Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel Peace Prize can be seen as a symbol of both the regular cooperation between among Nordic countries and an expression of their neutrality. Like the other four original Nobel Prizes, the Nobel Peace Prize was established by the last will of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel (1833–96).

Close-up on a silver coin

Alfred Nobel’s will and decision-making

The peace prize was the final category mentioned in Nobel’s will, which established the requirements, decision criteria, and funding structure for the prizes bearing his name. Unlike the other prizes, the Peace Prize was to be awarded by a Norwegian committee consisting of five people elected by the Norwegian Parliament (Storting). This structure was a result of the attempt to insulate the process from international influence, and was possible because of the union between Sweden and Norway that existed until 1905.

Multiple motives have been attributed to Alfred Nobel in the selection of peace as an area of attention for these prizes. One common assumption is that Nobel wanted to foster international peace as a way of atoning for his invention of dynamite, which he patented in 1867. Another theory is that Bertha von Suttner, one of the later laureates and an acquaintance of and secretary for Nobel, had a hand in persuading Nobel to create the prize using his sizeable wealth. Scholarship on von Suttner and the Nobel Foundation’s own website propagate this interpretation.

Controversial aspects of the Nobel peace prize

Many aspects of the prize have been controversial over the years, including the perceived degree of neutrality of Norway and its Nobel Committee, the definitions of ‘peace’ used by the committee, and the awarding of the prize relatively soon after the laureate’s accomplishment. There is also a great gender disparity in the selection of winners, as women represent only a small minority of Peace Laureates (as of 2018, 17 out of 99 prizes). The predicted or actual selection of laureates living under authoritarian regimes has prompted the countries in question to condemn the award and its selection process and even to censor acknowledgment or discussion of the award in public. This was the case for pacifist and journalist Carl von Ossietzky (1935) in Nazi Germany and human rights activist and writer Liu Xiaobo (2010) in China.

Examples of laureates

The inaugural Peace Laureates in 1901 were Jean Henry Dunant, founder of the Red Cross, and Frédéric Passy, a peace activist. Since then laureates have included:

·       peace activist Bertha von Suttner (1905),

·       U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (1906),

·       founder of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Jane Addams (1931),

·       medical missionary Albert Schweizer (1952),

·       Secretary General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld (1961),

·       Martin Luther King, Jr. (1964),

·       Former Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sat? (1974),

·       diplomat Alva Myrdal (1982),

·       President of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev (1990),

·       former Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed ElBaradei (2005),

·       former U.S. Vice Presidents Al Gore (2007),

·       former U.S. President Barack Obama (2009),

·       children’s rights activists Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai (2014).

Organisations are also eligible to receive this recognition. Organisational laureates have included:

·       the International Committee of the Red Cross (1917, 1944, 1963),

·       the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (1997),

·       Médecins sans Frontières (1999),

·       the International Atomic Energy Agency (2005),

·       the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (2017).

Though not exactly an organisation, the European Union itself won the prize in 2012, providing fodder for more criticism of the award.

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