Lawyer keeps criticizing Nobel choices

GUEST COMMENTARY: Oslo-based lawyer and peace activist Fredrik S Heffermehl has long been critical about Peace Prize choices made by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. This year is no exception, as Heffermehl continues to argue that the committee has veered away from the intentions of Alfred Nobel’s will. In the following commentary, Heffermehl talks about his new book, recently published in English, that details his objections.

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The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel really wanted

(Praeger, 2010)

By Fredrik S. Heffermehl

My new book is the elephant in the room that official Norway – politicians, most media, academics – are adamant not to see. The truth about the Nobel Peace Prize is the topic that I, as a lawyer, writer and peace activist, have studied in The Nobel Peace Prize. What Nobel really wanted, recently published in the US .

Author and Peace Prize critic Fredrik S Heffermehl

While global disarmament based on international law and institutions was the purpose motivating Nobel, today’s Norwegian parliamentarians have forgotten that original idea. It was a purpose known to every politician in Norway in the early days of the prize, 100 years ago.

I’ve attempted to show how Norwegian parliamentarians have converted the prize, and how they reacted when I found that out in 2007, and demanded the Nobel committee re-examine the will and its mandate from Nobel.

The book is basically a study of power and politics in Norway, with Thorbjørn Jagland and Geir Lundestad, the chair and secretary of the committee, in leading roles. One conclusion is that the level of debate (or non-debate, silence about the actual criticism, strong arguments about moot points) is undermining democracy. Without a certain respect for facts, truth and honest debate, democracy cannot function.

The demilitarization of international politics, a civilized cooperative and trustful relation between all nations, committed to justice and the rule of law – and with law enforcement, rather than national armies – were important when Nobel established the prize but have become a mandatory necessity today, when a military error can wipe out life on the globe. I regret that members of the Norwegian Parliament (Stortinget), charged with selecting the five members who make up the Norwegian Nobel Committee, has not chosen members true to Nobel’s idea for the committee, but placed themselves in the coveted seats.

The Peace Prize today is Nobel’s only in name. In reality it has become the prize of the Norwegian Parliament. Politicians who believe in military force as a primary tool in international affairs cannot be the proper custodians of Nobel’s prize for disarmament. As a result the prize has ceased to challenge the military forces it was established to combat.

My book contains historic documentation, including a look into the secretive committee and its deliberations. The committee’s longest-serving chairman, Gunnar Jahn, could share his thoughts on the discussions inside the committee only with his private diaries, which, however, now have become available to a global public through the book.

Nobel wrote his will in a period when the union between Norway and Sweden was eroding, the prize changed character with the changed attitudes to military force in the Norwegian Parliament after 1945, and the parliament and Nobel committee are now struggling hard – once again, I found out – to bulldoze over an impudent critic.

(For more information about Heffermehl’s book, click here.)