Nobel Peace Prize: Past, Present, and Future
By Alei Rizvi and Andrew Sokulski
On September 17th, International Peace Institute (heretofore abbreviated as IPI) convened “Nobel Peace Prize: Past, Present, and Future” was held by the International Peace Institute. The speaker, Asle Toje, a member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, spoke about the prize, its history, its significance, and its reverberations. Terje Rød-Larsen, the President of the International Peace Institute, moderated the event.
Per the standard flow of history, he explained the origins of the Nobel Prize. Upheld as a prize for the elite, intellectual, and difficult to enter circles of societies in the popular conscious, the speaker explained how Alfred Nobel was not part of the richest percent of his society. As he explained, Alfred Nobel was born into the lower echelons of the Swedish aristocracy. He had always been an inventor and dreamer. In contrast to the belief that Alfred Nobel ought to have been a pacifist, he was actually not one at all. Nobel was involved in the oil and armament trade and moved from Stockholm to St. Petersburg to pursue it. Nobel is believed to have said that “Where I work is my home, and my home is anywhere.” Such is evident within his life as he had also moved to Italy as well.
Progressing to explaining the present moment, Toje mentioned how the nobel prize seeks to build fraternity amongst nations and give recognition to those who create the preconditions for such harmony to exist. In this sense, the award positively exemplifies Emmual Kant’s political philosophy on how states should behave with one another.
Toje also stated the policies regarding the handing out of the Nobel Peace Prize during this time, such as the fact that the committee is not necessarily obliged to award it every year. He mentioned that if the committee were to come to a situation in which it could not find an eligible candidate, or any suggested candidate, then the committee would not pick someone to award it to. However, given the present nature of how each year has turned out, the committee have has countless nominations and have found eligible recipients. With this mission in mind, the committee continus to search for eligible candidates and hopes to foster good-will amongst states.
After concluding his presentation on the Nobel Peace Prize’s history, significance and implications, Toje engaged in a enlightening question and answer session with the audience members. The session opened with an intriguing question from the moderator, Terje Rod-Larsen asked Mr. Toje to provide insights on the gender imbalance and overrepresentation of the Northern Hemisphere in the history of the award. Mr. Toje explained that the award was primarily considered for individuals in the fields of arbitration and diplomacy, specifically for international organizations like the League of Nations or the UN, fields that have historically been dominated by men. Mr. Toje asserted that this is an unfortunate truth but must be acknowledged in order to allow more opportunity for underrepresented groups in the future.
Additionally, many attendees asked if the committee considers the implications of awarding prizes to specific individuals, specifically if they considered the effects the prize would have on constituents of world leaders rather than on the leaders themselves. Mr. Toje assured the audience that the prize could not guarantee peace, but often encourages leaders to move towards a peace that would benefit everyone. He used the example of former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, claiming that awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 encouraged him to resolve the conflict between the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) with a renewed spirit.
Mr. Toje was often confronted with the controversial subject of potentially revoking an awarded prize in response to actions that threaten peace, particularly in regards to the unpopular award to Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor of Myanmar. Toje implied that the Committee was very unlikely to revoke an award, due to the dangerous precedent it would set, as there are many unpopular recipients of the award. He further claimed that the awards are given for actions that recipients have done in the past to promote peace and to encourage them to continue promoting peace in the future, but cannot hold them accountable or ensure that they will continue.
Although confronted with many challenging and contentious questions, Mr. Toje often chose to respond vaguely or not at all, as he was obligated not to discuss certain subjects, as there is a confidentiality agreement on discussions of the past fifty years. Thus, his discussion was limited to only publicly disclosed information.
Despite this restriction, the presentation and engagement with the audience were undoubtedly very illuminating and offered immense insight into the significance of the Nobel Peace Prize.