Thorbjørn Jagland, head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, had to face a storm of criticism and even ridicule from home and abroad throughout the weekend, but held fast that US President Barack Obama was the right choice for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. The committee, Jagland said, was more afraid its prize could come too late than too early, and he also dismissed calls for his own resignation.
The inner workings of the Nobel Committee are mostly kept secret but, in an unusual move, other committee members also rose to Jagland’s and their own defense.
One new member, longtime Norwegian legislator Ågot Valle, confirmed the vote was unanimous and told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that it was especially Obama’s “clear opposition” to nuclear weapons and his moves to reduce them that led to their choice. The committee, under the terms of Alfred Nobel’s will, is made up of persons reflecting the make-up of Norway’s parliament and currently has members from the Conservative Party, the more conservative Progress Party, Valle’s Socialist Left Party and Jagland’s Labour Party.It was, however, Obama’s oratory and moves in a number of areas that made the committee conclude that no other single person in the past year has done more to improve what they called the “international climate.” It is now that he is trying to improve relations among countries around the world, to build bridges between the Christian and Muslim worlds, to reduce nuclear weapons and improve the US’ standing and participation in the United Nations.
Jagland claimed repeatedly to a variety of media that the committee didn’t want to wait to give Obama recognition for his efforts. “In three years, it could have been too late,” he told Oslo newspaper Dagsavisen .
Jagland said Obama’s name first came up as a serious contender already last spring. His recent speech at the United Nations, in which Obama stressed that the US alone can’t solve the world’s problems, sealed the committee’s choice. “It was now we could support Obama,” Jagland said, stressing the word “now.” “He (Obama) said it was up to others to respond to his commitment and that’s what we’ve done.”
Jagland, a former Norwegian prime minister and foreign minister, also claimed Obama already has achieved a lot in improving global relations. “The meeting he led at the UN Security Council, where it was decided to remove the world’s nuclear weapons, was the culmination,” he said. “And just before that Obama had changed the US’s rocket shield plans.”Jagland noted that earlier Peace Prize winners can’t always show concrete results or change. Geir Lundestad, head of the Nobel Institute, noted on Norway’s nightly national news program on NRK Saturday that many other choices have sparked criticism as well, not least the decision to award the prize to Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat.
There’s been no peace in the Middle East, Aung San Suu Kyi remains in prison in Burma, conflict still grips Tibet and China continues to punish countries that receive the Dalai Lama, Al Gore won the prize “mainly after he’d made a film.” Obama, Jagland argued, has at least prompted a “fundamental” change in the mood of the world, the others also have advocated change and better lives for people, and that’s what the Nobel Peace Prize is all about.
No plans to resign
Calls arose once again during the weekend that Jagland, a former head of Norway’s Labour Party, should resign his new chairmanship of the Nobel Committee after recentlywinning an election to be secretary general of the Council of Europe.
Both leaders of Norway’s opposition parties in the new parliament claimed Jagland may wind up in a “double role,” face conflicts of interest and won’t be able to be as neutral as he should be. A professor at the University of Oslo, Eivind Smith, also believes Jagland’s two roles are troublesome.
“I don’t think (the prize) is threatened, but Jagland isn’t independent of the Council of Europe’s member governments,” Smith told NRK, adding that many council members have poor human rights records.
Jagland, however, insists he’s comfortable with both roles and has called Europe itself “the greatest peace project of all time.”
As for claims that the choice of Obama undermines the value of the Nobel Peace Prize, Jagland shakes his head. Obama met the terms of Nobel’s better than many earlier prize winners and many have also been far more controversial figures., not least Arafat, Henry Kissinger and Frederik Willem de Klerk of South Africa, who won the prize jointly with Nelson Mandela.
Many Norwegians were surprised by the outpouring of both praise and criticism over the award from around the world, which focused an unusual amount of attention on their relatively small country. Norwegian diplomat Raymond Johansen noted that in the end, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize should be seen as a good thing. There will always be a chorus of complainers, but Johansen noted that “there’s really nothing negative about winning the Peace Prize. It’s not going to hurt anybody. It’s a positive thing.”