Was the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 Wrongly Awarded?

15 Oct

[Prefatory Note: The Nobel Prize for 2016 was given to the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, in recognition of his efforts to end internal civil strife that had continued in the country for over half a century. An agreement was achieved with the main rebel group, but depended for final adoption on approval by the citizens of Colombia through a referendum. This was unexpectedly defeated, leaving the future of the country in doubt. The NYT initiated a discussion of the merits of this award to Santos through its mechanism of ‘Room for Debate’ in which several individuals are invited to submit comments. My comment critical of the award is printed below, and is followed by an even more critical comment by Fredrik S. Heffermehl, a Norwegian jurist who has taken a special interest in the Nobel Peace Prize, especially making a great effort to call attention to the failure of the Norwegian committee that is responsible for deciding on recipients to adhere to the will and intentions of Alfred Nobel who established this most coveted of international awards at the end of the nineteenth century. The two other comments published in this debate on the opionion pages of the NY Times were contributed by Jeffrey Goldberg of the New School of Social Research in New York City and Michael Kazin of Georgetown University.]




NY Times–The Opinion Pages

  • OCTOBER 11, 2016

What the Nobel Peace Prize Prizes


President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia.

John Vizcaino/Reuters


Five days after his nation voted down his effort to end a 52-year conflict with leftist rebels, President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating a peace treaty. President Barack Obama won the prize only nine months into his presidency.

Should the Nobel Prize be awarded for concrete achievements, or is it important to recognize those who aspire to peace? What is lost or gained when awards are given for aspirations?





The New York Times

Should the Nobel Prize only be given for actual achievements, or is it important to recognize those who aspire to peace?






The Nobel Peace Prize Committee Has Stretched the Understanding of the Prize

Richard Falk is Milbank Professor of International Law, Emeritus, at Princeton University, and author of “Power Shift: on the New Global Order.”



The Nobel Committee insisted that this year’s peace prize was given to President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia because he tried so hard to achieve peace, even though he failed, and to encourage efforts to revive the process. It remains to be seen whether those efforts will succeed. Thorbjorn Jagland, former chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the peace prize, observed that “since there is so little actual peace in the world, we have to award those who are trying.”

Without moral clarity with respect to the recipient, only the greatest achievement can overcome the taint of a compromised past.

But should the award be a way of encouraging efforts to achieve peace or to honor the achievement of peace? I think that both kinds of contributions to a peaceful world are consistent with the wishes of Alfred Nobel, although I think the selection committee stretched the understanding of peace beyond what Nobel had in mind by honoring human rights and environmental activists (for example, Shirin Ebadi in 2003, Lech Walesa in 1983 and Al Gore in 2007) whose activities however admirable are not easily linked to peace as understood by Nobel.

It’s even worse when the award is bestowed either prematurely, as with President Barack Obama in 2009, or against the background of a career that seemed disposed to war-making and complicity in human rights abuses, as in the case with the 1973 award to Henry Kissinger. There are occasions when an award can be given for a lifetime of struggle for peace as was the case when Joseph Rotblat and the Pugwash Conferences received the award in 1995 for “their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms.” Such encouragement seems entirely appropriate.

Obama’s Prague speech, given prior to his Nobel Prize, inspired many by depicting his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. In retrospect, the Nobel Committee was indulging in wishful thinking. Obama, although internationally moderate in many respects, escalated the American military involvement in Afghanistan just weeks after receiving the award, and worse, never really used the eight years of his presidency to push forward the Prague vision.

Finally, the Santos award is questionable for several reasons. For one thing, Santos served as Defense Minister under Alvaro Uribe, who earlier pushed a vicious paramilitary campaign led by Santos against the guerillas. For another, unlike prior Nobel awards for peacemaking efforts (U.S./Vietnam, Israel/Egypt, Israel/P.L.O.), the counterpart in negotiations, the rebel leader Ronrigo Londono, was not a co-recipient or even mentioned in the citation.

What emerges from this commentary is the importance of moral clarity with respect to the recipient, without which only the greatest actual achievement can overcome the taint of a compromised past.





Nobel’s Will Determines What the Peace Prize Should Recognize


Fredrik S. Heffermehl, a retired Norwegian lawyer, is the author of “The Nobel Peace Prize, What Nobel Really Wanted,” and director of Nobel Peace Prize Watch.

