Could Edward Snowden Get a Nobel Peace Prize?


Swedish sociology professor Steven Svallfors has nominated Edward Snowden for the Nobel Peace Prize. In his nomination letter, Svallfors highlighted Snowden's "heroic effort at great presonal cost," and emphasized that the whistleblower's actions showed that "individuals can stand up for fundamental rights and freedoms." Svallfor also argues that this nomination will help restore some of the Peace Prize's lost credibility after it prematurely awarded the Prize to Barack Obama in 2009. According to Svallfor, the awarding committee "would show its willingness to to stand up in defense of civil liberties and human rights, even when such a defense [could] be viewed with disfavor by the world's dominant military power."

The nomination has generated debate about the process behind the Nobel Peace Prize, and about whether Snowden deserves the prize or not. Currently, the Nobel Foundation will consider a nomination valid if it is submitted by a person that falls within a broad list of categories. These categories are listed below:

- Members of national assemblies and governments of states

- Members of international courts

- University rectors; professors of social sciences, history, philosophy, law and theology; directors of peace research institutes and foreign policy institutes

- Persons who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

- Board members of organizations that have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

- Active and former members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee; (proposals by members of the Committee to be submitted no later than at the first meeting of the Committee after February 1)

- Former advisors to the Norwegian Nobel Committee

The list evidently encompasses a wide range of individuals. Moreover, the only procedural requirement for nomination is that the nominator write a brief letter with the name of the candidate, the reason for the nomination, and the nominator's own credentials. The process is thus criticized for being too relaxed: anyone can be potentially nominated, and many people can nominate.

The other, perhaps more controversial question, is whether Snowden deserves to win the prize or not. On the one hand, Snowden's actions have exposed the hypocrisy of the world's dominant nation. The U.S. government has grossly violated the very principles of civil rights and liberties which it claims to champion. On the other hand, Snowden acted in in violation of strict confidentiality agreements, disrespecting established secrecy norms under which security agencies are able to function more efficiently. Moreover, despite the national and international outcry that has resulted from the PRISM leak, it is too soon to tell what the real consequences of Snowden's actions will be. This is the same logic that governs the claim that Obama's award was prematurely given.

So, does Snowden deserve the prize? It will be up to the Nobel Committee to decide. Alfred Nobel wrote on his will that the prize should go "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses." A literal reading of this sentence would cast doubt on Snowden's chances, especially since his revelation actually helped antagonize the relationship between the U.S. and PRISM-targeted nations. Nevertheless, it is also likely that the criteria used by the Nobel Committee is more elaborate (the actual specific criteria used is not readily available). As such, Snowden may have some chance of winning; it will all depend on the the inclinations of the five members that make up the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

In any case, Snowden only seems to have a shot at next year's prize. Nominations for laureates must be made no later than February 1st for consideration in the following December's prizes. In this way, although those that favor Snowden may be glad to hear about the nomination, they will probably need to wait another year before they can actually see him stand to win the prize.