The Nobel Peace Prize Can Still Become Our Rescue


Fredrik S. Heffermehl | Nobel Peace Prize Watch – TRANSCEND Media Service

The Real Nobel Peace Prize: A History of Squandered Opportunities, by Fredrik S. Heffermehl, 2023, 406 pp.

Address by the author at book launch, 11 Nov 2023

“They say there are 2000 languages in the world and your eminent book should be published in all of them.” This enthusiastic telegram from Alfred Nobel to Bertha von Suttner is the first known beginning of the Nobel peace prize. His praise was for her novel in 1889, “Lay Down Your Arms”, a title that is a most important clue to of the intention of his testament 6 years later.

By my new book, 134 years later, The Real Nobel Peace Prize, I wish to help Nobel succeed in making Suttner succeed – and humanity survive.

The book launch party, today, is also my 85th birthday.

In 1918 and 1945 it was never again. Today, 2023, it is still again and again. Two new wars fill our hearts and minds with disgust and despair. Trapped people are being bombed; we watch/hear their desperate cries – Who can stop this? Why do wars happen again and again? Where is the world society?

The insanity has to stop. We should have listened to Alfred Nobel and Suttner. It is one world or none. But we can – at least we could escape. In the last years of Alfred Nobel´s life the belief in military strength was challenged by an alternative, a demand for abolition of armaments and lifting civilization, law and order, from the national to the international level.

The new book presents my research of the Nobel committee´s internal and secret nomination files. These are an inexhaustible source of insight. Many eminent people, did not get the Nobel prizes they were entitled to. The award policy illustrates the very uneven struggle between the two competing views on militarism, and how the Norwegian awarders have always been on the wrong side, in reality they are against the disarmament purpose Alfred Nobel wished their help to realize.

Norwegian lawmakers have stood firm in ignoring the testament of Nobel. Parliament. For 15 years they have refused to present and pronounce an interpretation. At the same time they have ignored mine, which still is the only professional study of Nobel´s intention. My legal work is supported by the most eminent authority thinkable. A retired Chief Justice of Norway´s Supreme Court, Carsten Smith, early gave a most authoritative stamp of quality; already in 2008 he wrote to me: “You have written a fine book. It contains a strong argument for your interpretation of the (Nobel) will. Many of your statements will live by their clarity.”

In later years the former chief justice has said more. Since the law is not being respected, he recommends taking the mismanagement of the prize to court. In the last two years I have tried to retain a good litigation lawyer – without success. Apparently, it takes both spine and guts to challenge Norway´s great national pride and illusion.

What is absolutely undebatable is that democracy and freedom of speech do not function in these issues. People do not get the information needed for a proper, open discussion. Secrecy is a military necessity, but it is a paradox that the protection of democracy requires its upheaval.

It is also undeniable that the system does not and cannot ever make us safe. It can never describe or promise a point in the future where there is balance and security, only eternal power competition and accelerating arms races. The system may be impossible to change, but how can anyone – in the nuclear age – believe in security by military power?

The nations of the world are trapped in a stupid pattern where they respond to fear of other countries by making themselves more fearful to them. The first words in my new book, after the title page, are a quote former British PM Tony Blair:

“If a system does not work, don’t work hard to improve it, perhaps a different system is needed.”

My book, based on research of the internal Nobel committee archives, is full of the best peace ideas and people, through 120 years, it presents 112 of those who Nobel called “the champions of peace” and who were entitled to win instead of those picked by the official Nobel committee. Now just one example of the 112 deserving Nobel laureates presented in the book. The world must wake up, come to its senses. All it takes is a new awareness and a determination to make use of the fabulous tools we have in international law and treaties.

The author and his book.

We just need to return to the spirit when the UN was created in 1945. US scholars were a main inspiration. Fulfill the Charter as originally planned, says a German peace scholar Klaus Schlichtmann. He lives in Japan and is one example of the kind of people I describe in the book as cheated of the peace prizes they were entitled to. In 2019 Schlichmann was nominated for pointing to functioning international law as vital to realizing the global disarmament Nobel mentioned in his will.

Schlichtmann has advocated for decades that nations, to enable the Security Council and establish true collective security, need to limit national sovereignty. A small price to pay for the priceless boon of peace and a number of nations saw this and adopted this option in their constitutions already in the late 1940s. A functioning Security Council, empowered and equipped with power is indispensable to uphold international peace and security.

