When I was younger, I once viewed Nobel Peace Prize laureates as beyond reproach, a secularized version of Saints in the Catholic religion. They were, it seemed, people who selflessly worked for peace in our time, and had contributed in some concrete way to the promotion of world peace.
It nearly goes without saying that I was once naive, unrealistic, and far too trusting of a prize that’s political by it’s very nature.
There have been plenty of people, even recently, that have truly deserved what still seems like one of the highest honors the world bestows despite the prize’s slightly tarnished reputation. Malala Yousafzai, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, and Mother Teresa all come to mind as nearly unassailable and unquestionably deserving.
There are others who not only don’t seem worthy, but may have worked for peace while achieving the opposite… regardless of intentions or the perception of intentions by those who see them as a symbol and regardless of how laudable their cause. Chamberlain is far from alone on the list of those who, you know… meant well. Even worse, there are some that haven’t even seemed all that interested in peace in the first place. Yasser Arafat, Henry Kissinger, and Woodrow Wilson all come to mind.
How often are laureates deserving, and how often are their contributions not towards peace, but to making the prize a bit of a joke? I don’t know, but judging by the past decade or so it seems to be little better than 50/50. The obvious joke here is Obama, who was awarded the Nobel Prize despite turning Bush’s two wars into seven, violating the war powers act in Libya, bombing hospitals, prosecuting whistle-blowers, signing an NDAA which legalized the suspension of charge or trial requirements for certain Americans, and expanding extrajudicial killings via drone warfare, including targeting of US citizens and children placed on a literal “kill list“. But this has been covered elsewhere. The Nobel Secretary who presented the award himself said it was a mistake.
However, in the past five years, two of the nominees have been disarmament organizations who have completely failed to produce a single tangible result by any honest metric.
1. International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), 2017
Today, the Norwegian Nobel Committee surprised the world by selecting a little known campaign seeking a complete prohibition on all nuclear weapons, worldwide. When I say surprised, I even include the group itself. ICAN’s directer, upon hearing they had won the prize, thought it was a prank.
Many onlookers expected it to go to the architects of the Iran deal, possibly to send a message to Trump, who has been floating the idea of abandoning or “decertifying” it. However, nuclear brinkmanship concerns with North Korea have kept nuclear disarmament in the spotlight as well, so it may make sense to base a Nobel Prize around such a cause.
There’s plenty of reasons not to include ICAN on the list. Some have opined that, were they effective, removing all nuclear weapons would destabilize the world. However, I would focus on the fact that they haven’t been effective, and I’ve seen no evidence that they ever will be or ever could be. While stating an ambitious goal of worldwide disarmament, they have yet to disarm a single country. They have not a single win under their belt, in the real world, from a single action they’ve ever taken. If anything, in their decade of existence, the danger of nuclear weapons has grown rather than shrunk.
2. Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), 2013
Similar to this year’s prize for a group ineffective at abolishing nukes, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), is ICAN’s parallel for their opposition to another weapon of war.
In 2013, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wished to respond to recent chemical weapon use within Syria. In 2012, Obama made his now famous “red line” comments to ignore the next year when Syria crossed it. In 2013, Syria experienced gas attacks, including sarin, likely ordered by Assad. The Security Council met over this breach of international law, and were about as effective as normal.
Within a year (June 23, 2014), OPCW said it had removed the last of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons, claiming to have achieved the goal they won the Nobel Peace Prize for.
So if they achieved such a resounding success, don’t they deserve the Nobel Peace Prize after all?
In 2014 and 2015, Assad repeatedly used Chemical weapons based on Cholorine gas, while ISIS used chemical weapons containing mustard gas. Both groups targeted civilian populations. In 2017, at least 58 people were killed in what appears to be a nerve gas attack in Idlib province. Victims showed signs of suffocation, convulsions, foaming at the mouth, and pupil constriction.
So much for OPCW’s achievements. Working tirelessly towards what may be laudable goals may be worthy of some admiration, but without results or success, it’s hard to justify enough for what was once considered the ultimate honor of secular humanity. Both ICAN this year and OPCW in 2013 have seen about as much success in their stated goals of prohibiting nuclear and chemical weapons as Chicago has seen at instituting gun control.
For the Nobel Peace Prize to remain relevant, there needs to be a requirement of some kind of tangible results. Nothing so ethereal as providing people “hope” that’s merely proven false when no positive “change” follows. Awarding such an honor for aspiring to goals the committee would be like to see achieved without any progress being necessary makes it nothing other than a participation trophy. Worse, one that doesn’t even seem to require much in the way of meaningful participation.