How many different Nobel Peace Prizes are there? Alfred Nobel’s will left three particular criteria by which the Prize should be awarded: support for ‘fraternity between nations’, the abolition of standing armies and disarmament, and the holding of peace congresses. But from the beginning, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has taken a more expansive approach to defining peace in its decisions to award the prize.
At a talk in Oxford earlier in the week, Geir Lundestad, professor of international history and secretary to the Norwegian Nobel Committee offered three ways in which this has happened. The first was in including issues of humanitarian assistance, and the third in attention to environmental issues (with the suggestion that the recent awards to Al Gore/the IPCC and Wangari Maathai will not, in the longer term, be seen as exceptional).
But I found the second way in which the committee has defined peace quite striking, in its explicit embrace of ideas of the democratic peace, principally found in the argument that democracies are far less likely to go to war than nondemocracies. According to Lundestad:
“The second widening of the definition was the inclusion of human rights. We have argued for many years, what the first human rights Nobel prize was. The first definite one was Albert Lutuli in 1960…If you follow the debate among peace researchers and political scientists, the connection between human rights, democracy and peace was very controversial, certainly during the Cold War. But after the end of the Cold War, a mysterious consensus has developed among these researchers where they now claim that the connection between human rights, democracy and peace is one of the most robust findings in modern political science. Well, the committee has believed this for fifty years, but we welcome the support of peace researchers and political scientists.”
I’d never really thought of the Nobel Prize in terms of the democratic peace before, itself part of a more general liberal and Kantian argument that not only links democracy with peace, but also with economic interdependence and multilateral international organizations, all creating virtuous cycles of peace. The Prize, in this line of argument, by recognizing respect for human rights, hopes to encourage a more peaceful world.
In his talk, Lundestad was quite keen to downplay the transformational significance of the Nobel, describing the judges as “five unknown Norwegians”. But there’s a particular morality of peace offered here, and in doing so places the Nobel within a specific normative framework about the ‘good’ in world affairs. Perhaps the Chinese government shouldn’t have been so surprised.