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From Kissinger to Obama


Set your alarms early Friday morning because it is once again time for the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize. Each year the Norwegian Nobel Committee chooses a person, group of people, or organization that, in their estimation, did the “most or best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” Or at least that is whom Alfred Nobel thought the Prize should be awarded to.

Out of all the Nobel Prizes, the Peace Prize is always the most controversial. Its recipients have been lauded, ridiculed or ignored. As Tom Lehrer quipped “political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.” The awarding of the Prize to Barack Obama during the first year of his presidency was met with astonishment in many quarters. However, everyone was talking about it. Do you remember who received the prize the year before? I didn’t think so.

The Nobel Committee recognizes different categories of achievements when determining who should be each year’s recipient. The first, and most common, category of awardees are those people and organizations that clearly fit into the popular understanding of what a peace activist is. Martin Luther King, Doctors Without Borders, Mother Theresa, and Amnesty International all fit into this category.

The second category includes those prizes that award good behavior by those who aren’t typically associated with peace. The awards to Yasser Arafat, Shimon Perez and Yitzhak Rabin in 1994 or the Rough Rider U.S. president Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 fit this mold.

A third category are those prizes that are meant to send a message to an oppressive regime by giving them to a dissident in their country, for example Liu Xiaobo in China, Shirin Ebadi in Iran, and Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma.

A final category includes those prizes that are meant to promote a norm or ideal that is important to the Nobel Committee. For example, the 2007 Prize to former Vice President Al Gore was meant to bring greater attention to climate change.

So who will receive the Prize this year? Around this time it is common to see pleas advocating for one person or another. However, they almost rarely emerge the victor. Nominations were due last February (there were 259), so people who have only recently become newsworthy are likely not even being considered. It is also unlikely that a U.S. dissident would receive the Prize as the Nobel Committee has, through the years, tried to maintain good relations with the United States.

Many people are predicting that Malala Yousafzai, the 16 year-old Pakistani girl and education activist who was shot in the head by Taliban in October 2012 will be this year’s recipient. If she does receive the Nobel Prize she would be the youngest to do so.

Of course, none of us will know—not even the eventual winner who is only called a few hours before the announcement is made—until Friday morning. We should all make a commitment to learn about this year’s Nobel Laureate and the issues they are fighting for. Doing so will bring greater meaning to their often lonely campaigns for peace.

David R. Andersen-Rodgers, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Government at California State University, Sacramento, and writes for PeaceVoice. You can follow him on Twitter @1drandersen1.

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