Headlines | Columnist Service

Norwegians Rebuked for Straying from Nobel Founder’s Peace Vision

OSLO, Mar 29 2012 (IPS) - A public authority in Sweden recently issued orders that the Stockholm-based Nobel Foundation must rein in and discipline the Norwegian Nobel Prize Committee, which is tasked with selecting the Nobel peace laureates. This announcement followed a four-year-old dispute over Norwegian misuse of the peace prize, established by the 1895 will of Swedish inventor and industrialist Alfred Nobel, for those who “confer the greatest benefit to mankind.”

The Swedish authorities opened an investigation based on evidence and research in my books on the peace prize (which are available in five languages, among them Chinese, English and Swedish).

It is a widespread misconception that the Swedish investigation ended without criticism.

Even though past prizes were not criticised, the recent announcement was a substantial rebuke, specifying a number of measures that the Nobel Foundation must take to get the awards right, in due conformity with Nobel’s intentions, for the future. Not least that the Foundation undertake a proper analysis of the original purpose of the peace prize and develop instructions. The prize has been awarded since 1901 without this precaution which the authority now calls necessary to avoid the risk that \”compliance will stray from the original intention over time.\”

Nobel intended his peace prize to benefit not “peace” in general but “the champions of peace.” This is not a mere subtlety in language; it contains the difference between two fundamentally different approaches to security. The Norwegians have handed the prizes out in all directions for anything that can be termed peace, in the widest possible sense, in stark contrast with the specific peace vision Nobel wished to support – namely, that in order to thrive, prosper and survive, humanity must demilitarise international relations. Nobel wished to lift civilisation, i.e. the rule of law and a prohibition against violence, to the global level. A good idea in 1895, this has become a mandatory necessity in the nuclear age of 2012.

The most probable reason why Nobel entrusted this prize in the hands of a five-member committee to be appointed by the Norwegian parliament was that Norway at the time was a leading supporter of the peace movement. In his description of future peace laureates, the champions of peace, Nobel mentioned individuals committed to a reduction or abolition of the military, and “to creat(ing) a brotherhood of nations” based on trust, cooperation, international law and disarmament treaties. Nobel also confirmed whom he had in mind in a letter to Bertha von Suttner, the preeminent protagonist of peace of the period and a friend during the last 20 years of Nobel’s life.

The only thing clearer than the kind of winners Nobel intended the prize to benefit is that the Norwegian trustees have taken total liberty to use Nobel’s name and prestige for whatever they like, with no visible respect for Nobel’s particular vision for peace. At the end of four years I find one thing certain: the Norwegians show absolutely no interest in Nobel and do not wish to learn anything about the specific peace vision he had in mind.

The Swedish authority expressed its condemnation of the hitherto flawed process in a subtle way; it blew the trumpet but kept the sound on mute when it requested the Nobel Foundation to analyse and develop new guidelines to secure the quality of all five subcommittee decisions and ensure enduring respect for what Nobel must have intended.

In addition the Foundation must describe and formalise division of responsibilities and criteria as well as routines for quality control.

The case also has clarified that the final responsibility for the quality of all decisions rests with the Foundation Board in Stockholm, which should introduce advance screening of a short-list of potential winners, since it would be unfortunate for the Board to have to withhold prize money if the subcommittees should make selections not within the mandate from Nobel.

The tradition has been to consider the five awarding committees as fully independent. The Norwegian Nobel peace prize committee repeated an old claim that in deciding on winners it is independent and shall take instructions from no one. This view was clearly rejected by the Swedish authority, which noted that, under Swedish law, the Stockholm-based Nobel foundation must ensure that prizewinners meet the stated purpose of the will.

Nobel clearly wished the awarding committees to be specialists in their respective fields. For instance, the Caroline Hospital awards the Medicine prize, the Academy of Science the Science prize, the Swedish Academy the Literature prize and must have hoped the Norwegian parliament would appoint specialists in his idea of a global peace order.

The Swedish authority has suggested that there may be persons better qualified to select the “champions of peace” -in the sense that Nobel understood this- than the present parliamentarians. The Nobel Foundation may have to order the Norwegian Parliamentarians to pick specialists in international law and disarmament – instead of placing themselves in the coveted seats. The current arrangement in which it serves a private foundation indeed puts Norway’s Parliament in peculiar situations.

The Nobel legacy is an object of national pride in Scandinavia, and there is a long tradition of coveting fake Nobel honor. The Swedish administrative authority must also have been hesitant to offend the daunting line of winners, from Albert Schweitzer to Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, and Barack Obama. It chose to solve the dilemma by making clear demands for the future work with the Nobel prizes while avoiding criticism of past performance.


(*) Fredrik S. Heffermehl, Norwegian lawyer and author. Latest title: The Nobel Peace Prize. What Nobel Really Wanted, http://www.nobelwill.org

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags

five regrets of the dying summary