I Used to Care About the Nobel Peace Prize


This Friday, the Nobel Peace Prize for the year 2013 will be announced from a pool of 259 nominees. As commentators try to predict the nominees most likely to win, I couldn't be less interested in the outcome of these predictions. The Nobel Peace Prize just doesn't seem relevant anymore — not when the word "peace" is used so loosely as to be entirely meaningless.

I didn't always feel this way.

As a quizzing nerd in school, I used to try to remember the names and achievements of Nobel Prize winners, having been told that they were the highest global honour that one could possibly achieve. My teachers would enunciate the term "Nobel Laureate" with reverence when describing scientists or authors, and I took them at their word.

When Wangari Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, I remember reading up on her work and ideas on conservation and sustainable development. Wangari Maathai was the fundamental reason why I went from a tree-hugging 12-year-old to a wannabe environmentalist, the reason why I first looked up the meaning of the phrase 'sustainable development'. I was deeply inspired by her, and I had the Nobel Peace Prize to thank for our introduction. It is unlikely that I would have come across her work otherwise, or regarded it with the reverence that was due to a Nobel Laureate.

To me, the Nobel Peace Prize was an award for inspiring individuals who make exceptional positive changes to society. In 2007, the prize awarded to Al Gore and the IPCC. I had believed that the award would do wonders in familiarising masses with the threat of climate change. Then Al Gore was accused of disseminating incorrect information as alarmist propaganda against climate change in his film, The Inconvenient Truth. My reverence for him — and the prize — was damaged.

Soon after in 2009, President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It seemed absurd to award the peace prize to an individual who was required by his job description to prioritize his country's political interests.

Just last year, the prize was awarded to the European Union, for having promoted peace and cooperation within the Europe. A political arrangement containing member countries with problematic foreign trade policies, immigration restrictions and armament policies along with unification of currency with the potential for economic and social unrest hardly seemed to be the stuff peace is made of. 

2012 was when I realised that the Nobel Peace Prize had stopped inspiring me all together. Instead, it seemed to be a way of validating only a section of societal aspiration around the world, and that people chose to appreciate or lampoon the awardees and the award depending on their personal convictions.

Since peace is a subjective term (which is being generously interpreted by the Norwegian Nobel Committee), there is no constant field of work in which the prize is awarded. This ever-shifting criteria within the ambit of peace reinforces the idea that peace is not a universal concept, and therefore the Nobel Peace Prize should not be treated as the ultimate global honour. For example, my personal view that the prevention of climate change is a component of peace, but Vladimir Putin is not, is again a reflection of my individual beliefs, and probably not of the larger global idea of peace. And it's not just me. The petition urging the nomination of Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning for the prize is yet another example of its being used to further political views. 

As long as the Nobel Committee disagrees on what constitutes peace, it will gain neither universal recognition nor relevance. Instead, the prize will continue to be an avenue where different sections of society find affirmation or rejection of their political and social views, where a scenario conducive to peace cannot be achieved in the real world.

How can we arrive at a fixed criteria to determine the worthy recipient of the Peace Prize?

The same way the other five categories are determined by following the will of Alfred Nobel, which sets forth the reasonably tangible criteria:

"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."

If we can make these criteria matter, or truly define what actions deserve a Nobel Peace Prize, maybe I'll start to pay attention again. Until then, I'm at peace with my decision not to care about this year's winner.