October 13, 2016


Since writing a book with a legal analysis of Aflred Nobel’s intention I have been reminding the world that the will Nobel wrote in 1895 is decisive in all questions about the prizes, even though its criticism has been frequently ignored. If the testament covers an issue, one may debate the wisdom of Nobel, but he is dead and the will is final. If it doesn’t cover an issue, the floor is open.


He said all five prizes should go to those who have conferred the greatest benefit on humanity.” Above all the will is important on the core question of who can win. Surprisingly many seem to think that to answer such questions they just need to go to the will and make sense of what the words mean to them. But legal interpretation is about what the testator intended and requires extensive study of evidence and circumstance. What counts in law is what the words must have meant to Nobel irrespective of the words he used, said the Swedish jurist Torgny Haystad.


So, does Nobel’s will require that the prize only recognize achievements? A mere linguistic analysis of the words is not conclusive. More helpful is to note that all his five prizes should go to those who have conferred the greatest benefit on humanity, and also consider the zeitgeist of boundless optimism and hopes of changing the plight of mankind through major inventions. As he signed the will he also took steps to buy a Swedish liberal paper, writing that he wished to end armaments and other remnants from Medieval times, this is also evidence of what went on in his head in 1895.


The will´s most helpful word to identify Nobel´s intention is that prizes were to benefit the champions of peace and the evidence, mainly letters, show that by this expression he meant the movement for ending armaments through co-operation and nations relying on courts of law instead of strength in the battlefield. These ideas for a specific new, peaceful world order were inspired by Nobel’s friend, the prominent peace advocate Baroness Bertha von Suttner.

As long as the Nobel committee is loyal to his vision of peace, I would allow it considerable leeway. But without even considering the question of achievement or aspiration, neither President Obama nor President Santos should be considered the champions of peace who Nobel had in mind. Nobel envisioned global disarmament, not mere resolution of national conflicts, as Santos tries to accomplish. And since receiving his prize, Obama has hardly pursued such a path.






The Nobel Prize Recognizes That Aspiring to Peace Makes Peace More Likely

Jeffrey C. Goldfarb is Michael E. Gellert Professor and chairman of the Department of Sociology at the New School for Social Research, editor in chief of Public Seminar and author of “Reinventing Political Culture: the Culture of Politics and the Politics of Culture in American Life.”

UPDATED OCTOBER 11, 2016, 1:43 PM


Given President Barack Obama’s stewardship of American foreign policy after winning his Nobel Peace prize, it would seem that the award this year to President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia may have been a mistake. In both cases, the award was as much about aspiration as achievement, and sometimes aspiration is just not enough.

But then again, sometimes it is, and sometimes the recognition of the aspiration has a way to turn it into achievement.

Obama recognized the ideals of Gandhi and King, and knew he wouldn’t be able to adhere to their ideals absolutely.


Obama was awarded the prize for his “efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” Yet, he escalated the war in Afghanistan, and the war there and in Iraq continue. The U.S. drone program has been expanding during Obama’s watch. And under Obama’s leadership, the U.S. has continued to be engaged in further military actions in North Africa and the Middle East.

On the other hand, Obama has helped de-militarize American foreign policy, winding down two wars. He has publicly and clearly affirmed U.S. commitments to respect the Geneva Agreements and ended the American use of torture. And under Obama’s leadership, American military engagements have been multilateral and debated in and supported by the United Nations.


The prize is awarded in the tough zone that exists between ideal and reality.


Obama’s Nobel lecture was about this. He confronted the paradox of awarding the Peace Prize to the commander in chief of the world’s premiere superpower. He recognized the ideals of Gandhi and King, as he knew he wouldn’t be able to adhere to their ideals absolutely. But he has confronted the hard realities of a complex world mindful of the ideals, distinguishing himself on the world stage.

And this indeed is what President Santos has done. He has resolutely worked to “bring the country’s more than 50-year-long civil war to an end,” trying to convince all parties to the conflict that a just peace has been achieved, one that properly balances the ideals of peace, with the pursuit of justice and accountability. While because of the complex political situation in Colombia, he has not achieved his goal to date, in his aspirations, he has kept the ideal alive, which the Nobel Committee rightly recognized and honored.

And this may be politically significant: the very recognition of the aspiration makes more likely the achievement of peace.



The Nobel Can Reward Thankless Efforts for a Crucial Goal

Michael Kazin is a professor of history at Georgetown, editor of Dissent magazine and author of “War against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914-1918,” to be published in January.

