First awarded in 1901, the Nobel Peace Prize has, for the past century and longer, seen some of the most remarkable human beings to have ever lived. Among the gilded pantheon of Peace Prize laureates are Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose non-violent struggle for civil rights fundamentally reshaped the public outlook on racism, Emily Greene Balch, with her painstaking work to advance the cause of peace before exposing the ruthless U.S. occupation of Haiti, and countless others whose endeavors had left an indelible mark in the history books.
As society evolves and more issues threatening peace springing up, however, what constitutes working for the cause of peace has been called into question. After President Barack Obama and President Juan Manuel of Colombia — both of whom have not realized any tangible action at the time of nomination — received the prize, a debate surrounding whether the Peace Prize should be awarded to those who aspire to create peace, in addition to those who have accomplished significant feats, erupted.
Even though many claim that only those who brought about tangible change toward peace should be prized, there should be no debate that individuals who dedicate their lives to just causes, regardless of the end result, should be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize. This comes with several reasons: recognizing the longing for peace makes peace more likely, acknowledging aspiration for peace is well aligned with the will of Alfred Nobel, and that not all work with the appearance of achieving peace are done in good faith.
To begin, in a world mired in turmoil, awarding efforts for peace — regardless of whether or not they succeed — is integral to realizing peace. As Jeffrey C. Goldfarb, a professor at the New School for Social Research, observed in the case of President Obama’s Nobel Prize, the award was conferred in a “tough zone that exists between ideal and reality” (Goldfarb 2016). He noted how even though Obama was unable to deliver some of his promises in regards to creating a more peaceful world, he “de-militarized American foreign policy,” strengthened “U.S. commitments to respect the Geneva Agreements” among other steps to avoiding the prospect of military conflicts (2016). In invoking the complexities in global political affairs in the 21st century, Goldfarb points to the vital component in achieving peace — the willingness and conviction to make peace. It appears that he’s arguing how, in a world where outright peace is so unattainable, it is the aspiration for peace that should be kept alive with the Prize’s recognition. Goldfarb’s stance was precisely that of the former chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjorn Jagland, who reportedly stated that “since there is so little actual peace in the world, ‘we have to award those who are trying’” (Falk 2016). Therefore, because actual peace is next to impossible and all so-called peace accomplishments are relative, incentivizing those who put in the effort to such an arduous ideal is what’s imperative. Jagland’s remarks reflect the view that because the world is so intricate these days, the ones who are taking action towards the cause of peace, however slowly, are worth commending.
Furthermore, those who haven’t achieved a result of peace but aim for it should be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize because aspiring peace closely aligns to Alfred Nobel’s will — the basis for all Prize consideration. In his will, which materialized the establishment of five prizes in his name, Nobel wrote that whoever had “done the most or best to advance fellowship among nations, the abolition or reduction of armies…” should be awarded the Peace Prize (Nobel 1893). The deliberately vague phrasing of this left room for many to interpret if he had set up the prize to solely recognize accomplishments or to acknowledge the commitment to the cause of peace. To this, Fredrik S. Heffermehl, a Norwegian lawyer who authored the book The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted, analyzed that because Nobel’s hope of creating the Peace Prize was to recognize “the champions of peace,” the Nobel Committee’s decision to select laureates who have not attained anything significant in regards to peace but held onto the ideal of peace, should be given legitimacy (Heffermehl 2016).
Another viewpoint that bolsters this take is Alfred Nobel’s close correspondence with Bertha von Suttner, a female Austrian pacifist who ended up receiving the Peace Prize years after Nobel’s death (Ted 2021). At the time, von Suttner, despite her tireless efforts in calling for peace and publishing her signature anti-war novel, did not find much success.
Since it could be reasonably inferred that Nobel had set up the prize primarily for von Suttner, this vindicated the claim that the prize is by no means exclusive to those who had accomplished, but more so to people who champion the cause for peace no matter how little they achieve.
Still, some may argue that not reserving the Peace Prize to those who had significant accomplishments under their belt muddles the selection process, and that awarding those people ensures a safer choice. These claims, although holds an iota of validity, are flawed at best — the appearance of reaching peace may not always be done in good faith and can at times be deceptive. As an example, Abiy Ahmed, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia who was awarded the Peace Prize in 2019 after he signed a historic peace agreement with his country’s archrival, Eritrea, was recognized for that very agreement only for that agreement be used to assist his mass violence campaign in Ethiopia’s northern region (Dahir 2021). Not even two years after claiming his award, Ahmed initiated a conflict against the Tigray resistance force, prompting genocide allegations from rights groups, and began “stoking war-fever” in the country (2021). This case rings poignant in demonstrating how the brokering of a historic peace deal does not reflect one’s commitment to peace — there should be no refuting that someone who had dedicated their career to promoting the cause of peace, but came to no avail, is more deserving of recognition than a con-artist brokering treaties in bad faith.
In closing, the Nobel Peace Prize should continue awarding individuals who aspire peace for that makes the realization of peace more possible, is in accordance to Nobel’s will for a peaceful world, and stands in stark contrast to those brokering “tangible” deals for the appearance of it. After all, the contention surrounding whether the accolade should be to recognize achievement or effort bears consequences far greater than the mere recipient of a prestigious prize. It determines whether human beings can still hold faith in a peaceful future at a time when so much of the world is mired in despair; it sends an unequivocal message that efforts towards peace, not a craving for recognition, is what’s precious, and that wherever there are genuine efforts and unfaltering commitments, there will always be fruition. This is perhaps what Nobel had in mind and what the world must understand.
“All Nobel Peace Prizes.” NobelPrize.org, www.nobelprize.org/prizes/lists/all-nobel-peace-prizes/.
Dahir, Abdi Latif. “‘My Blood Is Boiling’: War Fever Surges in Ethiopia as Its Civil War Spreads.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 22 Aug. 2021, www.nytimes.com/2021/08/22/world/africa/ethiopia-civil-war-spreads.html.
“Emily Greene Balch.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., www.britannica.com/biography/Emily-Greene-Balch.
“Full Text of Alfred Nobel’s Will.” NobelPrize.org, 27 Sept. 2018, www.nobelprize.org/alfred-nobel/full-text-of-alfred-nobels-will-2/.
“How Does the Nobel Peace Prize Work? — Adeline Cuvelier and Toril Rokseth.” TED, TED-Ed, ed.ted.com/lessons/how-does-the-nobel-peace-prize-work-adeline-cuvelier-and-toril-rokseth.
“What the Nobel Peace Prize Prizes.” The New York Times, The New York Times, www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2016/10/11/what-the-nobel-peace-prize-prizes/the-nobel-can-reward-thankless-efforts-for-a-crucial-goal.