Potential, Politics and the Nobel Peace Prize
What we can learn from Trump’s nomination to the Nobel Peace Prize
On September 8, 2020, Fox News announced that President Donald Trump had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 2021, by Christian Tybring-Gjedde, a member of the Norwegian Parliament. Then, on September 10, Trump was nominated a second time by Swedish parliamentarian Magnus Jacobsson.
According to Tybring-Gjedde, Trump has done more for peace than most other Nobel laureates. Though Trump seems to ignite controversy wherever he goes, in this instance, Tybring-Gjedde has a point.
According to the nominations:
- The Trump administration has played a key role in brokering peace between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). “As it is expected other Middle Eastern countries will follow in the footsteps of the UAE, this agreement could be a game changer that will turn the Middle East into a region of cooperation and prosperity,” he wrote.
- Trump has had a “key role in facilitating contact between conflicting parties and … creating new dynamics in other protracted conflicts, such as the Kashmir border dispute between India and Pakistan, and the conflict between North and South Korea, as well as dealing with the nuclear capabilities of North Korea.”
- Trump’s administration along with Serbia and Kosovo signed an agreement normalizing economic relations between Serbia and Kosovo, which also included Kosovo recognizing Israel, and Serbia agreeing to move its embassy to Jerusalem.
Tybring-Gjedde also praised Trump for withdrawing a large number of troops from the Middle East. “Indeed, Trump has broken a 39-year-old streak of American Presidents either starting a war or bringing the United States into an international armed conflict. The last president to avoid doing so was Peace Prize laureate Jimmy Carter,” he wrote.
More than an ode to Trump
However, Tybring-Gjedde’s nomination may have been made more as a criticism of the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s choices than as an ode to Trump.
“I’m not a big Trump supporter,” he said. “The committee should look at the facts and judge him on the facts — not on the way he behaves sometimes. The people who have received the Peace Prize in recent years have done much less than Donald Trump. For example, Barack Obama did nothing.”
When it comes to Obama, specifically with regards to the parameters of the Nobel Peace Prize, Tybring-Gjedde is right.
In his last will, Alfred Nobel used three concepts to clarify his approach toward a more peaceful world and which type of work he wished to support. He wanted to award those people committed to breaking the military tradition and building an international community of disarmed nations. He used three expressions — the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.
When Obama was nominated for Nobel’s prize on February 1, 2009, he had been in office for less than two weeks. Obama was not rewarded for what he has already accomplished, but for what the committee hoped he would accomplish during his presidency.
Throughout the course of his presidency, Obama did not fulfill the committee’s aspirations for him, nor further the cause of peace in accordance with Alfred Nobel’s intentions. US military forces were at war for all eight years of Obama’s presidency. He launched airstrikes or military raids in at least seven countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.
While Obama reduced the number of US troops in war zones from 150,000 to 14,000 and stopped the flow of American soldiers coming home in body bags, he vastly expanded the role of elite commando units and the use of new technology, including armed drones and cyber weapons.
The truth is that the Nobel Committee didn’t care so much whether Obama deserved the prize or not. Obama won because he shared much of the same worldview as the Norwegian government and was considered a welcome successor — and a relief — after George W. Bush who declared his War on Terrorism in the wake of 9/11 without going through the UN.
A history of poor choices
But the 2009 award to Obama is not the committee’s only poor choice. Sometimes the selections are far from peace champions, but benefit Norway politically, like in the case of Cordell Hull (1945), which helped strengthen Norway’s ties with the United States, and George C. Marshall (1953) who, in addition to strengthening political ties, benefitted Norway with financial aid after World War II.
Other times, the committee hands Nobel’s prize to power-hungry belligerents such as Henry Kissinger in 1973, Yasser Arafat in 1994, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2011, or to Muhammad Yunus in 2006 who has enriched himself to the detriment of the poor and illiterate.
Time after time, recipients either excel in a field far removed from Nobel’s ideals, or they are just amazingly poor choices for the prize. The reason for this lies in the election process of the committee members. Since the inception of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has been filled with politicians — elected by parliament as a thank-you for a long and loyal service to one of the two major parties. Only one member of the committee, elected in 2015, has not had a political career (although his father was prime minister). Because of this, few believe in the committee’s independence from the government.
Every year, the committee receives hundreds of nominations from all over the world, some of which are far flung and intentionally divisive. The nominations of Benito Mussolini (1935), Adolf Hitler (1939), and Joseph Stalin (1945 and 1948) are examples. In 2014, Vladimir Putin was nominated.
Trump’s nomination demonstrates the politicization of Nobel’s prize. Throughout his political career, Tybring-Gjedde, who is a member of the right-wing Progress Party, has always been in opposition with the two leading parties, the leftist Labor Party and the more centrist Conservative Party. Tybring-Gjedde has been shunned and ridiculed by the political elite and the leftist media, which is why he went directly to FOX News with the story, avoiding being discredited by the Norwegian press.
Why it matters
Perhaps Tybring-Gjedde, with his nomination of Trump, wanted to prove a point: The Nobel Peace Prize Committee — and really the Norwegian government — through its poor choices to the Nobel prize, is showing an example of leadership that is just as divisive as Trump’s.
Whether that’s the case or not, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has, instead of making the bold choices our world needs, fallen into the temptation of power and politics. It has been swayed by popularity and fame, as seen with choices like President Obama or Malala Yousafzai, instead of adhering to the dictates of Nobel’s will, which call for profound change in society and the prevention of war. As a consequence, unworthy candidates have been chosen and other, more deserving ones, including Mahatma Gandhi, have been ignored.
Leaders’ behavior has a ripple effect down to the individual on the street, and the Norwegian Nobel Committee is responsible for ensuring Nobel’s vision and the public’s trust in the peace prize. That’s why the committee has to stop rewarding candidates on their potential. And when a laureate takes a disappointing turn, the committee should step up and rescind the award, as it should in the case of 1991 Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has allowed genocide to unfold in her country of Myanmar. When the committee refuses to revoke her Nobel medal, it’s an insult, not only to Alfred Nobel, but to the world.
The Nobel Peace Prize is a symbolic reference as to how we, as a society, are doing. By keeping the selection process a secret and by staying loyal to political and financial interests instead of Nobel’s spirit and intentions, the committee is participating in keeping societal dysfunctions alive.
Unni Turrettini is the author of the forthcoming book, Betraying the Nobel.