The reception has been mixed, but this year’s winner typifies the award for all the wrong reasons
The Nobel Peace Prize has endured myriad controversies since its inception. The prevalent criticisms have been that awards have been politically motivated, premature, or based upon a very loose interpretation of peace. This year’s winner is an example of all three. A look at past winners demonstrates that this year’s award isn’t the first dubious decision taken by the Norwegian committee – far from it, in fact.
In 1919 the winner was US President Woodrow Wilson, for his role in establishing the League of Nations. This was criticised because the League was a key element of the Treaty of Versailles, which substantially diverged from Wilson’s notion of ‘peace without victory’; Germany was forced to accept the war guilt clause and was subjected to crippling reparations. It hardly needs to be stated, too, that the League of Nations was unsuccessful in ensuring peace in Europe, nor the world.
The 1945 award was given to Cordell Hull, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secretary of State during World War II. He was one of the architects of the United Nations, for which he was awarded the prize. He also denied asylum to thousands of Jews escaping to America on the eve of the Holocaust and sent them back to Europe. And later, when American Jews attempted to raise money to prevent the mass murder of Romanian Jews in the Transnistria camps, he refused to sign the release forms to send the money and save their lives.
The 1973 prize was dually awarded to North Vietnamese leader Le Duc Tho and another US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. Tho rejected the award, stating that there was no peace in his country. Kissinger was involved in the following – a secret bombing campaign in Laos; the US Operation Condor, a campaign involving kidnappings and murders with collaboration from the security services of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay; and had previously been party to the death of French nationals under the Chilean junta; and had supported the Turkish intervention in Cyprus. Two committee members resigned in protest for this award.
1978 saw another dual award: Anwar Saddat and Menachem Begin. Saddat was president of Egypt during the 1973 war against Israel and led an economic policy that resulted in riots in Egypt. Begin was Prime Minister of Israel who initiated a revolt against British rule, authorised the bombing of an Iraqi nuclear plant as well as the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, igniting war in Lebanon and resulting in the Sabra and Shatila massacre, and was involved in a failed plot to assassinate German chancellor Konrad Adenauer.
The 14th Dalai Lama won in 1989 after receiving CIA funding to stage a violent coup d’état in Tibet, and the Committee admitted their intention to put pressure on China. The 1992 winner Rigoberta Menchú, an indigenous Guatemalan campaigner for ‘social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation’ has been criticised as her memoirs, which brought her to fame, were revealed to be partly fictitious.
Two years later the victorious trio were Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, for the establishment of the Oslo accord, an attempt to end the Palestine-Israeli conflict. One committee member resigned in protest; Arafat has been widely labelled as a terrorist, and the state of the Palestine-Israeli conflict today speaks for itself.
In 2002 the winner was ex-US President Jimmy Carter, for “decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts”, just after the United States had authorised then-President George W. Bush to use military force in Iraq and invasion plans were being drawn up.
Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmental and political activist and founder of the Green Belt Movement, won in 2004. Despite her achievements she has insinuated on more than one occasion that AIDS was deliberately spread in Africa by Western scientists as a means of depopulation.
The 2007 prize went to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and received criticism for being overtly political and in no way related to the ending of conflict. Two years later the winner was Barack Obama, which he called a “stunning surprise” and was criticised for being underserved, premature and politically motivated.
Compared to previous winners the European Union seems like a tolerable candidate. But the irony cannot be lost on the Norwegians awarding the EU a peace prize when, just days ago, Angela Merkel was received in Greece by riots, Molotov cocktails and protesters dressed in Nazi regalia, when there are similar riots throughout southern Europe, and when Spanish youth unemployment is at 50 per cent.
The EU’s award is flawed in all three respects. It was not the EU that kept the peace post-1945 – it was the Allied-led disarmament of Germany in 1945, and subsequently NATO, led by Britain and America, that kept the peace in Western Europe. The EU in its current incarnation did not even exist until 1992 with the signing of the Maastricht treaty. It is also an overtly politically loaded message of support for the EU at a time when the future of the single currency hangs in the balance. And it is premature; the EU may bring the “advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights” in the future, but it has not done so yet.
The EU has brought more unrest than peace to Europe. For that alone it does not deserve the award. On 19 occasions, the Nobel Committee were unable to award a suitable candidate. That number should be higher, and this year should have been the latest addition.