UPDATED OCTOBER 11, 2016, 3:21 AM


It is hardly novel to award the peace prize for a goal that has not yet been accomplished. President Woodrow Wilson won in 1919 for championing a League of Nations the United States did not join. A French and a German diplomat shared the prize in 1927 for “contributions to Franco-German reconciliation” – at the time, more a hope than an achievement. The lovely aspiration became a bad joke when Hitler’s armies rolled into Paris thirteen years later. The Norwegian committee had better foresight when it gave the prize to Lech Walesa in 1983 and Desmond Tutu a year later. Within a decade, both their causes had triumphed.

The prize sends a message about how societies should work, instead of how they actually do. It rewards service in the quest of a peaceful world.


Such prizes always send a message of how societies should work instead of how they actually do. And shouldn’t there be at least one universally celebrated form of recognition that rewards diligent service in the quest of a truly peaceful world?


If so, two of the most worthy recipients were American feminists – Jane Addams and Emily Green Balch. Addams won the award in 1931 for decades of pacifist organizing. As one of the leaders of the movement to stop World War I, she got condemned as a traitor and a coward. In the wake of that horrific conflict, however, she seemed more like a prophet. The Nobel committee saluted Addams for holding “fast to the ideal of peace even during the difficult hours when other considerations and interests obscured it from her compatriots and drove them into the conflict.” Balch received the honor in 1946. With Addams, she had created the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom – an organization whose members devoted themselves to exposing the cruel U.S. occupation of Haiti as well as campaigning for international disarmament.


Pacifism has never been a sizeable movement, in any land or in the world at large. In his great 1910 essay, “The Moral Equivalent of War,” William James pointed out that men from every nation were willing, even eager, to fight—and most women supported them—because war seduced as well as horrified. It was, he wrote, a mark of “the strong life…of life in extremis.” In contrast, peace advocates appeared weak, soft, and ineffectual. But this is all the more reason to signal, with the world’s most prestigious medal, that stopping both current and future wars is one of the greatest and most urgent tasks of all.










12 Responses to “Was the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 Wrongly Awarded?”

  1. Rosemary Tylka October 15, 2016 at 12:15 pm #

    I do not normally comment on public fora, but this time I cannot help myself from doing so. According to me, the Nobel Peace Prize has been so desecrated over the years as to make it quite risible, and I am quite sure that Alfred Nobel is turning over in his grave seeing what has happened to his wishes.

    This being said, I do not have the slightest doubt that The Most-Deserving Person for this “Nobel peace prize”, if is still means anything at all, should have been Richard Falk himself, who has been repeatedly nominated for it.

    There is “real peace” and “false peace”. There is international law, REAL international law, and not the one made up by the lawyers of the US State Department to suit their “masters”.

    The hordes of so-called international lawyers from the State Department, drifting around the world at taxpayers’ expense, trying to convince other REAL international lawyers that Guantanamo was “actually LEGAL”, firstly comes to mind. Oh, and I met some of them. They were all as thick as two planks, and I found it hard to believe that they actually had degrees in law at all!! In fact, others who had studied international law, in such places as Baghdad and Tehran, asked me “if international law is the same in the US – as in the rest of the world”!!

    I am not an international lawyer, and I do not have the slightest idea about which kind of international law is taught around the world, but the simple word, “international”, seems to reply to this question.

    Food for thought.

    Rosemary Tylka
    Marrakech, Morocco

    • Laurie Knightly October 16, 2016 at 10:39 am #

      If the Nobel for Peace were not a politicized and meaningless award, I would also be somewhat in agreement for Falk’s inclusion. I definitely would not want to see his name on a list, where peace and justice is the determinant, that included Rabin, Peres, Begin, Obama, EU, Kissinger, Gore, Gorbachev, Carter et al.

      As an example – Jimmy Carter to NPR: “I know that Israel is a wonderful democracy with equal treatment of all its citizens whether Arab or Jew. And so I avoid talking about anything inside Israel.” I would not discredit any of the aforementioned persons regarding some of their efforts toward peace, but certainly not unequivocally – not even close. Falk’s inclusion would imply a lowering of his standards.

      I think Sartre had the preferred position. Stay off such lists altogether. Maybe a hypothetical candidate could frame an imaginary general decline more similar to that of Le Duc Tho:

      Why I Am Gratified To Be Excluded From The Nobel Peace Prize List.