The UN started with 51 member states in 1945. With the end of colonialism, we got numerous new, independent nations and the membership figure is close to 200. Its main undertaking, to rescue succeeding generations from the scourge of war remains unfulfilled. Is it not high time – under the constantly looming threat of nuclear annihilation – to return to San Fransisco, or Cape Town, Havana, Madrid or Beijing to renew the charter and develop an efficient ban on war and a recommitment to peace? Oslo ambassadors present here today are hereby challenged.

I hope the book will be widely read, discussed, translated – and acted upon.

But now, to finish, let me present the slightly sensational discovery I have promised to the media today. An eminent ally has accepted my interpretation of the intention of Nobel, two weeks ago.

We have seen how absolutely unwilling the Norwegian Parliament and Nobel Committee have been to interpret Nobel´s testament. For sixteen years they have refused to announce what purpose, what peace vision, Nobel wished his prize to serve. My demands for a program and purpose have been been met with hostility, ridicule and the outright lie that Nobel was not for disarmament (despite the express words on abolition of military forces in the will)! Well, now a key person has spoken his mind. Thorbjørn Jagland was a leading politician in Norway, later general secretary of the Council of Europe – and, of paramount weight in this context, for years the leader of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. His new interpretation is game-changing. The Nobel Foundation must now act on its responsibility to ensure that all prizes comply with the law and Nobel´s testament,

Here is what Jagland wrote in 2021, in volume 2 of his memoirs – a perfect description of the actual purpose Nobel had in mind. A superb interpretation of Nobel´s will, and an excellent explanation of my motive for demanding respect for the real Nobel Peace Prize:

“The period Alfred Nobel lived in was characterized by great scientific progress in medicine, physics and chemistry. He must have thought that science and culture would help improve the world. The Peace Prize must be seen in this context. The three criteria for the prize for “champions of peace” went straight into the contemporary belief that a new world was possible. The award was to be given to the person or persons who in the last year have done the most for:

  • The society of nations [in Swedish Nobel called it brotherhood]
  • Abolition of or reduction of standing armies
  • Holding and dissemination of peace congresses.

“The Nobel’s Will was written three years after the Peace Congress in Bern and four years before the official Peace Congress in The Hague. Both congresses were characterized by the belief that fundamental changes in international relations were possible – with international law as a starting point. In order for this to be possible, something had to be done with the “standing armies”. Nobel evidently believed that as long as such standing armies existed, the risk of war would continue. It was also necessary with a change in the relationship between nations. The “society of nations” obviously meant that humanity had to strive for a fundamental change in international relations.

“There can be no doubt that Alfred Nobel wanted the world to overcome nationalism and militarism. A new world order had to develop. [I skip a few sentences on Nobel as “the internationalist of his time.”] Alfred Nobel wanted to do something with the world.

“This was fundamental for me when I took on the position as head of the Nobel Committee. The Peace Prize was part of a larger context; the belief that it was possible to create a better world with the help of science, culture and politics. Therefore, all the prizes were to be given to the one or those who had done ‘the greatest benefit to mankind’ in ‘the past year’.

“It is clear that the criteria in the will are restrictions on who the prize can be awarded to. It cannot be given to all people of good will who wish the best for humanity. The winners of the award must have a clear agenda which can be said to lead towards the goal, the abolition of militarism and nationalism and the formation of a new international order in the society of nations and peoples.”

This is perfect, the interpretation that I have asked for, we are in full agreement. I accept this as a correct interpretation without reservation. I have even discussed it with the former Chief Justice of the supreme Court of Norway, Carsten Smith, who wrote in an email from 6 Nov 2023:

“A fantastic piece of writing by Jagland. I agree that it gives a brilliant, concentrated, relevant interpretation of Nobel’s intention with the peace prize. I think you can safely declare yourself in full agreement with him on this.”

I shall be happy, on this basis, to end my conflict of 16 years with the Nobel peace prize awarders. We here have a common interpretation as basis for further work to realize Nobel´s intention.

However, the misuse of Nobel´s trust needs to be investigated to determine the consequences and how to amend suffered losses. Much of that work has already been done in this new book, The Real Nobel Peace Prize. A Squandered Opportunity to Abolish War!


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Fredrik S. Heffermehl, cand. jur, LLM NYU, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and ex-Vice President of the International Peace Bureau. He is the author of The Nobel Peace Prize, What Nobel Really Wanted (Praeger, 2010 – expanded versions in Chinese, Swedish, Finnish, Spanish and [2014] Russian). fredpax@online.no

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 13 Nov 2023.

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