The Nobel Peace Prize for 2012 was announced a couple of hours ago in favour of the European Union and within seconds, twitter was engulfed in an ocean of snark. Miriam Elder, Moscow correspondent for the Guardian tweeted, “Look forward to EU statement on Nobel peace prize. Following committee consultations and necessary translations, should have it in 4.5yrs.” Omar Waraich, who covers Pakistan for TIME magazine and the Independent, added, “Well, they couldn’t have given the EU the Nobel Prize for Economics, now could they?” Ben Fenton, at the Financial Times live news desk, chimed in with “Prize money for the Nobel Peace Prize is given in dollars, so it will at least be worth having.” In other digital media, Bruno Waterfield wrote in the Telegraph, “The prize, which is worth a million euros (£800,000) will do little to help the EU’s debt and banking crisis which has so far cost over €6 trillion,” while Tom Chivers joked in the same newspaper that the Nobel committee’s chief objective was to troll Right-wingers!
Containing an element of truth, these tweets and stories were also amusing. Others, such as Saeed Dehghan, who covers Iran for the Guardian, had more serious criticism of the decision: “Many Iranians are expressing anger over EU’s Nobel peace prize because of its sanctions targeting their economy, hospitals, universities.” Huma Yusuf, a Pakistani journalist, complained about the Islamophobia in the EU in a tweet that appears to have been later deleted (but whose remnants remained because of an exchange it had generated).
Nothing can be sliced to thin as to have only one side, goes the cliche. The EU also has its ardent defenders who battled the gigglers and snarks. Tom Gara, at the Wall Street Journal, declared, “Aside from being the supreme peace-building system of the 20th century, the EU did nothing to deserve that prize.” Christopher Cook, the Financial Times education correspondent wrote, “Sneer all you like about the cost and bureaucracy, our free trade bloc with a commitment to human rights has been a spectacular success,” which resonated with one of his followers, who responded, “The old ‘If you think the EU’s expensive try a European war every 25 years’ argument. I like this argument.” However, Tim Montgomerie, editor of Conservative Home, astutely pointed out, “The Nobel Peace Prize for keeping peace in Europe should go to the USA for stationing troops here, the Marshall Fund + the nuclear deterrent.”
I should confess that I do like the idea of the Nobel Prize; to the child in me, it is akin to NASA, revealing wonderful new worlds and ideas to the rest of us who do not function on the cutting edge of human endeavour or fortitude. Yet I have not always seen eye-to-eye with the Nobel Peace Prize committee and questioned its choices on occasion, the most recent being in 2009 when the prize was awarded to US President Barack Obama. Yet the winner for the year 2012, I believe is a sound choice. Could there have been a better candidate? Perhaps. But this is a highly subjective prize, and I do not believe that the Committee has erred beyond an acceptable CEP.
Critics are quick to point out that the EU has recently intervened militarily in Libya or Kosovo. Yet to equate peace with an absolute lack of military action is not only nonsense but also ahistorical. Notions of jus ad bellum and jus in bello go back at least to Aurelius Augustinus if not earlier. It must be remembered against whom the war was fought and in what manner – mercifully, Europe’s recent wars have been against tyrants and murders such as Muammar Qaddafi and Slobodan Milošević. Though there are ample reasons to be cynical about the Right to Protect (R2P) doctrine that was recently floated in lieu of the unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, one would be hard-pressed to find an entirely altruistic act. If one’s standards were genuinely that absolute and not simply based on envy, similar standards applied to previous winners or other luminaries would find many unfit. One need not argue too hard about the controversial choice of Henry Kissinger, Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, Yasser Arafat, Jimmy Carter, or Barack Obama, but it is not too difficult to find faults even in Mohandas Gandhi (not a prize winner) or Agnes Bojaxhiu. By the implied exacting standards, Woodrow Wilson, Frank Kellogg, George Marshall and the United Nations might also be found wanting.
