Alfred Nobel’s Will Betrayed

EDITORIAL, 13 October 2008

#31 | Johan Galtung, 13 Oct 2008 - TRANSCEND Media Service

A Norwegian lawyer and peace activist, Fredrik Heffermehl, has done the world a great favor with his book Nobels Vilje, Nobel’s Will, just out, showing that the Nobel Peace Prize committees have strayed away from Nobel’s testament. The prize, according to Nobel’s will, is for “the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses”. Only 70 of the 118 individuals and organizations that have won the prize conform to Nobel’s will.

The prize has been awarded for human rights activism, development and ecology, all important fields deserving their own prizes. But Nobel’s foresighted will is crystal clear, and the relation is at best indirect and at worst very dubious. Thus, of the four most belligerent countries in the world, USA, Israel, the Ottoman Empire and the UK, three rank high on human rights. And on development. Abject poverty is more likely to lead to apathy-based compliance.  And global warming may just as well be that outside factor leading to cooperation rather than the cause of armed struggle. Too early to tell.

This critique does not apply to No. 119, Martti Ahtisaari, this year’s laureate. No doubt his work on Namibia, Yugoslavia (Bosnia and Kosovo) and Indonesia fell under “fraternity between the nations”. The argument would be that all three or four peaces are fragile at best, counter-productive at worst. The condition for peace, equity, is not met. Namibia keeps white landownership and black misery; Bosnia never respected the Croat wish to join Croatia and the Serb wish for independence (also of Beograd), was only uti possidetis; Kosovo bypassed the Security Council and set a dangerous precedent; and Aceh was also due to a tsunami washing the arms into the ocean. We’ll get bad news from all four.

For what, then, is the prize given, in the 71 cases of peace? One formula would be “the West congratulating itself.” “Fraternity among nations” often takes the symbolic form of a handshake, two hands, between conflict parties. But the prize rewards the Western hand: Brandt, not Brezhnev; Kim Dae-Jung, not Kim Jong-Il. There could be objections to non-West, but they apply even more to Kissinger and Begin, US and Israeli aggressors, and yet they got the prize with Le Duc Tho from North Vietnam and Anwar Sadat from Egypt. Like Fredrik de Klerk (deserved) together with Mandela and Tutu. It stinks of Western bias and self-righteousness.

Who else should have gotten the prize and did not, for their work for peace in general, not necessarily in one particular conflict?  Which are some missing Nobel Peace Prizes, and how do we explain them?  The first name that comes to mind is, of course, Gandhi, so priceless, not only reducing but negating violence, and improving understanding across conflict borders. And yet he died prizeless. The then Nobel Peace Prize Committee consultant, Jacob Worm Müller, told this author in 1953 that Gandhi was not a real pacifist, and fought the British Empire, a gift to civilization.

The following is a short list of some other non-laureates:

[1]  Jose Figueres, president of Costa Rica, for abolishing the army.

[2]  Monnet-Schuman, for creating peace by making former Nazi Germany a “member of the family,” in the European Community.

[3]  Soekarno-Nasser-Tito, for Bandoeng in 1955, and then again in Beograd 1961, for the Nonaligned Movement, the refusal to be members of two blocs on a potentially disastrous collision course.

[4]  Nehru-Zhou Enlai for panch shila, five pillars of peaceful co-existence, like trade for mutual and equal benefit, maintaining peace between the world’s largest countries.

[5]  Urho Kekkonen, president of Finland, for the CSCE 1972-1975.

[6]  Olof Palme, prime minister of Sweden, for the Five Countries initiative for denuclearization.

[7]  The churches in Leipzig, particularly Nikolai-kirche, for the Montags-Demonstrationen 1989 that ended the Cold War on 9/11 1989.

[8]  Pope John Paul II for untiring work on reconciliation through apology and dialogue across religious borders–also in history.

[9]  Hans Küng for his work for a global ethic bridging religions.

[10] José-Luis Zapatero for masterly handling the terrorist attack in Madrid 11 March 2004 as opposed to Bush-Blair dilettantism.

Like Gandhi, they all compare favorably with most of the persons and organizations that got the prize.  So, what do Gandhi and these cases have in common?

In short: incompatibility with Norway’s foreign policy.  Aligned with the USA, that most violent country in modern history, three US presidents and five US secretaries of state were awarded the prize. Norway is a very loyal ally. And it is not Norwegian foreign policy to abolish the army; the European Community-Union in the beginning was also an effort to build a defense community without the USA; Soekarno-Nasser-Tito were seen as anti-West and so were Nehru-Zhou Enlai; Kekkonen and Palme were nonaligned and did what NATO-Norway could not have done; what happened in Leipzig came from the wrong Germany in the wrong bloc; Pope John-Paul II and Hans Küng built bridges, but were both Catholic; and Zapatero was the negation of Anglo-America. All bad reasons for a No.

Nobel’s criteria for peace are still relevant. Candidates are numerous. Human rights, environment and development should also be praised, but not at the expense of peace prizes in Nobel’s spirit. The discrepancy between Nobel’s Will and its execution will now, because of the book, be investigated by Sweden.

However that inquiry turns out, Norway obviously is not up to the task in spite of many well deserved awards, like to the Irish peace women, at an early stage. Too much Western ideology, too little professionalism, and much too much americaphilia cronica. Time to hand the task over to the United Nations?


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 13 October 2008.

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One Response to “Alfred Nobel’s Will Betrayed”

  1. Coming now, in English:

    ”The Nobel Peace Prize. What Nobel really wanted,”

    will be available from Praeger, Greenwood Press (US) in August.

    The Nobel committee has met the criticism with confusing statements having little to do with the actual arguments in the book. Saying that “A will has to be interpreted” the committee is trying to conceal the fact that they are not interpreting Nobel´s will at all, they are designing a peace prize tailored to suit the political and private preferences of Norwegian politicians. They do so even if their clear legal obligation selecting committee members and peace prize winners is to serve the idea Nobel wished his prize to promote (a deep reform of relations between states, trust based on international law and order, disarmament – efficient prevention of the disastrous wars, not rewards for stopping the fighting).

    The Nobel committee is right: Of course a will must be interpreted. No one will contest that. What they fail to understand is that the task of the interpreter is to find out what the testator intended using the words in the will. A number of circumstances can be taken into account to understand his/her thinking and intentions at the precise moment the document was signed. To describe the recipients Nobel wished to receive the prize he even created a new word.

    News on the new book and resulting debate will be posted on from August 15, 2010.

    Fredrik S. Heffermehl,
    author of “The Nobel Peace Prize. What Nobel really wanted”.