Prize Fight

by Peter Beinart | October 28, 2002

 

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 détente 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 détente. 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 judgments 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.

 

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