The Nobel Committee has yet again awarded a peace prize that violates the will of Alfred Nobel and the purpose for which the prize was created, selecting a recipient who blatantly is not “the person who has done the most or best to advance fellowship among nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and the establishment and promotion of peace congresses.”
There is no question that advocating for human rights is a good thing, or that doing so under an oppressive government is a courageous thing, or that doing so without hypocritically using violence is a wise thing. But the Nobel Peace Prize was created to support war abolition, not a random selection of good issue advocacy. And the practice of selectively awarding the prize to victims of the governments targeted by the U.S. military supports, rather than reduces, militarism. Of the most oppressive governments on Earth, there are only a few not armed, trained, and supplied by the U.S. military, and only one with which the U.S. government has recently torn up an agreement that stalled the drive toward war in Washington. The recipient of this year’s prize, Narges Mohammadi, if anything like her colleague and previous recipient Shirin Ebadi, opposes both abuses by the Iranian government and sanctions and threats of war from the U.S. government. But the awarding of the prize will not serve peace, and will only strengthen senseless global division. Everyone knows that no Western political journalist prisoner, such as Julian Assange, would ever be given such a prize.
In 2022, with its eyes on the news of the day, there was no question that the Committee would find some way to focus on Ukraine. But it steered clear of anyone seeking to reduce the risk of the at-the-time relatively minor war escalating or creating a nuclear apocalypse. It avoided anyone opposing both sides of the war, or anyone advocating for a ceasefire or negotiations or disarmament. It did not even make the choice one might have expected of picking an opponent of Russian warmaking in Russia and an opponent of Ukrainian warmaking in Ukraine. Instead, the Nobel Committee chose advocates for human rights and democracy in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. But the group in Ukraine was recognized for having “engaged in efforts to identify and document Russian war crimes against the Ukrainian civilian population,” with no mention of war as a crime or of the possibility that the Ukrainian side of the war was committing atrocities. The Nobel Committee may have learned from Amnesty International’s experience of being widely denounced for documenting war crimes by the Ukrainian side.
In 2021 the prize went to advocates for human rights in Russia and in the Philippines. In 2020 the prize went to the World Food Programme. In 2019 the prize went to the President of Ethiopia and claimed some releationship to peace as he had been part of a peace agreement. But he was a president and commander of a military and not in any need of funding or support. He has engaged in all sorts of violence and human rights abuses, so that an advocate for human rights in his country could be given the prize if the U.S. government’s relationship to that country changes.
Stretching back through the years, we see a continuous practice of awarding a peace prize to either actual warmakers or to avocates for good causes that are not peace, as well as the practice of using the prize for Western politcal purposes that are hostile to peace. Although virtually every topic can be tangentially connected to war and peace, the avoidance of actual peace activism intentionally misses the point of the prize’s creation by Alfred Nobel and the influence of Bertha von Suttner.
The Nobel Peace Prize has devolved into a prize for random good things that don’t offend a culture dedicated to endless war. It has been awarded for journalism, for working against hunger, for protecting children’s rights or women’s rights, for teaching about climate change, and for opposing poverty. These are all good causes and can all be connected to war and peace. But these causes should go find their own prizes.
The Nobel Peace Prize is so devoted to awarding powerful officials and avoiding peace activism that it is often awarded to the wagers of wars, including Abiy Ahmed, Juan Manuel Santos, the European Union, and Barack Obama, among others. At times the prize has gone to opponents of some aspect of war, advancing the idea of reforming even while maintaining the institution of war. These awards have come closest to the purpose for which the prize was created, and include the 2017 and 2018 prizes.
The prize has also been used to advance the propaganda of some of the world’s major war makers. Awards like this year’s have been used to denounce violations of human rights in non-Western nations targeted in the weapons-funding propaganda of Western nations. This record allows Western media outlets each year to speculate before the prize announcement on whether it will go to favorite propaganda topics, such as Alexei Navalny. The awarding of the prize has done nothing in recent years to diminish warmaking, and has perhaps done the opposite, with prizes going to opponents of the Russian government prior to escalations of the war in Ukraine. One can only hope that this year’s prize does not encourage a NATO war on Iran.
In 2021, at a moment when the world’s largest weapons dealer, most frequent launcher of wars, dominant deployer of troops to foreign bases, greatest enemy of the International Criminal Court and the rule of law in international affairs, and supporter of oppressive governments — the U.S. government — was trumpeting a division between so-called democracies and non-democracies, the Nobel Committee chose to throw gas on the fire, declaring:
“Since its start-up in 1993, Novaja Gazeta has published critical articles on subjects ranging from corruption, police violence, unlawful arrests, electoral fraud and ‘troll factories’ to the use of Russian military forces both within and outside Russia. Novaja Gazeta’s opponents have responded with harassment, threats, violence, and murder.”
Also given the prize that year was a journalist from the Philippines already funded by CNN and by the U.S. government, in fact by a U.S. government agency often involved in funding military coups.
That there are always numerous candidates who plausibly meet the criteria of Alfred Nobel’s will each year and could have been appropriately awarded a Nobel Peace Prize has been established by the list of nominees published each year by Nobel Peace Prize Watch, and by the War Abolisher Awards. World BEYOND War has created the War Abolisher Awards to fill the gap left by the Nobel Committee’s abandonment of the cause of ending war.