      • Richard Falk October 16, 2016 at 2:35 pm #

        As usual, Laurie, you raise important questions about moral stature. I always wondered about Sartre’s decision,
        and have never read a good account of his rationale. His award was, of course, for literature, not peace. I do think
        Le Duc Tho was absolutely right, and in part, because sharing with Kissinger would have been morally unthinkable given
        his role in the Christmas Bombing, as well as his generally ‘unspeakable’ (in the Thomas Merton) past.

        Thinking otherwise, the visibility and resources resulting from such an award provide a sort of platform that those of us on the margins do not have,
        and maybe should responsibly accept when that rarest of occasions arises. Perhaps, we should be political enough to give up some of the moral
        high ground.

        I would value your thoughts about this.


      • Expose the impostors October 17, 2016 at 8:41 am #

        You like Gene don’t understand who falk is? Mr. Falk was working with empire’s criminals in ‘Iran tribunal’. They are CIA pimps and agents of western intelligence services, figures such as Kaveh Shahroozi, and Payam Akhavan, chosen as ‘young global leader’ and Akhavan is a member of Halifax security forum, a criminal enterprice. You can find his photo next to war criminals and baby killers.



        Akhavan who has left Iran at the age of 8 for Canada and is a citizen of Canada is in the service of Zionists and imperialist. He is a board member of ‘center for Iran documentation’, funded by CIA to construct FAKE ‘documents’ against Iranian government.

        Mr. falk has close relations with USG criminals and as his comment show he with NO reservation accept such a dirty award. I have no doubt about it.

        Only impostors do censor.

      • Laurie Knightly October 17, 2016 at 5:49 pm #

        Richard’s posited question of whether the merits/advantages/platform etc of the award might outweigh other possibly inflated moral considerations, caused me to delve much deeper into the Nobel Peace Prize itself. As Falk’s own current nomination reached the short list, I was moved to evaluate his life’s work as to its consistency with the qualifications, as described by Nobel, for the award. I concentrated on whether he fit the description rather than my displeasure with those who do not. In effective professorial style, Richard passed the double bind back to me and now with chin in hand and furrowed brow, I see that only the award and its potential should be decided on an individual basis. Like Rosemary, I would vote in favor of Falk accepting the prize and have not the slightest doubt that his principles would be compromised by the honor. Albeit he would get some nasty criticism, the prize itself, overall, the standard would be elevated from its recent past.

        Sartre considered it ‘less dangerous to decline than accept’ the Nobel and he appears to have gained considerably by his actions. He was consistent with his refusal to accept awards including the Legion Of Honor following his participation in WW2. Three years after his rejection of the prize in literature, he co-founded the Russell Tribunal. Would his activism have been compromised? His rejection letter was not a smear of the Nobel at all but his own thinking that the institution labeling would be a burden in his case. The letter can be read – NY Review of Books, Dec 1964.

        Note: The Norwegian Nobel Committee determines the Peace Prize. It is appointed by their Parliament and consists primarily of retired politicians.
        And Winston Churchill’s prize was in literature.

  2. Simpson Lok October 16, 2016 at 7:27 am #

    For my analysis, Nobel Prize to the President of Colombia, shouldn’t be awarded nowadays while the people of Colombia are in the process of ending that Conflict between and the FARC Rebel, is total good that the Nobel Prize should be award, but it will be awarded after the peace deal because the meaning of awarding of Nobel Prize is only the encouragement of the person who have done the big work you have been ended peacefully so that to save the people from the Civil Wars they have been faced.

    thanks, I have no time to comments a lot please.


    Simpson Lok Tour South Sudan, Juba

    On 10/15/16, Global Justice in the 21st Century

  3. Beau Oolayforos October 16, 2016 at 12:29 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    The Colombian nightmare that began with Jorge Gaitan’s murder looks to be dragging on. As stated, the absence of any other negotiating party from the Nobel citation, as if Mr Santos were the sole, the lonely, only pilgrim for peace….spare me – was he part of the Uribe government who rounded up indigents, dressed them in fatigues & then murdered them, to pump up their “terrorist” body-count numbers?

    Of course, the FARC is a terrorist organization with no legitimate grievances, right?, so why should they ever be mentioned? Except by Ms. Bethancourt, who spent some time with them. In this, the Nobel committee is dutifully toeing the propaganda line of just those forces that our dear departed Gabo warned about.

