In awarding the 2012 The Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union, the Nobel Peace committee has betrayed Alfred Nobel’s dream.
The Nobel Peace Prize had its origin in a radicalyl powerful idea, that the reduction of militarism in the world was as worthy of recognition as advances in medicine, literature, and the sciences. In the few decades there have been some controversial choices, such as the 1973 recognition of Henry Kissinger, who is seen as the architect of US foreign policy in the 1970’s. The problematic awards continue in 2009 with granting the award with President Barack Obama, who was the Commander-in-Chief of American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, wars that have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of human beings, and the creation of millions of refugees.
There have been some worthy choices, no doubt. Here one can point to the award for Muhammad Yunus (2006), Shirin Ebadi (2003), International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) in 1997, His Holiness Dalai Lama (1989), Desmond Mpilo Tutu (1984), Martin Luther King (1964).
As to the real intention behind the original Nobel Peace Prize, it would be helpful to look at the relevant section of Alfred Nobel’s will that specified those who “have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.”
Nobel thus identified the following as the criteria for the Peace Prize:
….one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.
Now by what twisted logic can the European Union be described as having taken part in the “abolition or reduction of standing armies”? And aside from nice rhetoric (currently empty, after murder of some 42,000 Syrians) about ending the current Syrian conflict, what meaningful role has the EU played in “promotion of peace congresses”? On the contrary, it is the case that the EU member countries are responsible for one third of all the military sales around the world? How on earth can that be seen as being consistent with Nobel’s mandate to identify the person responsible for abolition or reduction of standing armies?
The problematic aspect of EU’s involvement in the Military-Industrial Complex is by no means a recent development. As far back as 1998, a coalition of NGOs such as Amnesty International and Oxfam stated:
Despite appeals from parliamentarians and non-government organisations in the EU, there is no explicit obligation to prohibit transfers to forces which would most likely use them to seriously violate international humanitarian law (which sets out the rules of war).
Moreover, there are virtually no provisions to address the current deficiencies in most EU Members States' arms control regimes, such as the failure to strictly regulate international arms brokering and licensed production agreements, or to adopt rigorous systems of certifying and monitoring end-use.
Finally the Code, as agreed, contains no provision for parliamentary or public scrutiny over arms exports from the EU and thus does little to foster greater transparency and accountability over the arms trade across Europe as a whole. These omissions will need to be rectified in the near future if the Code is to achieve its aims of high common standards in management of and restraint in conventional arms transfers.
Previous Nobel Peace Prize Winners are speaking out against the selection of the EU:
We're surprised by the last designations by the Nobel committee, in the case of Obama, Al Gore, and now the European Union, when these are countries at war. They are part of NATO. They invade, plunder, kill. We've seen it in Libya, Syria, we see it all over the world. The military bases they have in the Malvinas Islands. So, we're worried a prize like the Nobel, which has to be for contributing to peace, can be used in this way."
- Adolfo Perez Esquivel, the 1980 Nobel winner
You can see a revealing interview about the legacy of Alfred Nobel here with the Norwegian lawyer Fredrik Heffermehl, who has authored a fascinating book called "The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted."
Nobel’s dream represented a radical wish for a brilliant scientist who was horrified to see his invention of the dynamite become a tool of destruction. In the last few decades the Peace Prize has been at times a powerful way of recognizing the courageous contribution of activists and world leaders such as Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, and Shirin Ebadi. But when a collection of states that engages in military sales around the world is honored as the recipient of the Prize, it does more than turn the Nobel Peace Prize into a joke. It represents a betrayal, and an inversion, of Alfred Nobel’s beautiful dream.
It’s that dream, Nobel’s original vision, that we are most in need of today. We as one human community have to learn to live together, or we are going to perish like fools. Peace is not merely some distant ethereal goal, it is the very path that will deliver us there. And on the path of peace, we cannot afford inverting the very ideals that we so desperately need today.