Is the Peace Prize Pointless?

On Friday, the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo will reveal which of the 329 nominees for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize they have decided to honor.

The honor has lost much of its luster over the years. Especially after it was bestowed on the likes of Yasser Arafat for his part in the 1994 Oslo Accords, which brought not peace but Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel.

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi won the 1991 prize “for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights,” but currently stands accused of backing genocide against Rohingya Muslims.

More recently, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was honored for ending an endless war with neighboring Eritrea, and is now the leading candidate for the Ethnic Cleansing prize for his “achievements” in his country’s Tigray region.

In response to the outcry about Suu Kyi, Olav Njoelstad, the secretary of the Nobel Committee, said that “it’s important to remember that a Nobel prize…is awarded for achievement of the past,” not the crimes of the future. That’s what the rules say. It’s hardly an answer, since the rules can be changed, but they’re in the business of giving out prizes, not taking them back.

Former President Barack Obama offers a counter-example, having won it for a peace-themed speech before he could be given credit for “achievement of the past.” In his memoirs, Obama recalls his baffled reaction at the time: “For what?” he asked.

Despite the large number of nominees (getting nominated is easy, any Norwegian MP can do it for you), the committee is faced with the problem that, as Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told CNN, there are no “peacemakers and mediators who are obvious choices,” as 2021 has “not been a good year for peace or peacemaking.”

A perusal of the leading nominees would seem to confirm his judgment.

Like any big competition, there’s lots of speculation (even organized betting) on who the winner will be.

Surprisingly, the World Health Organization is being touted as a frontrunner, despite its rather mixed record in handling the coronavirus epidemic. Maybe it would be a consolation prize, after WHO lost out in 2020 to the World Food Program.

But if that’s a factor, then the teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg has an advantage. She’s been favored to win every year since 2019, and sentimentality may put her over the top this time.

Former President Donald Trump is among the nominees, though he has a better chance of President Biden appointing him chairman of the Federal Elections Commission than he has of getting the Nobel Peace Prize. Which is somewhat ironic, given the fact that he’s one of the few who actually advanced the cause of peace in 2020, through the Abraham Accords.

But the Peace Prize is a highly political affair, and the enlightened sages of Oslo do not look kindly on the politics of Donald Trump.

What then? Give it to the WHO or Thunberg, whose connection to peacemaking is tenuous at best? Or risk it on another political figure who could eventually go the way of Suu Kyi and Abiy? (As the Wall Street Journal noted of another nominee, imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, “No one knows what kind of ruler he would become.”)

A solution has been proposed for the enigma of future behavior: Making the award posthumously (after the do-gooder can no longer become an evil-doer) and giving the prize and the $1 million that goes with it to a deserving organization or cause with which he or she was associated.

This, on the premise that such entities as the World Food Organization or Reporters Without Borders will never rewrite their mission statements to endorse ethnic cleansing, though nothing is impossible.

Of course, making it posthumous would entail changing the rules, something the Norwegian Nobel Institute just doesn’t do.

Or maybe it should just be abolished altogether as a flawed and unnecessary business?

While the Institute might someday agree to change the rules, the prize will not be abolished. There is too much prestige involved, both for the committee and the recipients. Why else would anybody outside Norway pay attention to what a Norwegian parliamentarian says?

Peace is hard to define, and in any case, often short-lived and illusory. Until Moshiach, that will continue to be the case, and we must be grateful for whatever peace there is, in whatever form it takes.

In the meantime, the Nobel Peace Prize is by no means entirely irrelevant. Undeniably, it provides incentive to heads of state and activists to strive for greatness that benefits mankind.

It is very rarely, however, that they succeed.