On October 11, we’ll learn whether the Norwegian Nobel Committee is interested in reviving the Nobel Peace Prize or putting another nail in its coffin.
Alfred Nobel’s vision for the Nobel Peace Prize created in his will was a good one and, one might have thought, a legally binding one as well.
The peace prize is not supposed to be awarded to proponents of war, such as Barack Obama or the European Union.
It is not supposed to be awarded to good humanitarians whose work has little or nothing to do with peace, such as most other recent recipients. As with the Carnegie Endowment for Peace which works for almost anything but, in violation of its creator’s will, and as with many a “peace and justice” group focused on all sorts of good causes that aren’t the elimination of militarism, the Nobel has become a “peace” prize, rather than a peace prize.
The peace prize was not supposed to be given even to war reformers or war civilizers. The peace prize is for: “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.” The prize is not a lifetime award, but goes, along with the other Nobel prizes, “to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.”
Nobel laureates are not even asked whether they support the abolition of standing armies. Few have taken the approach of Barack Obama, who praised wars and militarism in his acceptance speech, but many others would almost certainly have to respond in the negative; they do not support and have not worked for the abolition of standing armies. Nor do they plan to put the prize money to work for that goal.
Norwegian author and lawyer Fredrik Heffermehl has for years now been leading an effort to enforce Alfred Nobel’s will. “Letters Nobel wrote confirm,” says Heffermehl, “that he established his prize to fulfill a promise to Bertha von Suttner,” a promise to create a prize to fund work toward war abolition. In March 2012 the Swedish Foundations Authority ordered the Nobel Foundation to examine the will and ensure compliance. When the next award was given to the European Union in blatant violation of the will, former recipients — including Adolfo Esquivel, Mairead Maguire, and Desmond Tutu — protested. The Nobel Foundation has defied the order to comply with the will and applied for a permanent exception from such oversight.
This year there are 259 nominees, 50 of which are organizations. (Even Heffermehl does not object to the practice of giving the prize meant for a “person” to an organization.) The list of nominees is kept secret, but some are known. In Heffermehl’s view, none of the favorites for this year’s prize legally qualifies. That includes Malala Yousafzai, whose work for education certainly deserves a prize, just not this one. And it includes Denis Mukwege, whose work to aid victims of sexual violence should be honored, just not with the prize intended for those working to abolish armies. Civil rights in Russia, freedom of the press in Burma, and many other great causes could end up being awarded with a prize for opposition to war next week.
The name Steve Pinker has been mentioned along with the proposal that he be given the peace prize as reward for having written a grossly misleading and deceptive book falsely arguing that war is going away on its own. That would at least be a new twist on the abuse and degradation of this prize, although with Bill Clinton on the nominees list the options for truly disgusting outcomes are not exactly limited.