    • Richard Falk October 16, 2016 at 2:28 pm #

      A very helpful comment. Is there a good account of the Uribe presidency and Santos’ role?

    • Kata Fisher October 20, 2016 at 9:37 am #

      A Note:

      “dear departed Gabo warned about”

      I do not understand any further – but that: “dear departed Gabo warned about”

    • Tim Hoyle November 4, 2016 at 5:27 am #

      I think the award to President Santos was justified insomuch that he has made every effort to bring the polarised protagonists to the negotiating table. He may not have received the majority support he was looking for during the offered referendum, but, contextually there were 4 millions people unable to cast their vote due to Hurricane Matthew. Most observers suggest that the vast majority of those 4 millions would have voted in favour of the Peace Accord. The award of the prize should be in recognition of achievements, but can also be used, in this instance, as a means of leveraging further support across a ravaged population. Still better than awarding it to a faceless / leaderless organisation.

  4. walker percy October 19, 2016 at 6:28 am #

    richard, its interesting that there are zero comments on your most recent post about Israel-Palestine. Since I won’t believe that you are giving in to the pressure to suppress this discussion, I have to assume that somehow we have all been blocked by the USG/GoI. Looks like trouble brewing…..us Americans don’t like to be told what to think.
    Walker Percy

    • Kata Fisher October 20, 2016 at 8:15 am #

      Beloved Walker,

      – so happy that you are safe and alive and that hasbarish did not destroy your live!

      You write:

      ” Looks like trouble brewing…..us Americans don’t like to be told what to think.”

      This is what I understand: intrinsically evil (in forms of satanic seals) that is allowed/imposed corporately, and in the corporate forms may or may never be promoted by the law.

      Church has fully / can fully impose the judgment/decree in written and oral forms onto anyone and anyone’s conscience – in any condition.

      However, Church can not impose on someone’s fee will – make them do something.

      The reason why Church impose the judgement of the Church /decree in written and oral forms onto anyone’s conscience – it is because we do want to avoid illegal judging of the Church – and another by the means of the law – law of destruction.

      So – Not want to have illegal judgement/s of those who have not deserved to be judged (individually) by means of their/a corporate conscience that is/are imposing their conscience/will means of the law/by-law on others.

      When someone will ask Church – who are you to tell me what is moral/immoral .. evil/good – or not?

      The Church Shall say, “Who are you to judge” (The Church and another) by the means of your free will and/or conscience (a mere human)?

      Things that are intrinsically evil (in forms of satanic seals) are never to be allowed/impose by the Church/individually (by means of conscience or the law) – unless God Himself tell an individual to do otherwise.

      In common to all election – the Church Members practising/non-practicing Church and all of the good will about intrinsically evil:

      1. Abortions
      2. Euthanasia
      3. Embryonic Stem Cell Research
      4. Human Cloning
      5. Homosexual Marriage

      All these intrinsically evils things differ in their essences/forms and applications.

      Things that are intrinsically evil (in forms of satanic seals) are never to be allowed/impose by the Church/individually (by means of their conscience or the law) – unless God Himself tell an individual to do otherwise – and judge individual and the Church.

      So further – This is what I understand:

      Perverted disrespect for the women is bad.
      Perverted respect for the women is bad.

      However, nothing is bad as perverted things of satanic seals that Pervertedly respect/disrespect women – that I have mentioned days/now before that are pervertedly used in punitive ways – that are destructive and destructive to the condition of the second/third person.

      Punitive ways should be restorative (in essence). This always means – what is the best for the conditions (spiritual/natural) of “Psychical person/s”

      It is extremely dangerous to impose one’s own will/conscience (individually and corporately, and legally binding ) on a second/third person – without understanding conditions/circumstances of the “Psychical person/s”. (Canonical Position of a Psychical Persons)

      Choosing intrinsic evils for others – it’s not a just human error it is a human sin of grave consequences for all involved – but it can be allowed.

      Instances of intrinsic evils would have to be carefully examined and understood from civil-ecclesiastical perspectives.

      I have to tell you this because just in case that any of you have something important going on for the next 4 yeas or so – that they want to accomplish – they should not be legally binding themselves to intrinsic evils that will hinder their accomplishments.

      Do always vote your conscience – but do not subjugate your conscience to that which are corporate forms of intrinsic evils. It will make you a slave to it and will delay good things toward you – or even will take good things away from you – as you do unto others – not legitimatly.


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