Humbled? He should be embarrassed
The Nobel Peace Prize has always been controversial. With hindsight, some of the awards have been stinkers. Arthur Henderson (1934) and Robert Cecil (1937) did a great deal to promote disarmament in Europe. In practice, this led to appeasement and thus the Second World War, but there is no doubt that they were sincere in seeking peace, even though their policies led to war. Some of the awards most controversial at the time – Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho (1973), for example, do not look so bad in hindsight. They did bring an end to the Vietnam War, even if Le Duc Tho had personally overseen the unprovoked attack on South Vietnam in the first place. Bringing an end to war is one of the things the prize is supposed to be about. Disarmament is another, even if it sometimes works in conflict with the aim of preventing war.

In the field of bringing an end to conflict, Yasser Arafat was a particularly controversial winner. But he did make specific promises which, had he ever honored them, would have been a valuable step to solving one of the worst conflicts of the modern era.

Others have been awarded the prize for their role in standing up for human rights and freedom – in some cases at very considerable personal risk: Martin Luther King, Andrei Sakharov, Lech Walesa, Aung San Suu Kyi, and this year’s snubbed nominee, Morgan Tsvangirai all stand out in this regard.

If disarmament is meant to be key to the prize – and the terms of Alfred Nobel’s bequest specify this, including work to abolish standing armies – then perhaps Donald Rumsfeld, who abolished the draft, would the modern American politician who most deserved to win.

The Nobel Committee has also missed out some very deserving winners. Mohatama Ghandi never won the award – though this is probably because he died during the year in which he was nominated, and the rules prevent a posthumous award. The Committee made no award that year, on the grounds that no living person deserved it. So Ghandi was not snubbed, as Tsvangirai was this year. King Juan Carlos of Spain, who systematically dismantled Franco’s dictatorship and then faced down a fascist coup, should certainly have won the prize.

The Iranian dissidents who led protests against the rigging of this year’s election would not have been nominated for this year’s prize, as nominations closed last November, though they might be candidates next year.

The 2009 award is probably the most astonishing that has ever been made. When there is no candidate of suitable merit the Committee has withheld the prize or made a ‘filler’ award to an agency – such as the Red Cross – which could be honored at any time. But this year there was a candidate of real substance and courage – Morgan Tsvangirai. Might he later turn out to be undeserving? It is possible, but that has not prevented awards in the past, and he is much more a man of peace than Le Duc Tho or Yasser Arafat.

Barack Obama should have turned the prize down. He has inspired many with his rhetoric and thrilled people with dreams of hope, but he has achieved almost nothing, as yet. His policies on Iraq are identical to Bush’s. He plans more troops for Afghanistan, probably rightly. But if these policies deserve the prize, honor their instigator.


Article provided by Quentin Langley
Lecturer in PR and Political Communications,
School of Journalism, Cardiff University

%d bloggers like this: