The Nobel Peace Prize provides an extraordinary opportunity for the Norwegian selection committee to shine a bright light of recognition on a moral authority figure. No ritual of recognition has quite the glamour and prestige attached, as well as resources made available by a substantial cash award.
When Barack Obama was given the Nobel Prize in 2009 so early in his presidency there was much wonderment. Here was a leader of the most militarist country in the world, spending always as much on its military machine as the whole world put together, who had just prior to the announcement of this signal honor, announced with fanfare an escalation of the doomed counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan. What were these fine men in Norway thinking? A few weeks ago this skepticism should have awkwardly deepened in Oslo when it was disclosed that Obama’s diplomacy was now offering Israel a bribe of 20 F-35 Stealth Fighter Bombers, with offensive characteristics of range, if Israel would agree temporarily to stop expanding its unlawful settlements in the West Bank for another 90 days. The offer of these weapons seems particularly shocking as they seem mainly useful to launch an attack on Iran, and thus at minimum threaten a sovereign state and the region with a dangerous aggressive war. And for what are these provocative weapons being offered? To reward Israel for ceasing partially (East Jerusalem settlements excluded from the moratorium) and temporarily a flagrantly unlawful activity (settlements in a society under occupation, prohibited explicitly by Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention on International Humanitarian Law). Rather that encouraging peace, in the presupposed spirit of the Nobel Prize, such diplomacy seems to be paving the way for war!
The concern in 2010 is different. The Chinese political activist and human rights champion, Liu Xiaobo, is highly deserving of recognition for the courageous writing and political work that he has continued to do despite being harassed and imprisoned, but whether this recognition should come by way of the Nobel Prize is a more delicate matter. It would seem not to be directly connected to peace, but at most, indirectly associated by contending that if China upheld human rights it would be less likely to have recourse to war in the conduct of its foreign policy. But here the empirical foundation for such a linkage is weak if it exists at all. Liu Xiaobo should clearly be a recipient of a Nobel Prize for Human Rights, that is, if such a prize existed.
Such an argument has been fully developed in a comprehensive book, The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted, by the respected and widely known Norwegian peace activist Fredrik Heffermehl. The book persuasively insists that it was Sir Alfred Nobel’s clear intention when establishing the prize in his will that it be awarded only to those that distinguished themselves by working against armaments, militarism, and war and on behalf of a world peace system that overcame war as the foundation of the security of political communities. I recommend strongly a reading of the Heffermehl book, and a resulting support for his campaign to restore the awarding of the Nobel Prize to the intentions of its donor, which would also a renewed commitment to work in a principled and urgent manner against the war in all of its ugly manifestations, and on behalf of a new type of security premised on global justice.