The dubious history of the Nobel Peace Prize

Nobel-minded: Arafat’s co-winner, Israeli politician Shimon Peres, was key to Israel developing nuclear weapons.

Is the Nobel Peace Prize worthless? Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad have won the prize for their work campaigning against sexual violence in war. Some say past winners have debased the award.

“To the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations.”

So goes the lofty criteria for the winner of one of the world’s most prestigious awards: the Nobel Peace Prize.

But has the prize really lived up to these noble aims?

In 2009, there was a roar of disapproval and confusion when US President Barack Obama won the award less than nine months after taking office.

The prize was given to the European Union in 2012 amid the Eurozone crisis, when critics said its austerity measures were pushing Greece into destitution.

Other decisions have been criticised for more than questionable timing. Most recently, there have been fierce calls to withdraw the 1991 award won by Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi for promoting democracy. She is accused of being complicit in the murder and expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims by the military.

These scandals may not be such a departure from the prize’s origin. It was founded in 1901 by scientist Alfred Nobel to salvage his reputation as the inventor of dynamite.

Is the Nobel Peace Prize worthless?

Hollow victory

It’s a “farce”, writes journalist Arwa Mahdawi. “Its recipients constitute a who’s who of hawks, hypocrites and war criminals.” The prize is “so tainted” and so devoid of moral reasoning that many activists want nothing to do with it. Alfred Nobel founded it as “an exercise in PR”, and so it remains to this day.

You’ve got it wrong, respond others. From Mother Teresa to Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize has celebrated many figures who have done the most for the good of humanity. Besides, it draws international attention to good causes and acts as an incentive for leaders to work towards peace.

You Decide

  1. Should we scrap the Nobel Peace Prize?


  1. Does the Nobel Peace Prize help bring world peace? Write two reasons why it might and two reasons why it might not, then discuss your answers with the class.

Some People Say...

“The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer.”

Henry Kissinger

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Nobel Peace Prize 2018 has been won by Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their work campaigning against rape being used as a weapon of war.
What do we not know?
How much good the prize actually does. Some argue that by recognising efforts to make peace, even if they have not yet been successful, the prize encourages leaders to keep efforts on track and push forward.

Word Watch

Eurozone crisis
The global recession triggered a crisis of debt in several countries using the Euro such as Greece in the years after 2009.
Rohingya Muslims
In August 2017, Myanmar’s military started destroying villages belonging to the Rohingya Muslim minority and killing villagers under the guise of cracking down on terrorism. Around 700,000 Rohingya have since fled to Bangladesh.
Public relations. The purpose is to represent something positively to the public.
Desmond Tutu
A South African bishop known for his anti-apartheid work.

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