Nobel awards are supposed to be awarded for concrete accomplishments, not simply good intentions.
For example, have Nobel Prize committees in Stockholm ever given the prize for literature for a novel not yet written?
The majority of Nobel award winners toiled for years, even decades, to have their work and accomplishments recognized. Canada’s own Willard Boyle, winner this year of the Nobel Physics Prize only had his team’s digital photography breakthrough recognized 40 years later.
While many people around the world understandably have been encouraged by U. S. President Barack Obama’s stated desire to resolve important global issues through peaceful dialogue rather than unilateral action as practised by former President George W. Bush, others cannot comprehend how he can be given the Nobel Peace Prize after only eight brief months in office, particularly since he actually has no significant accomplishments to speak of as of now.
Unlike most previous Nobel Peace Prize recipients,
Obama has not yet had to prove himself in any meaningful way, as did Martin Luther King, Andrei Sakharov, Mother Teresa, Bishop Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, Kim Dae-jung and others.
Such previous Nobel award winners often spent years struggling to promote democracy or social justice and human rights, some, like Nelson Mandela and Kim Dae-jung were actually imprisoned for years under oppressive conditions.
With a few exceptions, former Nobel Peace Prize winners were widely
praised for making concrete contributions to world peace.
For many, despite considerable respect for Obama’s good intentions, this year’s award is premature, a gesture of support for what they hope will be accomplished during his time in office. For others, including cynics, granting such an award to Obama is not solely premature but also misguided.
Already there are those who point to some recent actions by Obama which raise serious questions concerning his commitment to such important issues as human rights. His decision to not receive Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, last week during the Dalai Lama’s weeklong visit to the United States, stunned many Americans. Human rights advocates have denounced the president’s decision, calling it an act of appeasement towards China.
The fact that Obama administration officials made it known that the failure to receive the Dalai Lama was based on a wish to not undermine negotiations next month with Beijing over the controversial nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran, only angered American human rights groups and members of Congress.
They described Obama’s action as a complete reversal of his pre-election position when he and Hillary Clinton both urged Bush not to attend the opening ceremony at the Olympics in Beijing in protest over China’s use of force to quell the uprising of Tibetans.
(Interestingly, despite publicly meeting with the Dalai Lama last year, during the Dalai Lama’s recent visit to Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not receive him. And by no apparent coincidence, Canada’s foreign minister, Lawrence Cannon, not only attended China’s national day reception in Ottawa, he also praised China’s accomplishments over the past 60 years, his unprecedented attendance seen as a major shift in policy toward China by Harper.)
Armenians were also shocked that Obama reneged on a promise to describe the massive killing of Armenians in Turkey during the First World War as genocide. Many Armenians didn’t accept the explanation of White House officials who justified his silence based on a desire not to undermine the prospect for normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia. They saw it simply as an example of the American administration’s unwillingness to anger the U. S.’s NATO ally.
Ironically, Obama is far more popular in other nations than in his own country. This might be a partial explanation why the Nobel committee wanted to award him the peace prize.
Many other countries were aghast at the unilateral interventionist policies and actions of former President George W. Bush. His decision to invade Iraq in 2003 on spurious grounds not only appalled numerous countries, it caused a major split within the European Union with Britain and Spain supporting Bush and major states like Germany and France totally opposed, refusing to send troops to Iraq.
Bush’s hard-line approach to Iran and North Korea’s nuclear weapons threat also was regarded as an impediment to resolving those issues.
Bush’s unilateralism was deeply resented in much of Europe. Barack Obama’s stated desire to end unilateral policies and actions, instead working closely with the United Nations and other multilateral bodies, has had a high positive effect in how many nations view the United States and its president. His decision to have direct contacts with North Korea and Iran is considered a highly positive step.
But, like an author who sets out to write a book worthy of a Nobel Literature award, Barack Obama still has to demonstrate that his own story turns out to be worthy of such a prize.
Harry Sterling, a former diplomat, is an Ottawa-based commentator.