organization and in case you missed the overarching political correctness of the whole show, the Black Lives Matter movement.
This completely unremarkable C-list of potential winners is expected to produce a shortlist in a month or so, from which the organising committee will ultimately vote for a worthy winner for one of the biggest, most coveted international awards. Seriously?
But in reality, even at this early stage, the chances are that the peace prize will go to the WHO – that’s what the bookies are clearly suggesting – so that means an organisation, an abstraction will take home the silverware later this year and the individuals will be left looking inadequate, embarrassed and very human.
It’s much safer that way, you see. The last man to win the Peace Prize was the young and charismatic Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in 2019, who had swept to power on a pledge of ending repression.
It didn’t quite work out so well, however, and what followed were extrajudicial killings, political opponents thrown into jail and lengthy internet shutdowns as the country plunged back into turmoil. The Nobel Peace Prize committee even tried to persuade the prime minister to turn things around, realising they may have been a touch premature in falling under the thrall of ‘Abiymania’. No joy there.
But that’s not the first time that the judgement of the wise men and women who make up the committee has been found wanting.
President Barack Obama was nominated for the Peace Prize just 12 days into his term of office, and won it 10 months later in 2009. While the official citation mentioned “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples” (in just 12 days?) the drone-loving Prince fan will be remembered for dropping nearly three bombs every hour, 24 hours a day during 2016, his final year as president. And for the annihilation of Libya too, of course.
All in the name of “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” There are suggestions that his being the first black US president – and his not being George W. Bush – might have something to do with the right-on Norwegian decision here. But, of course, that’s just jealous talk from poor losers.
Then there was Yasser Arafat, the former head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization who won the peace prize jointly with the Israeli double act of President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin for their efforts in the Middle East in 1994. That led to anything but peace on the prize committee with one member resigning over Arafat, who he called “the world’s most prominent terrorist.” Elsewhere, one analyst concluded, “He was a thug. One of the most cunning of all time for sure, but quite simply a ruthless, thoroughly corrupt, will-to-power thug.”
With a Nobel Peace Prize.
Former darling of the liberal elites, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmar prime minister currently cooling her heels in detention after this week’s military coup, was last seen on the world stage as she faced the International Court of Justice trying to explain her nation’s genocide of Rohingya Muslims.
She won the Peace Prize in 1991, “for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights.” They’re not the qualities for which she’s remembered in the Rohingya refugee camps.
Blind optimism drove the thinking behind 1973’s decision to give a joint award to US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese communist leader Le Duc Tho “for jointly having negotiated a ceasefire in Vietnam” in the form of the Paris Accord which was signed in 1973. The problem was that the war didn’t end until 1975, before which time untold lives were lost.
Maybe, back in the day, the origins of this cursed prize should have served as an omen.
It should have been clear from the moment that Alfred Nobel, the unlucky-in-love Swedish chemist who stabilised nitroglycerine in 1863 first sold it to miners as ‘safety powder’ that its more lethal qualities would soon be identified. Sure enough, 19th century Russian terrorists assassinated Tsar Alexander II in 1881 with a bomb, taking early advantage of Nobel’s pioneering discovery.
But that didn’t deter the Nobel family from trying to turn Alfred’s deadly chemistry legacy into a force for advancement and peace. Since their inception in 1901, Nobel’s annual prizes to high achievers in physics, chemistry, medicine and literature have sometimes provoked controversy. But none of those honours has left a history drenched in blood anything like the fifth of Nobel’s awards: the Peace Prize.
The quintet of awards bequeathed by Nobel were to be decided upon by apolitical Swedish institutions, except for the peace gong. The winner of that was to be determined by the Norwegian Parliament in honour of the virtues of Nobel’s lost love, Russian countess Bertha Kinsky, to whom the engineer’s marriage had been blocked by his mother. Nobel died childless, sad and alone aged just 63.
The problem with giving politicians the right to determine who should win an award, is that they cannot help themselves. They just have to make a political thing of it. And that’s when everything turns to…well, you know what it turns to.
Because aside from the fact that one nation’s hero is often another’s villain, the Norwegians have struggled to find true universal peacemakers. So they’ve picked institutions and organisations, like last year’s winner, the World Food Programme, or 2017’s International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, and even, in 2012, the European Union “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.” Puhleez!
These outfits are much safer options. It’s easy to fluff up some limp justification in handing over an award that is unlikely to cause much pushback or embarrassment later on. But the downside is that it devalues the prize. It becomes a discredited inter-institutional award like some dreary, self-congratulatory advertising or furniture industry bash. There’s no personality to it. There’s no connection to real people, to peace or to the hope that brings.
It has become a bunch of Norwegian centre-left politicians, with all their baggage, choosing a favourite cause for the year. Even Michael Nobel, great-grand nephew of Alfred, has had enough and in writing a foreword to Unni Turrettini’s recent book ‘Betraying the Nobel: The Secrets and Corruption Behind the Nobel Peace Prize’ accuses the award committee of following “personal interests,” “political and national considerations” and “human rights or global warming.” These, he states, have “little or nothing” to do with Alfred Nobel’s bequest.
So let’s drop the whole circus and lay the Peace Prize to rest. By all means, keep the rest – the medicine, chemistry, physics and literature awards, which offer an insight into pioneering work across those realms. But it’s not as if anyone will really miss the Peace Prize. Will they?