World Peace, Please.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has always aspired to promote further cooperation between nations, viewing efforts to form a truly international world organisation in a particularly positive light. The world has changed tremendously over the past century, but the need for dialogue and cooperation remains as strong as ever.
The Peace Movement Prior to World War I
With few exceptions, the Nobel Peace Prize laureates prior to WWI were closely associated with the international peace movement. These were people who had dedicated their lives to the cause of peace, and most of them were awarded the Peace Prize late in life.
Founded in Western Europe and the USA, this movement organised meetings and conferences, and sought to replace secret diplomacy and war with binding agreements on the use of arbitration. Its supporters believed that peace could be promoted through free trade and cooperation among elected representatives. Many also called for national states, to widen the scope of international law and reduce military funding. Some dreamed of a united Europe, patterned after the USA. Others were interested in fostering brotherhood across national boundaries.
Prior to WWI, two organisations received the Peace Prize: the Institute of International Law in 1904, and the International Peace Bureau in 1910. These awards demonstrate the Committee’s conviction that both international law and cooperation on disarmament comprised an effective means of promoting peace.
“To create an organization which is in a position to protect peace in this world of conflicting interests and egotistic wills is a frighteningly difficult task. But the difficulties must not hold us back.” — Hjalmar Branting
The League of Nations
Born of the consequences of World War I, the League of Nations was an ambitious attempt to construct a peaceful global order. The Nobel Committee’s hopes regarding the merits of the League of Nations is illustrated by the list of the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in this period.
The chief architects of the League of Nations, Woodrow Wilson and Léon Bourgeois, received the Peace Prize in 1919 and 1920, respectively. In the early 1920s, the Peace Prize was awarded to three men who distinguished themselves in the new organization: Hjalmar Branting, Christian Lous Lange, and Fridtjof Nansen. Disarmament advocate Arthur Henderson was selected as laureate in 1934. Robert Cecil was awarded the 1937 Peace Prize for having mobilized opinion in favour of the League of Nations in the UK. The following year, the Peace Prize was awarded to the Nansen International Office for Refugees, the League of Nations’ refugee organization.
Nevertheless, the League of Nations proved unable to prevent aggressions and eventually the outbreak of World War II.
“I can predict with absolute certainty that within another generation there will be another world war if the nations of the world do not concert the method by which to prevent it.” — Woodrow Wilson
Organising Peace Through the United Nations
The Nobel Committee’s recognition of the League of the Nations’ efforts evolved into its enthusiastic support of the United Nations. A total of 15 Peace Prizes have been awarded to the UN through its agencies and representatives.
The Peace Prizes awarded to UN organisations have indicated which aspects of UN peace efforts the Norwegian Nobel Committee has considered most important. The UN Refugee Agency has received the Peace Prize twice, in 1954 and 1981. UNICEF was honoured for improving the living conditions of children in 1965. In 1969, the International Labour Organization (ILO) was awarded the Peace Prize for its efforts to promote better working conditions and enhance the welfare of workers. And in 1988, the Peace Prize went to the UN peacekeeping forces.
Ralph Bunche was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 for having negotiated a cease-fire agreement after the War of Independence between Israel and the Arab nations. Lester Pearson formulated a UN resolution in 1956 to create a peacekeeping force to separate Egyptian and Israeli forces during the Suez Crisis. The second Secretary-General of the UN, Dag Hammarskjöld strengthened the UN in relation to the major powers and intervened in the civil war in the Congo. On the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, Secretary-General Kofi Annan Annan received the Peace Prize for his successful efforts to revitalize and enhance the efficiency of the world organization.
“Only in a world that is rid of poverty can all men and women make the most of their abilities. Only where individual rights are respected can differences be channelled politically and resolved peacefully. Only in a democratic environment, based on respect for diversity and dialogue, can individual self-expression and self-government be secured, and freedom of association be upheld.”
The European Project
World War II left Europe in ruins. Many believed that closer economic ties between countries could promote growth, trust and peace. In 1950, the EU’s forerunner, the European Coal and Steel Community, was established by West Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Luxemburg. By creating a common market, French foreign minister Robert Schuman was hoping to “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible”.
Today, 28 countries are EU members and the EU cooperation extends into an increasing number of fields and bodies. Membership in the EU gives access to an economic community, and requires respect for human rights and democratic government. The European Union received the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize for contributing over six decades to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.
By awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union, the Nobel Committee wanted to stress its significant reconciliation work and its stabilising role. The Committee considers the EU’s work to fulfil Alfred Nobel’s criteria of “fraternity between nations” and “holding and promoting of peace congresses”.
“We are the first generation that hasn’t experienced war.”
— Herman von Rompuy, President of the European Council.
A New International Age?
We tend to focus our attention on setbacks and often forget to celebrate success. And there is a lot to celebrate.
The first laureates mentioned above were calling for arbitration and international cooperation, at a time where it was common to solve disagreements on the battlefield.
Today, organisations such as the United Nations or the European Union function as forums where global challenges can be discussed and solved. Both institutions are regularly criticised for their flaws and shortcomings, and opposition between member states still have to be overcome on a regular basis. However, these organisations are at the forefront of efforts to achieve peace and security in the world. They have the tools to meet the world’s economic, social and environmental challenges — demonstrating how the only negotiable route to global peace is through cooperation.