When BBC Radio Ulster rang me this morning to tell me the breaking news that the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize had just been awarded to US President Barack Obama, I said I was surprised but pleased.
The BBC staffer invited me to participate in today’s Talk Back programme. In preparation, she provided me a statement from the Nobel Committee, their explanation of why they awarded the Peace Prize to Obama.
Surely the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to actual achievement, like when awarded to John Hume and David Trimble in 1998 for the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement?
I did some quick research on the Nobel Peace Prize. Learned that the prize may be awarded to those in the process of resolving a conflict or creating peace (in addition to those who have actually achieved peace and/or have spent their lives in pursuit of it). The Nobel Committee can award the prize in this way to focus attention on a particular issue and assist in the peace-making efforts.
For example, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to active politicians:
- Le Duc Tho and Henry Kissinger (1973; that caused two dissenting Nobel Committee members to resign)
- Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat (1978)
- Mikhail Gorbachev (1990)
- Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat (1994)
An interesting (and crucial) fact of Nobel’s will is that the prize must be awarded to a living person (not posthumously). Thus, notable omissions include Gandhi (though cited in the 1989 award to the Dalai Lama) and Irena Sendler (who rescued 2,500 children from the Warsaw ghetto during WWII; she was nominated in 2007, but Al Gore won it, and Sendler died in 2008).
This year, the Nobel Committee noted Obama’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons, and that they wanted to advocate his work here.
Thus, I believe that the Nobel Committee took much inspiration from Obama’s address to the UN General Assembly on 23 September 2009.
In this speech, Obama outlined “four pillars” he argued were fundamental for the future:
- Nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament
- Promotion of peace and security
- Preservation of the planet
- Global economy
In the section on nuclear nonproliferation, he underlined the three tenets of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT):
- All nations have a right to peaceful nuclear energy
- Nations with nuclear weapons have a responsibility to move towards disarmament
- Nations without nuclear weapons have the responsibility to forsake them
Obama made the case that this wasn’t about singling out individual nations. Instead, non cooperation with the IAEA and the UN “will leave all people less safe and all nations less secure”.
On his pillar on the pursuit of peace, Obama stated America’s support for effective peacekeeping, through the auspices of the UN, while energising its efforts to prevent conflicts before they take hold. This will be achieved through regional initiatives with multilateral participation alongside bilateral negotiations. He spoke much to the situation in the Middle East, where he has appointed special envoy, George Mitchell, who served a vital role in the multi-party talks in Northern Ireland.
I believe the people of Northern Ireland should support the decision of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama.
Obama’s global vision is that the interests of nations and peoples are shared, that we share a common future, and that we must embrace a new era of engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect.
Nothing is easier than blaming others for our troubles and absolving ourselves of responsibility for our choices and our actions. Anybody can do that.
Responsibility and leadership in the 21st century demand more. In an era when our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No … order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed.
The traditional divisions … make no sense in an interconnected world nor do alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone [war].
Challenges for us in Northern Ireland include believing that we have a shared destiny, that no section of our community is going to achieve its goals without the other (to paraphrase David Ervine), that we use our interconnectedness to our advantage.
It is clear to me that the Nobel Committee made its decision as a straightforward endorsement of Obama’s vision for peace, one that doesn’t rely on American unilateralism or benevolent deliverance. Instead, it is to underline the call for all of us — among nations, among peoples, among individuals — to work and take action now for our shared future.