Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Explosive Decision To Award Peace Prize

Alfred Nobel was the inventor of dynamite, so it has always been a curious irony that the Nobel Peace Prize is named after him. Well, the decision to award the Nobel Peace prize to President Barack Obama has certainly proved to be explosive, provoking controversy and criticism from a wide range of people for a wide range of reasons. Some of the more extreme criticism has come from unfriendly quarters which might be expected to be the source of condemnation simply because President Obama is American. Others have no such axe to grind and yet they too are puzzled by this decision, which is at the very least an unusual one, and many would even say strange. Quite simply, it appears that the President has been given the award not for anything he has done, but for things which he is expected to do.

Many have pointed out that the nominations for the prize closed on the 1st of February, just eleven days after the President was sworn into office. Quite literally he had not had enough time to unpack the suitcases before the nominations closed. Although it might be said that the President has embarked upon a number of important initiatives since then, the fact is that they have yet to come to fruition. In any case, the rules of the peace prize are quite clear. The prize is to be awarded in recognition of achievements from the preceding year, not the year yet to come.

In Australia, the former foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer has said that the decision is a farce which has discredited the peace prize. Mr. Downer said that the prize “has to be for actual achievement, not potential, and it has to be achievement in promoting world peace, not raising the prestige of the American state.” While Mr. Downer may have differing political views to the American President, that doesn’t change the fact that he is right. But the fact that the award seems to have been given prematurely is only part of the problem.

While the Nobel award judges explained their decision by stating that they wish to support what President Obama is trying to achieve, there is a real problem that can emerge from making the award in such a premature manner. Not only does it presume that future endeavours will prove to be of at least some benefit when there is always the possibility that they will not, it could also serve to actually impede progress towards those benefits. The mere act of making the award before the achievement could potentially prevent the achievement from occurring by changing the weight of expectations and altering the perceptions of those participating in the various processes involved.

While there are a great many expectations placed upon the Obama presidency, and there is a great swell of goodwill supporting his efforts, those things do not justify this decision. It seems to me that awarding the Nobel peace prize to a first term President before he has completed even a year in office, and before any of his diplomatic initiatives have had the chance to come to a resolution, is very much like awarding the Olympic gold medal for the 400 metres footrace to an athlete before he has reached the first corner. Not only does it presume the result, it actually runs the risk of interfering with it.

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