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Essay: How the Nobel Peace Prize is Awarded: Insights from Norwegian Nobel Committee Members

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  • Reading time: 3 minutes
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  • Published: 1 February 2018*
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  • Words: 837 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 4 (approx)

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Stella: Hello and welcome back to. I’m Stella McNeil and today we are going to be talking about the Nobel Peace Prize with two of the Norwegian Nobel Committee members, Berit Reiss-Andersen and Henrik Syse, who award the Nobel Peace Prize along with three others. Berit, how does the nomination process work?

Georgia (Berit): Well Stella, a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize may be submitted by any person who meets the nomination criteria. This includes members of national assemblies and national governments of sovereign states as well as current heads of states, university professors of history, social sciences, law, philosophy, theology, and religion, those who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and current and former members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.  

S: How is the final laureate selected?

G: After nominations are closed, the Committee creates a short list of candidates, which typically contains twenty to thirty candidates. The short list is then reviewed by permanent advisers of the Nobel Institute, and the Committee has a long discussion to select the Laureate.

S: What does the Nobel Peace Prize represent for you?

Ian (Henrik): The founder of the Nobel Prize, Alfred Nobel, wrote in his will that the Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded to, quote, “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”.

S: With this definition in mind, which former Nobel Peace Prize Laureate most accurately embodies Nobel’s wishes?

I: Jane Addams. In 1919, She founded the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, working to create peace agreements between government powers. She ran Hull House in Chicago, a center which helped immigrants in particular, and worked to help the poor.

S: Can you explain the reasoning behind the selection of Barack Obama for the 2009 Peace Prize?

G: The Nobel Committee recognised Obama for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples". The Committee in 2009 also cited Obama’s support of a world free from nuclear weapons. He advocated for dialogue and unity across “national, ethnic, religious and political dividing lines”.

S: There was a lot of controversy surrounding Obama’s Peace Prize, considering he had only been in office for less than eight months. He even suggested he was undeserving of the award, saying; “Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations”. Do you think this shows that the NPP rewards aspiration rather than achievement?

G: The committee hoped the award would strengthen Mr. Obama and his dedication to peace. He was awarded the Peace Prize because his stance was of peace was beneficial to both American and global politics. In instances when the prize is awarded based on aspirations, it is to support and raise awareness for an initiative.

I:  Obama’s Peace Prize aimed to validate Obama’s strategy of peace, particularly because it was so different compared to the stance of the prior administration. “The simplest answer to such criticism is that this can only be a problem to those who can only see one path to peace. Most of us presumably believe that there are many different routes to peace, in which case every different category of prize-winner can have a contribution to make.”’

S: Former chairman of the committee Francis Sejersted said; “The Committee also takes the possible positive effects of its choices into account [because] … Nobel wanted the Prize to have political effects. Awarding a Peace Prize is, to put it bluntly, a political act.” Is the Nobel prize as it is being awarded today used as a political tool?

I: I think Mr Nobel ensured that the Committee and the Prize would be affected by politics when he asked for the members of the Committee to be appointed by the Norwegian government. “Nobel wanted the Prize to have political effects. Awarding a Peace Prize is, to put it bluntly, a political act.”

S: But should there be a difference between encouraging political action and rewarding accomplishments?

G: Politics plays a large part in peacemaking. This is particularly relevant considering how many changes the peace movement has undergone since Nobel wrote his will. At that time, the advocates of peace were generally idealists with little political influence. Now its governments that are involved in the promotion of peaceful solutions for international disputes. Even a small influence on international politics should be celebrated as a victory.

S: Does the Nobel Peace Prize make the world a more peaceful place?

G: Every year, the Nobel Peace Prize raises the question about human progress and the prospects for peace. It helps to continue the building of a better future through kindness and patience, and increase public focus on international conflicts. A good example of what the Prize can contribute and of its limitations

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