In October, the eyes of the world will once again be turned on Oslo at the 102nd Nobel Peace Prize.
Since the first distribution in 1901, a total of 135 individuals and organizations have received the award for having "worked most or best for the fraternization of the peoples and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and dissemination of peace congresses." The award is the most prestigious of its kind, but the award is rarely free of controversy. The Nobel Committee has been criticized for emphasizing Norwegian political culture and Western capitalist ideals. However, there is undoubtedly great potential for influence for those who receive the Peace Prize – and it strengthens Norway's reputation.
Norway has referred to itself as a "nation of peace" for a long time. The term refers to the nation's role as a peace mediator, as a contributor to organizations that promote peace work, and as guardians and distributors of the Peace Prize. The latter gives little Norway undivided authority when it comes to "judging" who has done the most for peace in the world each year.
We must maintain a high standard when we are judges of world peace work.
In the absence of military and economic superiority, this role is worth its weight in gold. Without the alliances we have through NATO, the EU and the UN, it does not help that we have an oil fund of more than NOK 11 trillion when countries such as the USA operate with half an oil fund in the annual defense budget. That the world looks to Norway to map the direction of peace work in the world, gives us a position as a soft power – and the respect and room for maneuver that comes with it.
The Nobel Peace Prize has thus helped to strengthen the idea of the "peace nation Norway", but it is even more important for those who are awarded it. The prize winners receive not only a diploma, a medal and a sum of money, but all the world's recognition for the work they have done. The common denominator for the recipients should and should be that they have worked for peace and the benefit of humanity.
An overly small carrot
But despite clear criteria, there is rarely silence around the announcement of the winner.
The controversy surrounding the award ceremony arises in the diversity of ideologies in the world. One's efforts for peace recognized by the Nobel Committee may be considered by others as efforts to overthrow a legitimate regime. When the prize is awarded to a controversial figure, the prize also meets itself at the door. The efforts of the prize winner are recognized, but at the same time the award can contribute to a tightening of a strict regime, close to international access or block opportunities for international trade and business. The latter became clear at the award to Chinese Liu Xiaobo, which led to Chinese sanctions against Norway.
Furthermore, the award has occasionally been given as a stab at incumbent world leaders, such as when former President Jimmy Carter won the Peace Prize for resolving conflicts through mediation while President Bush prepared to invade Iraq. The question can be asked whether awarding prizes in such cases supports democracy, or is just an attempt to use a carrot that is too small to rule the world's most powerful country.
In any case, most Peace Prize winners deserve the international recognition the award gives – the issues they represent deserve our attention. The Peace Prize is the world's most important arena for presenting conflicts and peace work, and both nominations and awards often go to issues we rarely see in the news.
Ultimately, the peace prize also improves Norway. We must maintain a high standard when we are judges of world peace work. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize also gives us increased credibility as a mediator in conflict situations – and opportunities to resolve conflicts without violence – in the spirit of Alfred Nobel.
It should nevertheless be emphasized that even though Norway awards the world's most generous prize for peace work, this does not mean that we ourselves are perfect in this field. Nor is anyone expecting Sweden to practice perfection in chemistry, economics, literature, physics and medicine.