Monday, 12 October 2009

A premature Nobel Peace Prize

As everyone will know by now the Norwegian Nobel Committee on Friday announced that the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded to Barack Obama for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”, with a “special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons”. The Nobel Committee also said: “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future”.
The choice of the American President came as a surprise to most people and the reactions have been mixed. It has been applauded by President Medvedev and Fidel Castro, but not by Mairead Maguire (Corrigan), who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize herself, together with Betty Williams, in 1976. In today’s Klassekampen Maguire says that she is deeply disappointed, that Obama “in reality continues to promote a militaristic policy and occupies Afghanistan rather than enter into dialogue” and that giving the prize to him “by many people around the world will be seen as a reward for the USA’s aggression and dominance”.
Many have pointed out that it seems premature to give the Nobel Peace Prize, arguably the most prestigious award in the world, to Obama less than nine months into his presidency and before he has had the chance to achieve much. He has indeed inspired hope for a world where diplomacy rather than violence will be the means to solving conflicts, but he is faced with a real challenge when it comes to rebuilding international trust and alliances which were destroyed by his predecessor and only time will show if he will succeed in making the USA a force for peace.
His speech on nuclear disarmament delivered in Prague earlier this year will be a true landmark if it is followed by actions leading to results. He has reached out to the Muslim world, scrapped the plans for a missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, attempts to talk to countries such as Burma and Iran rather than to isolate them and on Saturday he announced that homosexuals will no longer be banned from the armed forces. All this may seem promising, but I agree with Claes Arvidsson who in Svenska Dagbladet on Saturday commented that it now seems possible to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in advance. It would have been better to wait and see if Obama achieves and, not least, if he continues along the lines now expected.
If not it will be rather an embarrassment if the USA lead by a Nobel Peace Prize laureate enters into yet another war during his presidency. And it is probably in this connection that the award of the prize to President Obama should be seen. The Nobel Committee has earlier attempted to use it in a pro-active way, most successfully when the Peace Prize was given to Carlos Belo and José Ramos-Horta, a choice which is held to have helped speed up the process of East Timor’s independence. Now it may seem the Committee tries to bind Obama to the mast and use the Peace Prize to put pressure on him to continue his more peaceful approach to world politics.
But it is not certain that this will succeed and indeed it is not even certain that the Peace Prize will be an asset for Obama as President of the USA. As David Ignatius of the Washington Post pointed out on BBC on Friday, the more Norwegians like an American president, the more trouble he will have at home. In 2011 or 2012 we will be more able to know what Obama achieves. Now the Nobel Peace Prize seems to have been awarded in recognition of a hope that a promising beginning will lead to results.
The Nobel Peace Prize is presented at a ceremony in Oslo’s City Hall on 10 December, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. This is just before the climate conference in Copenhagen, which it is expected that President Obama will not have the time to attend because the US Congress will vote on his health reform plan around this time. However, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize is such a great honour that it would be strange if the President did not take the time to come to Oslo to receive it. The Nobel lecture will of course also be an excellent opportunity to give a great speech on peace and conflict solution, which Obama the orator can be expected to do better than most other people.
Traditionally the laureate spends at least two days in Oslo (an audience with the King and Queen, the award ceremony, a torchlight procession and a banquet on 10 December and the Nobel Peace Prize Concert on the 11th), followed by a visit to Stockholm, but it seems dubious if the President will have time for all this. If he does come, he will be only the second American President to visit Norway, following Bill Clinton’s state visit in 1999.
He is the third US President, after the arch-rivals Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, to receive the Nobel Peace Prize during his presidency. Jimmy Carter received it only in 2002, more than two decades after he left office.

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