An “outdated’ Nobel Peace Prize


Trần Bình Nam


Last Friday 10-9-2009, the Nobel Committee in Oslo, Norway, announced its award of the 2009 Peace Prize to US President Barack Obama, followed by a statement from its Chairman: “We chose President Obama because he has created a new atmosphere for the world politics and been the carrier of the torch for those who advocate the Nobel Peace Prize for the last 108 years. Right at his inauguration, he has brought to mankind his future perception and hope.”

 The Nobel prizes were established by Norwegian engineer Alfred B. Nobel in 1895. Under the administration of The Nobel Foundation, annual prizes in cash and a gold medal are awarded to those who have achieved, discovered, or invented anything useful to mankind in Physics, Chemistry, Literature, Medicine, and World Peace. In 1969, the Committee added a new prize in Economics to recognize the importance of economic activities in the world related to peace and development.

 Nobel Peace Prizes are highly honored around the world, especially those awarded before 1973. Two US presidents were among those recipients: president Theodore Roosevelt and president Woodrow Wilson. President Jimmy Carter was awarded the prize after 1973, and equally got the consent and praise around the world.

President Roosevelt (2 terms, 1901-1909), received the prize in 1906 during his second term for his critical role in the stabilization of the western hemisphere and use of his position to reconcile Russia and Japan in ending the 1905 Russo-Japan war. President Wilson (also 2 terms, 1913-1921), meanwhile, received his prize in 1919 for efforts in his first term in creating a free, peaceful, and law-abiding world. He was the founder of the League of Nations, a precursor of the United Nations.

President Carter (1977-1981) received his prize in 2002 for his contribution during his term to the peace between Israel and Egypt, and his efforts, after leaving his office, in creating and maintain peace in many areas of the world.

In 1973, the Committee began to politicize the prize by deciding to award it to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, the two negotiators of the Paris Agreement that ended the war in Vietnam. World opinion started casting doubt on the value of the prize, as it appeared evident to observers that Kissinger wanted a cease-fire to open the way for the US to change its global policy, not to serve peace. For Tho, he tried to use the agreement as a disguise to conceal Hanoi’s plan to invade South Vietnam by force once the US troops had left. In awarding the prize to Kissinger and Tho, the Committee hoped that Hanoi, cajoled by the glory that came with the prize, would respect the agreement. It turned out to be a painful illusion.

 In 1994, the Nobel Committee repeated its politicization of the prize when it chose Yasser Arafat, leader of Palestine, a known terrorist, and two Israeli statesmen, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Perez, who negotiated peace with the intention to bury Palestine peacefully. Again, the Committee hoped the prize would lead to reconciliation and bring peace to Middle East. Another illusion.

 This year, the prize was awarded to President Obama. More than anyone else, Americans were the first to be stunned, including those who supported him. As a senator Obama opposed the attack of Iraq, but that was not an achievement. Besides, with less than a year at the White House, he has achieved nothing concrete to build or contribute to a lasting peace in the world.

 Again, the award was another political decision. We may guess that the Committee had in mind using the prize to encourage Obama to withdraw from Afghanistan. The troop withdrawal from or reinforcement in Afghanistan at this time is a critical issue for the US, and Obama cannot hastily make a decision based on or influenced by the glory of the prize.

 His best choice would be to deny the award so he can freely act for his own country’s interest. However, he has expressed his intention to accept it, even though he humbly said the award was not for his personal achievement but simply a signal that the world accepts the leadership of the US, and a call to action!

 It seems the Norwegians in the Nobel Committee were so obsessed with the dream of peace that they ignored the reality in the political arena of the US.

 Once more, they have abused their ‘outdated’ international prize in a very ‘awkward’ manner./.


Tran Binh Nam

October 12, 2009


Trần Bình Nam