Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Nobel Politics

I didn't realize that the Nobel Peace Prize is not awarded by a Swedish Academy Committee (like all the others) but by a Norwegian committee appointed by the Norwegian Parliament until I read Jeff Jacoby's column on the Nobel Prize awards.

In short, the Swedish committees that choose the Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and economics have once again selected persons of undoubted accomplishment whose work has stood the test of time.

The Swedes may not move as fast as Alfred Nobel envisioned. But the prizes they confer tend to stand the test of time as well. Rarely do they end up, in retrospect, looking outrageous or absurd.

But then there is the Nobel Peace Prize, which this year went to Mohamed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency he heads. Unlike the other Nobels, the peace prize is awarded not by Swedish scientists and scholars but by a committee of Norwegian politicians. That no doubt explains why the choice so often seems political.
The five Swedish Nobels are almost always rewards for true achievement. The one Norwegian Nobel too often smacks of an agenda. What a pity that the peace prize isn't chosen in Stockholm too.

I find this very interesting. However, I doubt if giving the Swedish parliament the same responsibility will do anything significant to change the politics of the prize.

Jacoby points out that the Swedish Committees in the sciences often wait --sometimes decades--in order to ensure that the work in question stands the test of time. This idea has worked in identifying those breakthroughs in science and medicine that are truly spectacular and meaningful.

So why not use the same strategy to determine the best recipient of the Peace Prize? Keep nominees names around for at least 5 years or more -- the better to assess who and what really mattered in the preservation or creation of genuine peace. The better to determine what and who was truly meaningful in bringing about peace and changing the world for the positive.

The delay could also give the evaluators time to determine the genuine article from the psychopath (Yasser Arafat); the poseur (Kofi Annan); the ridiculous (UN Peacekeeping forces) and the hopelessly naive and terminally ineffective(Jimmy Carter) --all of whom intone the right words yet behave in ways that in fact, undermine peace and enable tyrants.

If there was a Nobel Prize in Politics determined by the Peace Prize Committee, it would have undoubtedly been bestowed already on the likes of Saddam, Mugabe, and Castro.

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