Obama’s Nobel : A Hope Not Yet An Achievement
Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population. Nobel Committee Statement
The five-person Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee has chosen the US President Barack Obama as the 2009 laureate for helping to create a new climate in world politics with multilateral diplomacy as the central way of moving forward. The Committee stressed Obama’s efforts at nuclear arms control, his outreach to the Muslim world, and especially his willingness to champion the United Nations as a keystone of his diplomacy.
If we look at the history of the Nobel Peace Prize since 1944, after the 1939-1943 World War period when no prize was awarded, we see that the majority has been given to individuals and organizations related to long-standing humanitarian efforts: Lord Boyd-Orr and Norman Borlaugh for their efforts on food, Albert Schweitzer and Mother Teresa for their compassionate care of the sick and dying, Rev. George Pire for his work with refugees and the displaced, as well as humanitarian organizations: The International Committee of the Red Cross (twice), the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (twice), Médecins Sans Frontiers, and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
However, the prize is not only for long-time past achievements but also to advance incipient peace processes where the prize could produce positive results. Thus the prize was awarded to Willy Brandt and Mikhail Gorbachev, leaders whose reforms had not come to fruition when they received the prize, but who would prove themselves to be important actors in world history.
In the same spirit of encouraging an ongoing peace process, the prize has been awarded to political leaders for their start of a process which later encountered real difficulties: Kim Dae Jung for his “Sunshine Policy” toward North Korea, John Hume and David Trimble for their accord on the form of government of Northern Ireland, and Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin for the Israel-Palestine negotiations.
It is especially in the field of nuclear arms control — and of holding out the vision of a nuclear-weapon free world— that Barack Obama has changed the political atmosphere and language. Negotiations on disarmament and especially nuclear disarmament issues had become the “sleeping beauty” of world politics. For a decade, the UN Conference on Disarmament — the main UN arms negotiating body — had not been able to set an agenda, and therefore had no formal meeting in Geneva. Only with the election of Obama and a renewed willingness on the part of the US to undertake serious negotiations has an agenda been set. Obama has stressed that the “UN has a pivotal role to play” and that UN-based negotiations “build on a consensus that all nations have a right to peaceful nuclear energy; that nations with nuclear weapons have the responsibility to move toward disarmament, and those without them have the responsibility to forsake them.”
As Barack Obama said recently when chairing the UN Security Council session devoted to nuclear disarmament “Now we harbour no illusions about the difficulty of bringing about a world without nuclear weapons. We know there are plenty of cynics, and that there will be setbacks to prove their point. But there will also be days that push us forward — days that tell a different story. It is the story of a world that understands that no difference or division is worth destroying all that we have built and all that we love. It is a recognition that can bring people of different nationalities and ethnicities and ideologies together.”
One of the hopes of the Nobel Peace Committee is that the prize will embolden local actors. Thus, the prize to Barack Obama is a call to all of us to work steadily for a nuclear-weapon free world.
* Rene Wadlow, Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens