The list of nominations for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize is closed. The Norwegian panel that confers the Prize has merely announced that 231 nominations were received from all over the world, and it has added some names on its own. The information about the identity of candidates has, therefore, come from those nominating or supporting certain candidates.
Abdul Sattar Edhi, Anna Hazare, Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan are said to be among the nominees. Edhi’s admirers launched a campaign to collect thousands of signatures in support, but his name does not figure in the media’s pick of prominent candidates which include Moncef Barzouki, human rights activist and now president of Tunisia, Bill Clinton, WikiLeaks ‘whistleblower’ Bradley Manning, Bill Gates, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and peace activists from Russia. The eventual winner may be someone among these or entirely different. Guessing the winner is a hazardous undertaking because the committee is extremely secretive and capable of giving surprises to confound the speculators.
The peace prize has, over time, become the most prestigious of prizes awarded annually in the name of the Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel. It is believed that Nobel included the peace prize to his selection of awards, to symbolically atone for his development of dynamite. Nobel specified in his will that the award must be given for work aimed at promoting “fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.
Along the line, the prize panel decided to stretch Nobel’s guidelines to include humanitarian work (Mother Theresa) and environment-related efforts (Al Gore). A number of winners were rewarded to recognise their struggle for human rights and democracy through peaceful means in their own countries rather than on the international level. Andrei Sakharov, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Liu Xiaobo were all honoured for their peaceful struggle but in his time, the best known figure for pursuing freedom through non-violent means, Mahatma Gandhi was not recognised by the Nobel jury, despite having been proposed three times.
After his assassination in 1948, the committee stated that it was not announcing the prize for that year as no living candidate was available. It was much later that the committee became enthusiastic about honouring those engaged in non-violent struggle for human rights and democracy in their countries.
Questions are now being asked about the propriety of moving away from the core areas of work related to demilitarisation and peaceful resolution of disputes. The Nobel Foundation is required to respond formally to the charge that it has veered too far from Alfred Nobel’s original mandate. An inquiry is being carried out by the Stockholm County administration, which has the authority to supervise the foundations in its area. Some Nobel watchers feel that the Norwegian Committee would be conscious of the need to choose safely while processing nominations for the 2012 peace prize.
The peace prize jury has also been criticised for awarding ‘aspirationally,’ as in the case of Barack Obama. In selecting Obama for the 2009 prize, the committee caused reactions bordering on shock followed by laughter. Obama was among the first to comment that he did not deserve the honour. That view was shared by 62 percent of his countrymen polled at the time. Obama’s selection was extraordinary because it was based on promises not performance. Some who could not fathom the decision jibed that the committee was just celebrating for Obama not being George W Bush. Now, in the fourth year of his presidency, Obama is carrying on some of the policies he inherited from Bush.
The kindest interpretation of selecting Obama for the prize in 2009 was that the committee wanted to encourage him to work harder for what he advocated or promised at the time. The nomination had been received within days of his inauguration, just before the list’s closure. There was opposition within the committee to consider Obama so early in his presidential term. Only three US presidents had been previously awarded the Peace Prize; Roosevelt (1906) and Wilson (1919) had received the honour during their respective terms, while Carter was given the prize twenty-one years after leaving the White House.
The past precedents did not deter Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the committee, who persuaded the critics about the need to honour Obama for having brought a significant improvement in the international climate. The committee’s announcement in Oslo cited Obama’s efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples, his support for using established international bodies such as the United Nations, his commitment to the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and for reaching out to the Muslim world, as rationale for honouring Obama.
Chairman Jagland might not have been thrilled at what followed. Obama made an “all American” acceptance speech at the ceremony in Oslo. While plugging in the familiar American catchphrases about human values, democracy and peace, he went on to remind everyone of America’s vocation to fight wars against evil. He asserted that war was justified in cases of self-defence, when civilians were being slaughtered by their own government, or a civil war threatens to engulf an entire region. Some commentators said that parts of his sermon echoed what George Bush had said so often. Obama used his oratory skills to punch his nation’s role in ensuring global security and strengthening democracy, putting Iran and North Korea on notice for violating the rules of non-proliferation.
That was then. If the committee finds time to reassess Obama’s credentials today, then those members who opposed his nomination should feel more vindicated than those including the chairman who successfully pushed through his candidature. Obama can undoubtedly claim credit for speeding up the US forces’ withdrawal from Iraq. He appears to be following the general idea of ‘surge and quit’ in Afghanistan as well. But in other cases, he has adjusted his position closer to that of the Republicans. Obama gave up his idea of closing the Guantanamo prison camp and seems comfortable with raising America’s military profile to face an exaggerated threat from China in the Pacific.
Rather than pushing for a just and durable peace in the Middle East, he is preoccupied with keeping the Jewish lobby on his side in an election year. He has barely managed to borrow time for military strikes while applying extremely harsh economic sanctions against Iran. All this does not add credibility to the initial premature act of giving Obama the extraordinary distinction of becoming the only US leader to receive the peace prize in the first year of his presidency.
The writer is a former ambassador to the European Union. Email: saeed.saeedk@ gmail.com