Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize
US president Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples". The chair of the Nobel committee gave examples of diplomatic interventions by Barack Obama, before and after he became president. These include "reaching out to the Muslim world", and working for "a world free of Nuclear arms".
At the press conference this morning, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee defended their choice in the face of some considerable scepticism from the gathered media. He was asked if the prize was being awarded as an encouragement for future peacebuilding work by the new president. No, he said, the prize is being given for past diplomatic efforts by Barack Obama. One journalist asked if it was odd to give the peace prize to a politician who has increase dtroop deployment in Afghanistan, but the chair didn't want to be drawn into current political debates. There were lots of other questions, but they were all variations on the same question: What's he done to deserve this honour so soon into his presidency? (That same question is echoed in the comments on the BBC's Have Your Say page.)
"Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened."
Perhaps the key question to ask is this: Is the world a safer, more peaceful place because of this Laureate's actions? Obama supporters will inevitably say the world is a less dangerous place because of President Obama's rhetoric and policy decisions, though even some strong Obama supporters say the Prize has been awarded too early. Critics argue that Nobel Prizes should not be awarded for promissory notes and this at-best-premature award is a gaffe by the Nobel Committee which could devalue the moral currency of the award itself. Among those critics is Lech Walesa, who won the Prize in 1983: "It's too soon. He has no contribution so far. He is still at an early stage. He is only beginning to act," he said.
Political opponents of Barack Obama back in the US will say that the Nobel Committee has simply fallen in love with Obama the Myth; they have romantized his record. We can even expect some to claim that Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for not being George W. Bush. (Update: See the developing Fox News coverage for the case against the award.)
President Obama was chosen from a nomination list of 205 names -- apparently a record number of candidates -- which also included French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
It is, of course, possible that President Obama may refuse to accept the Prize. It would take a superhuman measure of humility to do so, but he wouldn't be the first laureate to say "No, thank you." The Vietnamese politician Lê Ðức Tho was awarded the peace prize in 1971, jointly with Henry Kissinger (pictured), and declined because, he said, there was still no peace in his country. And Jean-Paul Sartre famously refused to accept all official prizes and honours, so the Swedish Academy can't have been too surprised when he declined the 1964 Nobel prize for Literature.
Some news reports suggest that Obama is the first serving US president to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Not so. That record belongs to Theodore Roosevelt, who won in 1906 for his treaty-making efforts. Woodrow Wilson was also awarded the Prize in 1919 for his efforts to create the League of Nations. But since Obama's energy secretary is also a Nobel Laureate, his government may be the first to include two Nobel prize winners at the same time.
The Nobel Peace Prize has often, by its very nature, proven controversial. Sometimes the choice of a Laureate is at issue (Henry Kissinger is still a controversial winner), and sometimes the Prize's reputation has suffered because an individual has been passed over. There is no better example of that than Mohandas Gandhi, now described by the Nobel Prize committee as "the strongest symbol of non-violence in the 20th century". He was nominated several times for the Peace Prize, but never won. The Nobel Foundation has sought to explain this obvious error in a lengthy article on its website. Nobel prizes are never awarded posthumously (unless the winner was named while alive, then died before the award ceremony), and Gandhi was assassinated two days before the closing date for nominations in January 1948. In announcing that no prize was to be awarded in 1948, the committee explained that there was "no suitable living candidate" -- a clear tribute to his memory.
Last year's laureate, Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, said he believed "the Nobel committee wanted to encourage Obama on the issues he has been discussing on the world stage. I see this as an important encouragement."
Again, some critics will reject this. If the prize is to be awarded as an encouragement to those with a peace wish list, let's give it to Miss World next year, they will say. But Miss World, of course, doesn't sit in the Oval Office and doesn't have the power to effect the kind of change in the world that a US president has.
If the point of the Nobel Peace Prize is to actually increase peace across the world, and if awarding it to a US president helped to strengthen that president's moral authority to deliver his wish list, wouldn't that more than meet Alfred Nobel's ambition for the Prize? Whatever analysis you bring to this year's shock announcement, it's clear that the Nobel Peace Committee moves in mysterious ways, its wonders to perform. But perhaps even they will be concerned that their announcement has been widely greeted by cries of "Huh?"
This year's Prize -- and prize-money totalling £900,000 -- will be presented to President Obama at a ceremony in Oslo City Hall on 10 December.