Would Alfred Nobel laugh or cry at the 2016 Prize: A Norwegian diplomacy rescue operation?

By Jan Oberg

1. In my view it is well within the will of Alfred Nobel to reward people who negotiate a peace agreement. In this perspective this year’s choice is better than several from the latest years.

2. That said, it is quite obvious that the Committee has deviated from its mandate in another respect. Nobel’s wish and will is about something already done that deserves to be rewarded.

This years’ choice – like, say, that of Al Gore and Obama – is a clear example of the Nobel Committee sliding into another role: that of influencing world events in the future. (And grossly exaggerate its own importance in Realpolitik terms beyond symbolic, normative celebrations and solemn words).

One indication that the Committee by its choice this year wants to influence the future is that visitors to its website can vote on whether or not they believe that the award will help the peace process in Columbia.

3. Why reward only one person, the government side? To award only one party to a peace agreement borders on the absurd.

Why did the Committee choose deliberately to not recognize and award the FARC side? Although I am not an expert in any way on this specific conflict, it’s to state the obvious that it takes two (at least) to make peace and that FARC has gone a long way too and compromised to make it possible to reach a deal. Also, in the motivation it is only the president who is praised:

“It is the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s firm belief that President Santos, despite the “No” majority vote in the referendum, has brought the bloody conflict significantly closer to a peaceful solution, and that much of the groundwork has been laid for both the verifiable disarmament of the FARC guerrillas and a historic process of national fraternity and reconciliation. His endeavors to promote peace thus fulfil the criteria and spirit of Alfred Nobel’s will.”

A clear side-taking with the government and not with all parties and the process itself. And, given Santos’ background (see below), is it really that much in Nobel’s spirit?

By not having their representative present on the stage in Oslo, the Committee most likely contribute to that side’s disappointment. It would not be a surprise to me if such a one-sided recognition that does not support the whole process may reduce the overall commitment to further negotiations.

4. The Committee that decides the Prize consist mainly of former Norwegian MPs or, in other words, people who – in contrast to the other Nobel prized – have no specific knowledge about the academic, intellectual, philosophical field called peace (which is taught at some 800 colleges and universities around the world).

Imagine that such a , non-expert group should decide who should receive the prizes in, say, medicine or physics! So, lacking in expert knowledge it chooses regularly to award fellows of their own: politicians.

5. And who is the politician, Juan Manuel Santos? Among other things he is a former minister of defence and, thus, he was a believer in the exact opposite of what Alfred Nobel wanted to promote namely the reduction of everything military.

Secondly, as the Wikipedia page about Santos makes abundantly clear – a man with quite some blood on his hands.

One may of course argue that those who turn their backs to violence and genuinely come to care for peace do deserve recognition; I would certainly not be against that – and what would Nelson Mandela have been to the world if precisely this change of values toward peace and reconciliation was not a noble thing to do)?

The problem is that the Nobel Committee members have probably reasoned that if the whole process falls apart and FARC takes up weapons again it would be very embarrassing that they had awarded the Prize to FARC. At least that could be one reason they chose actively to not award FARC.

But then comes the nasty question: What do they know about what Juan Manuel Santos might do in the future under various more or less imagines circumstances or scenarios?

I’m afraid that it doesn’t hold water today and may also not in the future. Perhaps not even to the Oslo ceremony in December.

6. Finally, while journalists listen to what is said a researcher also listens to what is not said. What is not said in the long presentation speech and motivation is that Norway has been formally engaged in the whole process and, together with Cuba, is a guarantor countries. See Columbia Reports fact sheet here. The bald-headed man on many of the photos from the Peace Agreement signature ceremony is Norwegian mediator and special envoy, Dag Nylander who has been portrayed by BBC here.

Thus, the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to a formal Norwegian foreign policy initiative at the moment when it is in serious crisis due to the referendum in which a tiny majority of those who voted about the Agreement in Columbia said “No!”

So, here we have a group of Norwegian ex-parliamentarians rewarding a piece of Norwegian foreign policy and diplomacy! Use the Prize to give it a boost.

One wonders why there was not inserted just a little sentence in Mme Five’s speech like – “As is well-known, Norway has been heavily involved in this process from Day One and served as guarantor country together with Cuba.”

One wonders of this wasn’t left unsaid because someone actually recognised that it smelled too much of self-praise? Or, worse – of misuse of the Prize to further or keep on track an important element of Norway’s own foreign policy.

Alfred Nobel, the Swede, isn’t known to have had any such intention. And I wonder whether his views would have been about these six problems characterizing the 2016 Prize in his name.

Would he have been laughing or crying? Perhaps even regretted that he let Norway take care of this particular one among his prizes?

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