Alfred Nobel’s will, written in 1895, left funding for a prize to be awarded to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
Most winners in recent years have either been people who did nice things that had nothing whatsoever to do with the relevant work (Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai for promoting education, Liu Xiaobo for protesting in China, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr. for opposing climate change, Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank for economic development, etc.) or people who actually engaged in militarism and would have opposed the abolition or reduction of standing armies if asked, and one of whom said so in his acceptance speech (the European Union, Barack Obama, etc.).
The prize goes disproportionately, not to the leaders of organizations or movements for peace and disarmament, but to U.S. and European elected officials. Rumors swirled, prior to Friday’s announcement, that Angela Merkel or John Kerry might win the prize. Thankfully, that did not happen. Another rumor suggested the prize could go to defenders of Article Nine, the section of the Japanese Constitution that bans war and has kept Japan out of war for 70 years. Sadly, that did not happen.
The 2015 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded Friday morning to “the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011.” The Nobel Committee’s statement goes on to actually cite Nobel’s will, which Nobel Peace Prize Watch (NobelWill.org) and other advocates have been insisting be followed (and which I’m a plaintiff in a lawsuit demanding compliance with, along with Mairead Maguire and Jan Oberg):
“The broad-based national dialogue that the Quartet succeeded in establishing countered the spread of violence in Tunisia and its function is therefore comparable to that of the peace congresses to which Alfred Nobel refers in his will.”
This was not an award to a single individual or for work in a single year, but those are differences from the will that no one has really objected to. This was also not an award to a leading war maker or arms dealer. This was not a peace prize for a NATO member or a Western president or foreign secretary who did something less awful than usual. This is encouraging as far as that goes.
The award did not directly challenge the arms industry that is led by the United States and Europe along with Russia and China. The award did not go to international work at all but to work within a nation. And the leading reason offered was the building of a pluralistic democracy. This verges on the watered-down Nobel conception of peace as anything good or Western. However, the effort to claim strict compliance with one element of the will is quite useful. Even a domestic peace congress that prevents civil war is a worthy effort to replace war with peace. A nonviolent revolution in Tunisia did not directly challenge Western militarized imperialism, but neither was it in line with it. And its relative success, compared with the nations that have received the most “assistance” from the Pentagon (Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, etc.) is worth highlighting. An honorable mention for Chelsea Manning for her role in inspiring the Arab Spring in Tunisia by releasing communications between the U.S. and Tunisian governments would not have been out of place.
So, I think the 2015 award could have been much worse. It could also have been much better. It could have gone to work opposing armaments and international warmongering. It could have gone to Article 9, or Abolition 2000, or the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, or the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, or the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Arms, or the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, all of which were nominated this year, or to any number of individuals nominated from around the world.
Nobel Peace Prize Watch is far from satisfied: “An encouragement to the Tunisian people is fine, but Nobel had a much greater perspective. Indisputable evidence shows that he intended his prize to support a visionary reorganization of international affairs. The language in his will is a clear confirmation of this,” says Tomas Magnusson, Sweden, on behalf of Nobel Peace Prize Watch. “The committee continues reading the expressions of the testament as they like, instead of studying what type of ‘champions of peace’ and what peace ideas Nobel had in mind signing his will on Nov. 27, 1895. In February the Nobel Peace Prize Watch lifted the secrecy around the selection process when it published a list of 25 qualified candidates with the full nomination letters. By its choice for 2015, the committee has rejected the list and, again, is clearly outside the circle of recipients Nobel had in mind. In addition to not understanding the least bit of Nobel’s idea the committee in Oslo has not understood the new situation in the committee’s relation to its principals in Stockholm,” continues Tomas Magnusson. “We must understand that the whole world today is under occupation, even our brains have become militarized to a degree where it is hard for people to imagine the alternative, demilitarized world that Nobel wished his prize to promote as a mandatory urgency. Nobel was a man of the world, able to transcend the national perspective and think of what would be best for the world as a whole. We have plenty for everyone’s needs on this green planet if the nations of the world could only learn to co-operate and stop wasting precious resources on the military. The members of the Board of the Nobel Foundation risk personal liability if a prize amount is paid over to the winner in violation of the purpose. As late as three weeks ago seven members of the Foundation’s Board were hit by initial steps in a lawsuit demanding that they repay to the Foundation the prize paid to the EU in December 2012. Among the plaintiffs are Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland, a Nobel laureate; David Swanson, USA; Jan Oberg, Sweden, and the Nobel Peace Prize Watch (nobelwill.org). The lawsuit follows after a Norwegian attempt to regain the ultimate control of the peace prize was finally turned down by the Swedish Chamber Court in May 2014.”