Notes on the Nobel Nomination Process

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The Nobel Institute in Oslo, Norway

Despite what you may have read in the news, the nomination and decision-making process for the Nobel Peace Prize is designed to be private, not public. In fact, the statutes of the Nobel Foundation insist that “neither the names of nominators nor of nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize may be divulged until fifty years have elapsed.” 

In other words, the very act of talking about nominating someone or claiming to be nominated for the prize may disqualify a candidate. Those who engage in such behavior are expressing an overt disregard for the established guidelines.  

This year (2019), the committee received 301 nominations for the prize. The record was 376 individuals and organizations in 2016. You can learn more details about the nomination and decision-making processes here: https://www.nobelprize.org/nomination/peace/ 

The Norwegian Nobel Committee (as well as the related committees in Stockholm, which administer all awards other than the peace prize) follows strict guidelines in determining who is worthy of the annual honor. These derive from Alfred Nobel’s intentions, as outlined in his last will and testament. Contrary to what some may believe, the prize was not developed with long-standing institutions or powerful politicians in mind. Nobel wrote that the peace prize should go to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

Over the years, committee members have argued for broader interpretations of Nobel’s mandate. Some have noted that today’s peacemakers are hardly carbon copies of the award’s first intended recipient, Bertha von Suttner, whose primary focus was ending war via global disarmament. (You can read more about the disputes that erupted when Suttner was overlooked for the first few prizes in my previous post, “The Red Cross Controversy.”) Even so, any world leader who is currently expanding military budgets and promoting new weapons programs is likely to be quickly and easily dismissed as the committee prepares its short list and discusses the finalists.

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Kaci Five, former chairperson of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee

Finally, it’s worth noting that the Nobel Peace Prize Committee prefers the word “laureate,” not “winner,” to describe the recipients. The award, after all, is an honor, not part of a competition, despite what many would-be medalists may believe. When asked about other contenders for the prize in 2016, Kaci Five, then chairperson of the Peace Prize Committee (and, sadly, deceased now), kindly refused to name or discuss them. “The award is intended to focus attention solely on this year’s laureate,” she replied before once again citing the statutes: “Investigations and opinions concerning the award of a prize may not be divulged until at least fifty years have elapsed.” 

So, while we can all debate who should or should not be considered for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, don’t pay much attention to whatever claims you may read in the press. This year’s committee will convene behind closed doors and make its decision with the same three questions firmly in mind: Who has done the most to promote friendship and cooperation among nations? Who has done the most to eliminate or reduce armies and/or weapons stockpiles in the world? Who has done the most to bring people together to promote and work effectively toward global peace and unity? 

No matter what the committee’s final decision may be, we might all benefit from asking ourselves this related question: What have I done recently to promote the cause of peace in my part of the world?

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