Global Ethics Corner: Award Achievement or Encourage Potential: The Nobel's Purpose?

Oct 16, 2009

When choosing Nobel Peace Prize winners, should the Nobel Committee think of the future, using the Nobel's prestige to encourage peace-making? Or should they identify achievements over time, rewarding those shown worthy?

Alfred Nobel's will focused on rewarding achievement, and his intention clearly was to promote peace.

The five-member Committee struggles with fulfilling this dual mandate. Do they think of the future, using the Nobel's prestige to encourage peace-making, or do they identify achievements over time, rewarding those shown worthy?

The Committee has chosen encouragement, as in the Middle East, or, more frequently, lifetimes of work, as in Bangladesh. Often both goals are met, especially when organizations are recognized.

Rarely is raw potential chosen, but the Committee Chairman said they wanted "to not only endorse but contribute to enhancing that kind of international policy and attitude which [Obama] stands for."

In contrast, Binyon suggests, "…the prize risks looking preposterous in its claims, patronizing in its intentions, and demeaning in its attempt to build up [Obama]..."

Globally, the Prize lends President Obama leverage. Domestically, it distracts from health care and the economic priorities. Generally, the Prize creates great potential for unmet expectations of vision and policy. Ironically, it comes as Obama runs wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Unearned prize? Significant encouragement? Both? What do you think?

By William Vocke

For further reading on the topic, see "Nobel Committee's Decision Courts Controversy" (Wall Street Journal, October 11, 2009), "Comment: absurd decision on Obama makes a mockery of the Nobel peace prize" (Times Online, October 9, 2009), and "Analysis: He won, but for what?" (Associated Press, October 9, 2009).

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