AN URGENT ABOUT-TURN
Oslo, January 2010
The meeting hall at the Nobel Peace Center was packed with people, listening
to ForUM (Forum for Environment and Development) launching a
political report on moral dilemmas in Norwegian foreign policy, not least
between arms exports and peacemaking. When one of the four panelists,
in a senior military position, defended the burgeoning arms exports of
Norway—the ''Peace Nation''—I felt I had to confront him, saying that
the military was selling an illusion of security at an exorbitant price,
placing the continuation of life on earth in constant jeopardy. Given the
unceasing research and development into new weaponry and continuous
military planning, did he ever spend time thinking how to break the pattern?
His stuttering reply was, ''Er, that would presuppose a wholly different
approach, such as strengthening the UN, developing international
treaties, and a new international order with enforcement of laws . . .
much like we have within each single nation.'' I replied, ''Exactly—and
since we are gathered here at the Nobel Peace Center, I would like to
remind you that that is precisely the idea behind the Peace Prize that Nobel
established 115 years ago.'' But it was clear that he had never spent
much time brooding over how to make his job superfluous
…. it is about deep attitudes. Are not the print media—ambitious to show
''the world as it is'' but rarely mentioning voices for change as part of
that reality—a solid obstacle to change? In his Nobel speech for Frank
Kellogg, in 1929, Johan Ludwig Mowinckel formulated a most urgent
moral and practical challenge:
We must bring people to understand that it is not enough to proclaim
war to be a crime, but that it is necessary for all to recognize with every
sense and emotion that the murder of hundreds of thousands of human
beings to settle an international dispute is no more justifiable, no more
pardonable than the murder of a single individual to settle some personal
Princeton professor Richard Falk has pointed out the absurd incongruity
between our absolute moral and human rejection of the use of
torture against individuals, on the one hand, and the wide acceptance of
torture of whole nations in war, on the other.
Unfortunately, the Nobel committees have lacked the innovative and
visionary mindset that Nobel must have hoped for. Where, for instance,
are the Nobel Peace Prizes for William Hartung and his Arms Trade
Resource Center, or other campaigns against the arms industry and trade
such as the British or European campaigns against arms trade (CAAT
and ENAAT)? Or, what about the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament?
The International Association of Lawyers against Nuclear Arms? The
Citizens Action for Nuclear Disarmament (ACDN)? Movement for the
Abolition of War? The Women's League and their www.reaching
criticalwill.org Web site? The School of Nonkilling Studies? The Cluster
Munitions Coalition? The International Peace Bureau (in 2010, 100
years have passed since its first Nobel)? The Middle Powers Initiative?
The Coalition for the International Criminal Court? The Human Dignity
and Humiliation Studies? The Peace Ministries campaigns? The Peace
Alliance? The actions for disarmament? The 2020 Vision Campaign?
Peace Education campaigners? Peace researchers (those who have not
lost direction)? Www.betterworldlinks.org? Transcend? The Transnational
Foundation? The conflict resolution networks, and others in
the vanguard of nonviolence and conflict resolution? All the women
and women's organizations for peace? The grandmothers, in black
and in white? CODEPINK? Abolition 2000? The Fourth Freedom
Forum? World Without War? The World Order Models Project? The
Global Marshall Plan? The military bases campaigns? The Peace Tax
campaigns? PeaceJam? The British American Security Information
Council? Scilla Elworthy and the Oxford Research Group? The small
arms campaigns? The parliamentarians, the mayors, the physicians, the
lawyers, the engineers and scientists, and the Hiroshima victims for
nuclear disarmament? The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists? The Nuclear
Age Peace Foundation? The Kuala Lumpur Initiative and Perdana
Global Peace? Bruce Gagnon and his Web site space4 peace.org?
And what about the people working for government intelligence, in
cabinets and the diplomatic service, who try to throw sand in the war
machine as it gears up for new adventures, such as Americans Scott
Ritter, Dan Ellsberg, and John Brady Kiesling; in Denmark, Frank
Grevil; in Britain, Clare Short and Katharine Gun; in the UN service,
Frank Halliday and Hans von Sponeck; and in Israel, Mordechai Vanunu?
Even if not all these whistleblowers are supporters of the disarmed world
that Nobel had in mind, they would have been much more relevant than
most of those who have won the Peace Prize in recent years.
The Austrian peace educator Werner Wintersteiner raised a timely
question in an article on Bertha von Suttner and her emphasis on educating
young people for peace: ''How can high school students get to know
about peaceful organization of the world, if teachers do not enlighten
them on the topic? Not in a single subject is there mention of the idea of
peace.''10 Maybe, in a world thoroughly bred in the militaristic mind-set,
some of the first new prizes true to Nobel's purpose should go to those
people on all continents who have championed for decades the cause of
peace education, including the Global Campaign for Peace Education,
Educators for Peace, Peace Boat, Elise Boulding, Federico Mayor, Betty
Reardon, Cora Weiss, Ghassan Abdullah, Adina Shapiro, Amada Benavides,
Alicia Cabezudo, Catherine Hoppers, and Lalita Ramdas.
I could go on for days. It would take years to make a comprehensive list
and describe all those forces for change whose cause has been wronged by
the Nobel committee (omitted here; footnote containing another 50 names).
In one way or another, they are all working in
opposition to the military tradition, the power and violence approach to security.
Not that all of them are qualified for the Peace Prize—several of
those struggling to abolish particular weapons (nuclear, landmines, and
cluster munitions) do not actively seek the general and complete disarmament
that Nobel's prize presupposes. The fact remains, however, that this
is the political landscape the committee members must move in to find
Nobel's change-makers, the champions of peace, in the 21st century.
Furthermore, the rule reserving the right to nominate only to groups of people
well established in society has been unfortunate. This provision—which
was not part of Nobel's directions—has limited the influx of nominations of
the most relevant candidates. The people Nobel wished to support early
stopped considering this prize as theirs.
The Nobel committee and secretary have met my criticism by simply
repressing it, their response bearing resemblance more to the business
world than to that of peace. First, my reminder of the clear wording of
the will and the centrality of disarmament had no effect. Second, a
whole book proving that the words Nobel used must fit his intention
precisely had no impact. Third, when I told the committee that they had
given the prize ''for peace'' instead of ''for the champions of peace''
mentioned in Nobel's will, they kept silent. Fourth, when shown numerous
examples that for generations the committee has openly been formulating
its own concept of peace, it made the claim to ''always'' have
followed Nobel's will. Paradoxically, such undignified methods of discussion
become possible only by the secrecy rules originally meant to
preserve dignity and respect for the prize.
The committee pretends to be meeting 21st-century peace issues better
than if it had shown respect to Nobel. If that is what it does, it should
stop denying that it is formulating its own prize. Furthermore, this
assertion reveals that the committee does not understand that the deep
reform of international relations that Nobel wished to support is much
more urgent, relevant, and vital today than in 1895.
It was only when I made my own check of the Gunnar Jahn diaries
[committee chair 1942-1966: private diaries containing illuminating minutes]
that I understood the level of disregard for Nobel and how long it had
been that way. In our time it is hard to find anyone in the Norwegian
Parliament who has the insight or sympathies required by law to sit on
the Nobel committee. It makes me both sad and mad to think of all the
valuable peace work that is offered to a world trapped in tradition and
unable to listen—and how the Nobel committee fails to promote the
deep change it was asked to nurture with Alfred Nobel's money.