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 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

 Managing Editor:
Mertze Dahlin   

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The Politics of the Nobel Peace Prize

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

Alfred Nobel said the Peace Prize should be awarded to an individual who had contributed to "fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses." This, unfortunately, has not always been the case.

The selection of individuals for the Nobel Peace Prize in recent years defeats the will of Alfred Nobel. There is a consensus that it should be given to those whose actions justify the acknowledgment. Unfortunately, this is not the case with the Nobel Peace Prize.

The credibility of the noble peace prize was diluted with the award to US President Barrack Obama last year, who is still waging wars. It has lost further credibility with this year’s choice of the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

Last year the peace prize was awarded to Obama only eleven days after he assumed office. Ironically, Obama’s citation credited him “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." By the time Obama accepted the prize, he announced troops’ surge in Afghanistan by 30,000 more troops. Moreover, while accepting the noble peace prize, Obama justified wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by saying that wars were necessary to establish peace. He endorsed pre-emptive invasions and said the American military action underwrites global peace.

This year, the peace prize was awarded to the famous imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, a key leader in the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Last year Liu, 54, received an 11-year sentence for 'inciting subversion' after drafting Charter 08 - which called for multi-party democracy and respect for human rights in China.

The Nobel Foundation citation read: 'Liu has consistently maintained that the sentence violates both China's own constitution and fundamental human rights.' It praised Liu for his 'long and non-violent struggle' and highlighted its belief in a 'close connection between human rights and peace'.

Chinese foreign ministry’s reaction was: "Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who violated Chinese law. It's a complete violation of the principles of the prize and an insult to the Peace Prize itself for the Nobel Committee to award the prize to such a person."

Liu’s choice prompted the following 19 countries to boycott the rising political overtones of the peace prize: China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco.

Tellingly, the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, sided with the government of China, boycotting the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo on December 10, honoring the imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

The controversy and “politicization” of the noble Nobel Peace Prize is not new. A cursory glance at the list of honorees reminds one of the political underpinnings that dominate the awards' list with only a spattering of awardees who actually did work for the community, humanity or the environment. A simple examination of the award list is ample to bring out the controversial leanings of the award.

Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin

In 1994, Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat; Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. But peace remains elusive in the region.

Nobel Committee citation said: “For several decades, the conflict between Israel and its neighbor states, and between Israelis and Palestinians, has been among the most irreconcilable and menacing in international politics. The parties have caused each other great suffering. By concluding the Oslo Accords, and subsequently following them up, Arafat, Peres and Rabin have made substantial contributions to a historic process through which peace and cooperation can replace war and hate.”

Rabin, while in the Israeli military, had ordered the expulsion of Arabs, from areas captured by Israel during the 1948 War. He had also been responsible for the aggressive Israeli crackdown of the First Intifada while Defense Minister. Rabin also continued to authorize the construction of settlements in the occupied territories despite the peace agreement.

Peres was responsible for developing Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal, and was later blamed for the Qana Massacre. The Qana Massacre occurred in 1996 when the Israeli military shelled a village of 800 Lebanese civilians who had gone there to escape the fighting. 106 were killed and around 116 others injured. Four Fijian United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon soldiers were also seriously injured.

Arafat was regarded by critics as a terrorist leader for many years. Kåre Kristiansen, a Norwegian member of the Nobel Committee, resigned in 1994 in protest at the awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize to Yasser Arafat, whom he labeled a “terrorist”.

Menachem Begin

Menachem Begin (6th Prime Minister of Israel) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978 for his contributions to the successful closure to the Camp David Accords in the same year (the award was jointly given to Begin and Anwar Sadat). Unfortunately, Begin had also previously been head of the militant Zionist group Irgun, which is often regarded as a terrorist organization and had been responsible for the King David Hotel bombing in 1946.

Henry Kissinger

Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his work on the Vietnam Peace Accords, despite having instituted the secret 1969–1975 campaign of bombing against infiltrating NVA in Cambodia, the alleged U.S. involvement in Operation Condor—a mid-1970s campaign of kidnapping and murder coordinated among the intelligence and security services of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay—as well as the death of French nationals under the Chilean junta.

Le Duc Thọ of Vietnam, nominated alongside Henry Kissinger, rejected the Nobel Peace Prize, because he believed those in charge of world affairs had not handled the Vietnam crisis to his satisfaction. He was a Vietnamese.

Cordell Hull

US Secretary of State Cordell Hull was awarded the Nobel Prize in Peace in 1945 in recognition of his efforts for peace and understanding in the Western Hemisphere, his trade agreements, and his work to establish the United Nations. In 1939, the ship SS St Louis sailed out of Hamburg into the Atlantic Ocean carrying over 950 Jewish refugees, mostly wealthy, seeking asylum from Nazi persecution just before World War II. Roosevelt showed modest willingness to allow the ship in, but Hull, his Secretary of State threatened to withhold their support of Roosevelt in the 1940 Presidential election if this occurred. Roosevelt denied entry to the ship. The ship was forced to return to Germany and many of the passengers ultimately ended up dying in Concentration Camps.

Theodore Roosevelt

In 1923, the committee gave the prize to President Theodore Roosevelt, for brokering an end to the Russia-Japan war some historians now argue he helped spark off in the first place. Famous for proclaiming that his policy was to "speak softly and carry a big stick," President  Roosevelt was a proponent of controversial interventionist policies in Latin America.

Haldvan Koht, the committee's adviser, pointed out in a report that President Roosevelt had long been opposed to the peace movement. He described Roosevelt as an imperialist, and said his support of armed intervention in Latin America "is something more than politics, it is religion." Nonetheless, the committee chose to award Roosevelt. The New York Times wryly observed that the Peace Prize had gone "to the most warlike citizen of the United States."

Mohandas Gandhi

On June 15, 2007, the United Nations General Assembly voted to establish 2 October as the International Day of Non-Violence. October 2 is the birthday of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Indian Patriarch, and the day is marked in his honor. However, Gandhi never won the Nobel Peace Prize, despite having been nominated five times.

Following his assassination in 1948 the committee considered awarding it to him posthumously but decided against it and instead withheld the prize that year with the explanation that "there was no suitable living candidate.”

But in 1961, Dag Hammarskjöld, the Swedish and second UN Secretary General who died in a plane crash, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously after Gandhi was denied.

The Peace Prize is awarded by the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Parliament (the Storting) which reflects the country's geostrategic understanding.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of America.