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Nobel Peace Prize to Obama October 9, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : International relations, United States, World politics , trackback


Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama is certainly an unexpected and interesting choice by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. On the one hand, awarding it to a person with a nine month history of involvement on the scene of international diplomacy may seem odd. On the other hand, awarding the prize based on work towards international diplomacy and multilateralism must be considered a return to the original intent expressed by Alfred Nobel in his will.

Some critics claim that awarding it to the man that advocated stepping up the military effort in Afghanistan is outrageous. Awarding the prize to someone who has shown himself willing to use military force is however nothing new. Theodore Roosevelt (1917), Henry Kissinger (1973) and Mikhail Gorbachev (1990) are examples of statesmen who aren’t remembered as always being soft when it came to the application of power.

More substantial is the criticism that Obama hasn’t actually achieved anything yet. He has been in office for 9 months. During this time he has taken many initiatives to promote multilateralism and change America’s position in the world, but he has yet to get any results. I can’t off the top of my head remember any laureate with so little to show for himself in terms of actual achievement. Still, the will of Alfred Nobel, the mandate of the prize, states that the Nobel Prizes should be given to: “…those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.” Who did more during the last 12 months than Barack Obama?

For the peace prize specifically, it shall according to the will go 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.” Once again, it serves as a good description of Obama’s agenda, promoting the UN, promoting mulitlateralism in general and working for nuclear disarmament.

The comittee has been under a lot of fire in recent years for overstepping these bounds by laureates such as Wangari Maathai (2004), Mohammad Yunnus and Grameen Bank (2006) and Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007). With last year’s prize to Matti Ahtisari and this year’s to Barack Obama they have certainly returned to “the roots” with prices for traditional peace work by Nobel’s own definitions.

Lastly, awarding the prize to an active world leader with future achievements to make rather than in retrospect for past achievements may help the prize further in contributing to making actual peace in the world. Giving the prize to the person in the world best positioned to make actual progress on the matter may put additional pressure on the American president to deliver on his promises.

All in all I’m surprised at the award, but pleasantly so.


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