Prize Fight


Two types of people win the Nobel Peace Prize. The first are the
more obvious: People who resolve international conflicts. In 1926,
Aristide Briand and Gustav Stresemann won for the Locarno Pact,
which supposedly guaranteed the borders of Germany, Belgium, and
France. In 1929, America's Frank Kellogg won for the Kellogg-Briand
Pact, in which the great powers renounced war. In 1973, Henry
Kissinger and Vietnam's Le Duc Tho won for ending the Vietnam War.
And in 1994, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Yasir Arafat won for
the Oslo Peace Accord between Israel and the Palestinians.The second type of winners promote peace in a very different way:
They don't resolve conflict, they advance freedom. In 1960, the
Nobel Committee honored African National Congress leader Albert
Luthuli, and, in 1984, it honored Archbishop Desmond Tutu, even
though both men pursued conflict with the apartheid state. In 1983,
it selected Poland's Lech Walesa; in 1991, Burma's Aung Sun Suu
Kyi; and, in 1996, East Timor's Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and Jose
Ramos-Horta. None of these dissidents were peacemakers in the
narrow sense; some even rejected negotiations with the regimes that
persecuted them. By honoring them, the Nobel Committee implied that
conflicts can't truly be resolved without freedom.

Jimmy Carter falls into the first category. In explaining its
decision to award Carter the prize last week, the Nobel Committee
praised him for championing "mediation and international
cooperation" and "respect for human rights." But in reality,
Carter's career is marked by fidelity to the former over the
latter. As the American Enterprise Institute's Joshua Muravchik
detailed in The New Republic in 1994, Carter has repeatedly praised
dictators in the name of international rapprochement. In 1977,
while pursuing detente with the Soviet bloc, Carter noted that "our
concept of human rights is preserved in Poland." The following year
he told Romania's hideous dictator, Nicolae Ceaucescu, "Our goals
are the same, to have a just system of economics and politics. ...
We believe in enhancing human rights." And after leaving office, he
journeyed to Pyongyang in 1994 to resolve the crisis sparked by
late dictator Kim Il Sung's development of nuclear weapons. "People
were very friendly and open," Carter remarked about life in
arguably the most repressive country on Earth, and he noted "the
reverence with which [North Koreans] look upon their leader."

It is precisely this tendency that the Nobel Committee wanted to
honor this year. Some commentators have called the prize a
long-delayed reward for Carter's work crafting the 1978 Camp David
peace deal between Israel and Egypt. But this was hardly the
logical year to honor that achievement, given that Israeli-Egyptian
relations are at an all-time low. What the committee really wanted
to honor was the principle that American presidents should mediate
conflicts, not initiate them. It skipped over Afghanistan's Hamid
Karzai, presumably because that would have legitimized America's
war on terrorism. And it honored Carter's peacemaking as a pointed
contrast to George W. Bush's prospective war in Iraq.

The Nobel Committee has now awarded the Peace Prize twice since
September 11. And with its selections, it has articulated a view of
the post-September 11 world. It sees a clash between Islam and the
West that must be stopped through negotiated settlements like
Locarno, Oslo, and the treaty ending the Vietnam War. This year it
chose Carter, an American who uses moral equivalence as a tool for
making peace. And last year it chose U.N. Secretary-General Kofi
Annan, a diplomat who has placed conflict resolution above human
rights in Bosnia, Rwanda, and most recently Iraq. Indeed, if this
year's selection was meant to signal the Nobel Committee's
opposition to a U.S. attack on Baghdad, last year's presumably
signaled the kind of Iraq policy it would prefer: Annan's
short-lived 1998 deal with Saddam Hussein, which emasculated the
U.N. inspections regime by effectively placing Iraqi presidential
sites out of reach.

With its last two choices, the committee has turned its back on that
other definition of peace embodied by Walesa, Tutu, and Suu Kyi.
Viewed from that other tradition, the post-September 11 world looks
not like a conflict between Islam and the West but a conflict
within the Islamic world, a conflict in which peace is best
achieved not through negotiated settlements but through the advance
of freedom. In 1983, when the Nobel Committee chose Walesa, it
signaled that totalitarianism, not the cold war, was the problem
and that freedom was the answer, not detente. Today it could have
sent the same message by choosing one of the many dissidents
suffering in relative obscurity under the dictatorships of the
Muslim world. It could have chosen Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the Egyptian
pro-democracy activist recently thrown back in prison for
challenging Hosni Mubarak's repression. It could have chosen Dr.
Sima Samar, who ran schools and health clinics for refugee Afghan
girls denied education and medicine by the Taliban. It could have
chosen Asama Khader, Jordan's foremost crusader against honor
killings. Or it could have chosen Iranian philosopher Adbolkarim
Soroush, targeted by Tehran's mullahs for advocating separation of
mosque and state. Rather than Carter and Annan, world figures who
fly in to negotiate with dictators in their palaces, it could have
chosen one of the men or women who suffer under those dictators'
rule. The Muslim governments that praised Annan's and Carter's
selections would have howled with outrage. But they would have
howled for the same reason the governments of South Africa, Poland,
and Burma howled when their dissidents won the prize: Because the
world was no longer indifferent to their peoples' plight.

Nobel Peace Prizes are judgements at a moment in time. But for the
prize to maintain its prestige, those judgments must be borne out
by history. In the years before World War II, the committee honored
the signers of Locarno and Kellogg-Briand, treaties now regarded as
historical jokes. But it also provoked Germany's wrath by awarding
the 1935 prize to Carl von Ossietzky, a journalist and anti-Nazi
activist who learned of his selection in a concentration camp.
During the cold war it selected Kissinger, the most amoral of
American statesmen, and Le Duc Tho, who went on to lead Hanoi's
invasions of South Vietnam and Cambodia. Once again, however, the
committee redeemed itself by disregarding objections from Moscow
and Warsaw and honoring Andrei Sakharov in 1975 and Walesa in 1983.
Perhaps one day the Nobel Committee will realize that the lesson of
this new era in international affairs is likely to be the same as
the last two: That real peace comes when tyranny ends. I just wish
it weren't taking so long.

By Peter Beinart

For more stories, like the New Republic on Facebook:

Loading Related Articles...
Article Tools