Someone must be truly deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize

The 2004 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced Oct. 8. With what forgettable twit will the committee poke George W. Bush in the eye? Who should follow in the footsteps of Albert Gobat, Carl von Ossietsky, Lord Boyd Orr? Perhaps a search party. Don't get me wrong. I prefer peace to war. But I still think, as in 1997, that it would be nice if the prize went to someone who'd actually contributed to peace. Back then I suggested Ronald McDonald because no two nations with a McDonald's restaurant had ever fought a war. Instead the prize went to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. (In 1999, Bill Clinton and Jean Chretien attacked Serbia without UN approval, blowing up the McDonald's theory.) And while I'm generally opposed to people having their legs blown off, I make an exception for, say, Nazi soldiers attacking Canadian troops in Normandy. I'm not convinced disarming the good guys has a good track record. Which raises the surely pertinent question of what causes war and what, therefore, helps prevent it.

The Nobel Peace Prize site fudges it: "The ways and means to achieve peace are as diverse as the individuals and organizations rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize." But as John Maynard Keynes famously observed, "the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else." Some Nobel Peace Prize awards are just bizarre. (For instance 1969's to the International Labour Organization; could an archeologist now tell us what that was about? As for 1910's Permanent International Peace Bureau, could a paleontologist find its shin bone today?) But, generally speaking, explanations of the root causes of war fall into three categories: the nature of the international system, the nature of particular regimes, or the nature of human beings. And so do the awards.

The Prize has often gone to people concerned with a flawed international order. It even went to Theodore Roosevelt for trying to make the current balance of power less unstable, though far more often to people who created weak transnational institutions to fret that invasions are naughty, from Woodrow Wilson to the UN and Kofi Annan in 2001. What has the UN done since to justify any other verdict than that it meant well feebly? (Putting Sudan on the Human Rights Commission called the "meaning well" into question but not the "feebly.") Feeble doesn't stop wars.

The Prize has also gone surprisingly often to human rights advocates, from Andrei Sakharov and Desmond Tutu to 2003's Shirin Ebadi. Often it's in the rather mushy left-wing spirit that all good things are one, man. For instance, 1970's winner, Norman Borlaug, probably saved more lives than anyone else who ever lived. But he did it by boosting agricultural productivity, and famine rides a horse of a different colour. I think you have to help unseat the guy on the red horse to get a peace prize. Still, it can be argued that human rights advocates do. In Portland, Oregon, last month I saw a slogan from 1964's winner carved on a public building: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. -- Martin Luther King Jr." If so, fighting repression in foreign lands is self-defence. (Which explains Paul Martin hectoring the UN to blast its way into Sudan, but not our refusal to help President Bush in Iraq.)

With other winners, possibly including Dr. King and the Dalai Lama and certainly Mother Teresa, the theory seems to be that war comes from turmoil in the human heart. But in these and all the other cases, I have to ask: Have their efforts actually had a positive result? I hate to seem all right-wing and practical, but Neville Chamberlain wanted peace. I don't think you get marks for effort in international affairs. And certainly the amazing obscurity of so many winners of this prize (and the notoriety of others like Yasser Arafat) suggests insufficient attention to this point.

I realize that the committee doesn't share this view, and if they're in as anti-American a mood as when they made 2002's appalling award to Jimmy Carter, my guess is they'll pass over Michael Moore and give it to Hans Blix. But hope springs eternal. So, if they're going on human rights, how about Zimbabwe's Archbishop Pius Ncube as a pleasant surprise? Otherwise, since they already gave it to the guy who accidentally destroyed communism and since, despite the headlines, the world is less violent now that the Soviets aren't arming every lunatic they can find, how about a posthumous award to the guy who destroyed communism on purpose, enduring much abuse in the process as a primitive warmonger who would get us all killed?

Give one to the Gipper. Ronald Reagan: Man of Peace.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson