Does the Nobel Peace Prize even mean anything anymore? (Hint: it doesn’t.)

Just a couple of days ago, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.


The Nobel committee gave ICAN the award for its work in highlighting the consequences of deploying of nuclear weapons and getting treaties signed to prevent their creation. Thanks to their lobbying, the UN adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The Treaty prevents states (who signed the treaty) from building nuclear weapons. Existing ones have to be dismantled.


Pity no nuclear power signed it.

No U.S., no Russia, no China, no NATO. And of course, no North Korea.

In other words, we’ve got a piece of paper signed by the good kids promising not to be bad. No matter how “landmark”, the deal is, if no nuclear powers sign it, it’s just a landmark. It looks nice until you realise tax money paid for it.

And, in the light of the increased rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang, it seems that there’s no hope of the nuclear powers signing the treaty in the near future. Or ever.

So, considering all these problems, why did the Nobel committee give ICAN a Peace Prize?

To understand that, we have to understand the criteria for winning one.

In Alfred Nobel’s will, he stated that Peace Prize was to go to the person/group who did “the most or the best work for fraternity between nations.” The second criterion was “the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding of peace congresses”.

Does ICAN live up to those standards?


Okay, let’s be fair. They did hold “peace congresses” to get the the treaty signed. However, given that none of the signatories needed to abolish or reduce standing armies (i.e. nuclear weaponry), we can hardly consider them for the prize. And as for fraternity between nations? I can hardly call Trump saying he will “totally destroy” North Korea “fraternity between nations”.

But this year’s prize isn’t an anomaly. In recent years, several prize winners have been a little undeserving of the prize.

Take Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia. While he did manage to arrange a peace deal with Farc, the Colombian militia group, his referendum to enact the peace deal failed.

As a reward for his failure, he won the Nobel Prize. Not exactly a stellar moment for the committee.

And while we do have to be gracious to Santos—he eventually did get the peace deal signed, what I find disgusting is that the Nobel committee said they hoped that the prize would encourage all parties to continue working towards peace.

Let’s be clear here. The purpose of the Nobel Peace Prize is to reward groups who’ve done the “most” or “best” work towards peace. If nothing is accomplished, no prize should be awarded. The Nobel Peace Prize isn’t a bribe to encourage peace. Santos should have rejected it. With the peace now in effect, maybe he would have been a better candidate this year. But not last year.

Given the heightened nuclear tensions this year, ICAN should have rejected their prize too. Others have too, because they recognised the futility of their work. In 1973, when the prize went to Lê Đức Thọ and Henry Kissinger for their work to end the Vietnam War in the Paris Peace Accords, Thọ rejected it, due to his communist principles and his belief that the Peace Accords were not being followed. Kissinger, too, would try to return his prize two years later (unsuccessfully), when Saigon fell to North Vietnam.

While these two men were highly controversial, given that both were heavily involved in the war to begin with, both understood the nature of the prize, and both recognised that if their work failed, then they did not deserve the prize. Their failures would tarnish the prize.

These days, the Nobel committee goes around tarnishing the prize itself by awarding it to people, who, no matter how noble their intentions, have failed to bring about a greater peace.

There’s really only one solution to preventing further controversy. The prize should be withheld in years where no nominees are deserving of it. Over the course of Nobel history, the prize has not been awarded 19 times, either because no candidates were deserving, a World War was happening, or the most deserving candidate had died. (That’d be Gandhi.)

If the Nobel Peace Prize wants to be something more than a glorified gold puck awarded to individuals who failed to secure peace, then they’d better start being more prudent in their choices of winners.

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