Some might argue that Europe has done little more than to exist: why should they be recognised for that? Such a view overlooks much of European history. Without going back to pre-history, just in the last century, Europe was home to two vicious wars at home and countless others across the globe. The nations of Europe were at each others’ throats as they had always been but with much deadlier modern technology. That is not the Europe of today. Undoubtedly, the EU is not a perfect entity; it is marred with xenophobia, racism, anti-semitism, and, perhaps, Islamophobia. Thankfully, these are small pockets which were much larger only 75 years ago.
For the horribly imperfect place Europe is supposed to be, it hosts the largest immigrant population in the world, at 72.1 million, surpassing even that great bastion of immigration, the Western hemisphere, at 57.5 million. A 2012 Gallup poll estimated that approximately 640 million people worldwide would like to migrate given the choice; out of these, the largest percentage, 24%, chose the EU (and another 2% chose other European states). Regardless of its deficiencies, the EU seems to still be the preferred destination of millions across the world wanting to make a better living.
Returning to Tim Montgomerie’s observation that it was the presence of US troops, the Marshall Plan, and a nuclear deterrent that really kept the peace in Europe, it must be conceded that there is some merit to that view. However, not all countries with such or equivalent attributes would make it to a list of nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, all have US military bases on their soil; barring Turkey, all are affluent countries (and didn’t need a Marshall Plan), and while only Turkey and South Korea come under nuclear umbrella, the others have no need of one (yet). Admittedly, this comparison simplifies much; yet so does giving all credit for peace in Europe to the US military. The roles of Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, Paul-Henri Spaak, Alcide de Gasperi, and countless others are ignored, as is the not-so-easy and often bumpy road from a bombed out group of European states to a European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Economic Community (which was not, strictly speaking, a follower), a European Community (EC), and finally a European Union. It also ignores the myriad organisations such as the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), binding European states closer to each other.
In addition, the EU has participated in peacekeeping missions (including military support, legal assistance, border management operations, and maintaining law and order), 20 since 2003, and attempted to broker peace among warring parties. Of course, not all attempts are successful, but only the naive need to be explained why. The EU has also been a generous source of international aid – 60% of all aid in 2010. In 2011, despite the economic turmoil, Germany, France, and the UK were among the top five donors in the world, and most European countries maintained Official Development Assistance (ODA) figures above the United Nations target of 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI). The spirit of Alfred Nobel’s will, which stated that a prize be given to the one who has “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses,” has undoubtedly been maintained.
The strongest point against the EU is the merit of other candidates. The names of other nominees is never revealed, but enterprising journalists have always produced a viable list of suspects. This year, rumours have it that among the contenders were Russian activists Lyudmila Alexeyeva and Svetlana Gannushkina, Byelorussian dissident Ales Bialiatski, Nigerian religious leaders John Onaiyekan and Mohamed Sa’ad Abubakar, Afghan women’s rights leader Sima Samar, US professor Gene Sharp, and Maggie Gobran, a Coptic Christian worker in Egypt. It must be borne in mind that these are mere speculations and overheard whispers, but most of these seem worthy candidates too. Personally, I would have preferred an individual over an institution, but that is one of two small, completely irrational biases I allow myself to have (the other is supporting the German national football team despite my being a creature of the Mediterranean). Nor do I have a fat dossier on any of these people (assuming some of them were on the shortlist) to allow me to offer a more informed opinion on the names above.
It ultimately comes down to an acceptable CEP. Were there better choices? Perhaps. Does the EU’s deeds qualify it for this prestigious award? Yes. Was Europe a good choice? Definitely. At the level of Nobel Prizes, all choices, be they in the sciences or the humanities, are subjective. Peace is no different, particularly among our wretched species; it has many nuances and shades, as Dehghan’s tweet reminds us. And if looked at closely, the winner every year since the year of inception in 1901 can be debated. The EU may not be the most satisfying choice of winner of all time, but it is most definitely quite far from the questionable ones.