Published October 11, 2013
STOCKHOLM – By honoring the global chemical weapons watchdog, the Nobel Peace Prize committee stuck to its tradition of not just awarding past achievements, but highlighting a cause, movement or process it hopes can promote world peace.
So does this high-minded ambition work?
Sometimes. The 1991 prize to Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the 1996 award to East Timor independence leaders Carlos Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta are widely seen as having had a significant political impact.
History hasn't been kind to some other prizes, like the 1994 award shared by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli leaders Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin for what was seen as a breakthrough in peace talks. Or the 1926 prize given to the foreign ministers of France and Germany to promote reconciliation between the two World War I adversaries. A decade later, Hitler denounced their promises not to invade each other and sent troops into the demilitarized Rhineland, paving the way for WWII.
Recently, though, the influence of the Norwegian Nobel Committee is less clear cut.
The Associated Press analyzed the fallout of the six most recent peace awards, and asked the committee's non-voting secretary, Geir Lundestad, for his thoughts:
2012 — THE EUROPEAN UNION.
Last year's prize underscored the EU's role in turning war-ravaged Europe into a continent of peace. It was meant to give the bloc a shot in the arm at a time when the idea of European unity was losing traction amid financial turmoil and social unrest.
FALLOUT: It's still early, but there are no signs that the Nobel helped revitalize the EU's image. Not in the minds of its citizens, at least. Their trust in the EU remains at a record low, according to the EU's own Eurobarometer surveys. The latest survey showed support for the bloc's common currency dropped to 51 percent this year, its lowest point since 2006. Only 30 percent of Europeans — unchanged from last year — had a positive image of the EU.
LUNDESTAD: "It's much too early to come to a definite conclusion about last year's prize. ... I think the committee felt that this was a rather obvious prize, which maybe came too late, but that's a different matter. And the way in which this was received by the EU, I mean you could see how exceedingly happy they were. (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel made all these ... heads of state or heads of government come to take part in the ceremony. So it was just obvious ... how proud the EU has been of this and how they promote the fact that they have received the prize. So it would certainly seem to have had a significant impact on the EU itself."
2011 — PRESIDENT ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF AND WOMEN'S RIGHTS ACTIVIST LEYMAH GBOWEE OF LIBERIA, AND YEMENI ACTIVIST TAWAKKUL KARMAN.
The committee hoped that giving the prize to the three women would "help to bring an end to the suppression of women that still occurs in many countries, and to realize the great potential for democracy and peace that women can represent."
FALLOUT: The Nobel amplified Karman's calls for reforms in Yemen and the street protests she helped organize against President Ali Abduallah Saleh. He agreed to step down a month later after pressure from the U.S. and Gulf states, but there is little sign that the rights of women have improved since. Human Rights Watch says Yemeni women still cannot marry without permission, do not have secondary rights in divorce and child custody and more than half are married off before they are 18 — some as young as 8.
The political role of women has improved in sub-Saharan Africa, with Joyce Banda becoming president of Malawi and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma appointed as the first female chair of the African Union Commission. Sirleaf used her prize money to help fund scholarships for girls and also to help pay for school dormitories for young women, according to spokesman Jerolinmek Piah. Tangible results from those efforts, though, will take years to materialize. Sirleaf had a falling out with co-winner Gbowee, who resigned her post as head of the reconciliation commission, accusing Sirleaf of engaging in nepotism and failure to fight corruption.
LUNDESTAD: "We should be very careful that we don't attribute too much influence to the Norwegian Nobel Committee. But if you look at the broad developments, there's just no doubt that the situation of women around the world is improving. And you see this most strikingly in the field of education. In country after country, women or girls are in a majority even in higher education. ... There is still a huge distance to go before women have equality in any country, much less in all countries, but we should not overlook the very significant progress."
2010 — LIU XIAOBO.
The committee wanted to promote the struggle for human rights in China and called for the jailed Chinese dissident to be released.
FALLOUT: Liu is still in prison, with no signs of an early release. His wife has been held under house arrest since the prize was announced. In August, his brother-in-law was sentenced to 11 years in prison for fraud, in a case that supporters said was politically motivated. The prize has not invigorated the human rights movement in China. The crackdown on anyone who speaks out against the ruling Communist Party continues and got tougher this year. The most tangible effect of the prize is that it so enraged China that trade talks with Norway were put on hold.
LUNDESTAD: "I like to think we have rather realistic ideas about what can be accomplished and what cannot be accomplished. But you wonder when you see very powerful governments, like the Chinese one, so afraid of what the effects of a Nobel Peace Prize to a dissident could be. I mean, really, they went to considerable lengths to prevent such a prize. Because they were afraid of what the results could be. Maybe the prize has had a greater effect than we occasionally think. Although of course we have to admit that in the short term the prize to Liu Xiaobo has not led to anything. But the Chinese response was very interesting just by itself."
2009 — PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA.
This prize was meant to encourage the U.S. to engage in multilateral diplomacy and was seen by many as implicit criticism of President George W. Bush's foreign policy.
FALLOUT: Obama has remained committed to multilateral diplomacy, and even reached out to long-time foe Iran over its nuclear program. So in that respect he has fulfilled the aspirations of the prize committee. But he hasn't closed down the Guantanamo Bay detention center, an issue that the committee highlighted in the 2009 award ceremony. Peace activists are also disappointed at the expanded use of drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere under Obama's administration.
LUNDESTAD: "It's too early to judge on Obama's presidency. And the committee doesn't really sit down to evaluate past prizes because we have too much to do focusing on the current year. But I mean, ending two wars — Iraq and Afghanistan, too, is winding down — is a very significant achievement."
2008 — MARTTI AHTISAARI. This prize was essentially a lifetime achievement award for the Finnish peace mediator, who played a role in resolving conflicts in Namibia, Kosovo and Indonesia's semiautonomous Aceh region. The committee didn't attach any wider significance to the prize beyond hoping that "others may be inspired by his efforts and achievements."
FALLOUT: None directly, though he may have inspired others.
LUNDESTAD: "There is always the hope for more, that leading politicians will take up causes like this, trying to end conflicts and promoting peace."
2007 — AL GORE AND THE INTERGOVERNMENTAL PANEL ON CLIMATE CHANGE.
The prize to the former vice president-turned-climate activist and the U.N.'s expert panel on global warming was supposed to spur world leaders into taking action to curb global warming by underlining the scientific assessments that climate change is man-made and poses a serious threat to mankind.
FALLOUT: Emissions of climate-warming greenhouse gases have continued to rise and the world is still waiting for governments to reach a global deal to control them. One of the aspirations the committee expressed for Obama's award two years later was that he would help clinch such a deal at a U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen, which only yielded modest voluntary pledges. Governments have now set 2015 as a deadline for a global climate deal.
LUNDESTAD: "Action is disappointingly slow. But these issues will have to be addressed. It takes time. ... And if we could help strengthen the scientific case, if only marginally, that's fine."
Associated Press writers Mark Lewis in Stavanger, Norway, Christopher Bodeen in Beijing and Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.