The Nobel Peace Prize has often been a subject of controversy. One can cite many examples when the prize was awarded to controversial people. On the contrary, deserving candidates were often blatantly ignored. Unlike the other prizes in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine and literature which are awarded by professional academies/institutes like the Swedish Academy of Sciences, Karolinska Institute and the Academy in Stockholm, the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded by the Norwegian Nobel Committee appointed by the Parliament of Norway. The intent of the Peace Prize is very clear in the will of Alfred Nobel, the founder of the Nobel Foundation. It states: "The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way: the capital, invested in safe securities by my executors, shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind?..and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."
One of the most glaring omissions was Mahatma Gandhi even though he received the nomination for the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947, and, finally, a few days before his death in January 1948. The Nobel Prizes, by the way, cannot be awarded posthumously. Several members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee publicly regretted the omission. Geir Lundestad, secretary of Norwegian Nobel Committee in 2006 said, "The greatest omission in our 106-year history is undoubtedly that Mahatma Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace Prize. Gandhi could do without the Nobel Peace Prize, whether Nobel committee can do without Gandhi is the question". While Gandhi was denied the prize, his disciple Dr Martin Luther King, Jr received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and was often called the "American Gandhi."
Like the omissions, the award of the prize to controversial people also raises eyebrows. One recent controversial example is the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama in 2009. He received the prize only after nine months being in office. During this short period, what did he do 'for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses?' On the contrary, it was reported that he had won the award on the day he had been convening his war counsel to weigh whether to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan to turn the tide against a resurgent Taliban. Was it the purpose of the will of Alfred Nobel? The Norwegian Nobel Committee, however, praised Obama for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples," citing his fledgling push for nuclear disarmament and his outreach to the Muslim world. Was it not too premature?
The prize surprised many people, including Obama himself! Describing himself as surprised and deeply humbled, Obama said on receipt of the news that he would accept the award as a 'call to action' to confront the global challenges of the 21st century. Obviously, he was awarded the prize not because of any particular achievement but in the hope that he would accomplish something in the future to justify the award. This was confirmed in a recent revelation by Geir Lundestad. Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to US President Barack Obama in 2009 failed to achieve what the committee hoped it would, he told the AP news agency. He added that that the committee had hoped the award would strengthen Obama.
Lundestad, writing in his memoir, confirms that Obama himself had been surprised. "No Nobel Peace Prize ever elicited more attention than the 2009 prize to Barack Obama," Lundestad writes. "Even many of Obama's supporters believed that the prize was a mistake," he says. "In that sense the committee didn't achieve what it had hoped for". He also reveals that Obama considered not going to pick up the award in Norway's capital, Oslo.
It is now amply clear that not all Nobel Peace Prizes are awarded on the basis of one's achievement for establishment of peace. Some are awarded for a purpose or on some expectations even though it violates the intent of the will of Alfred Nobel. The revelation by Lundestad clearly categorises the Nobel Peace Prizes. It, therefore, calls for a clarification by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. They should publish two separate lists of the Nobel Peace Laureates. Category one should include the names of those who were awarded the prizes genuinely on the basis of their achievements while category two should name those who were awarded the prize for specific purposes. The second list will, of course, remain incomplete if the purposes for which the prizes were awarded are not made clear case by case.
Abdul Matin, a retired nuclear engineer, is currently Dr Rashid Professor at the Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology (BUET)