Large Banner Ad
Small Banner Ad

October 28, 2009

Who awarded Obama Nobel

Scott Stockdale

Scott StockdaleBy awarding Barack Obama the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel Committee has broken new ground.

When nominations for the NPP closed February 1, Barack Obama had been in office for two weeks, far too short a time for any president to do anything.

Moreover, other than make promises, many are wondering exacting what he's done to date, eight months into his presidency.

Nobel Peace Prize selections have often been surrounded by fierce debate.

Controversial awards include the 1994 prize shared by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli leaders Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, for Mideast peace efforts, as well as the joint prize to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho ,for a 1973 cease-fire agreement. The Vietnam War continued for two more years.

Although speculation for this year's NPP had focused on Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, a Colombian senator and a Chinese dissident, along with an Afghan woman's rights activist, U.S. President Barack Obama was selected.

In each of the above-mentioned cases, the prize recipients had actually done something.

Nominators for the NPP include former laureates; current and former members of the committee and their staff; members of national governments and legislatures; university professors of law, theology, social sciences, history and philosophy; leaders of peace research and foreign affairs institutes; and members of international courts of law.

In his 1895 will, Alfred Nobel stipulated that the peace prize should go "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses."

Unlike the other Nobel Prizes, which are awarded by Swedish institutions, he said the peace prize should be given out by a five-member committee elected by the Norwegian Parliament. Sweden and Norway were united under the same crown at the time of Nobel's death.

The committee has taken a wide interpretation of Nobel's guidelines, expanding the prize beyond peace mediation to include efforts to combat poverty, disease and climate change.

Rather than recognizing concrete achievement, the 2009 prize appears intended to support initiatives that have yet to bear fruit: reducing the world stock of nuclear arms, easing American conflicts with Muslim nations and strengthening the U.S. role in combating climate change.

"Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future," Thorbjoern Jagland, chairman of the Nobel Committee said. "In the past year Obama has been a key person for important initiatives in the U.N. for nuclear disarmament and to set a completely new agenda for the Muslim world and East-West relations."

Mr. Jagland also singled out President Obama's efforts to heal the divide between the west and the Muslim world and scale down the Bush-era proposal for an anti-missile shield in Europe.

“All these things have contributed to – I wouldn't say a safer world - but a world with less tension,” he said.

“Alfred Nobel wrote that the prize should go to the person who has contributed most to the development of peace in the previous year,” Mr. Jagland said. “Who has done more for that than Barack Obama.”

One of Norways leading newspapers reported that  three of five committee members had objections during the early phases of the process; but were persuaded in favor of Obama mainly by the chairman of the committee, former Prime Minister Thorbjoern Jagland. The newspaper's sources said those opposed were right-wing Progress Party member Inger-Marie Ytterhorn, Conservative Party member Kaci Kullmann and Socialist Left member Aagot Valle.

The sources also said Ms. Ytterhorn led the opposition, questioning whether Mr. Obama could live up to his promises to reduce nuclear engagement.

Committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland and committee member Sissel Roenbeck, both of the Labor Party, strongly supported Mr. Obama.

The paper cited anonymous sources for a rare leak of the committee's work, meant to be kept secret for 50 years. Committee members are appointed by Norway's parliament but are meant to act independently. In order to try to understand the committee's decision, it's necessary to examine the committee members' qualifications to make this type of decision.

Committee Chairperson Thorbjorn Jagland, 58,  is a Norwegian politician for the Labour Party, and the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe. The President of the Storting since 2005, Mr. Jagland served as the Prime Minister of Norway from 1996 to 1997, and later as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2000 to 2001.

Prior to becoming Prime Minister, Mr. Jagland served as party secretary from 1986 to 1992, and subsequently party leader until 2002, when he was succeeded by Jens Stoltenberg. In 2009, he became Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. He did not run for reelection to parliament in 2009.

Mr. Jagland was born in Drammen and studied briefly at the University of Oslo, where he graduated with a one-year degree in Economics, in 1975.

He started his political career in the Workers' Youth League, and served as national leader from 1977 to 1981. Mr. Jagland also sat on Buskerud county council from 1975 to 1983.

Mr. Jagland's cabinet, albeit short-lived, was marked by controversies from the beginning to the end, with two ministers being forced to withdraw following personal scandals. Mr. Jagland, who was also ridiculed for his quotes and statements, resigned following the 1997 election, even though his party won the most votes.

Ågot Valle ,64, is a Norwegian politician for the Socialist Left Party (SV). She was elected to the Norwegian Parliament from Hordaland in 1997.

She worked as a physiotherapist and a county council member in Hordaland before entering national politics. She has also been involved in the organization Nei til EU (No to the EU).

Inger-Marie Ytterhorn, 68, is a Norwegian politician for the Progress Party. She was elected to the Norwegian Parliament from Hordaland in 1989, but was not re-elected in the next election. She later served in the position of deputy representative during the terms 1993–1997 and 1997–2001. Her late husband Bjørn Erling Ytterhorn was also a member of the Norwegian Parliament.

Kaci Kullmann Five, 58, is a Norwegian politician for the Conservative Party, and a business professional. She was educated in law, French, and political science, at University of Oslo in 1981. Before Ms. Kullmann entered politics, she was a consultant in the Norwegian Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise, NHO.

She was member of the County Council of Bærum from 1975-1981 and served then as deputy leader in the Executive Committee for Education. From 1977 to 1979 she was the first female leader of the Conservative Youth Association.

She was a member of the Norwegian parliament, the Storting, from 1981-1997 and was Deputy Chairman of the Parliament from 1985-1986 and Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Opposition from 1986-1989, and again in 1990-1991.

From 1982 to 1988 she also served as Deputy Party Chairman. Kullmann was Minister of Trade  from 1989 to 1990. In 1991 she was elected chairman of the Conservative Party, succeeding Jan P. Syse, but resigned after only four years in 1994.

After leaving parliament in 1997 Ms. Kullmann has been a Managing Director in Aker RGI and since 2002 she has served as an advisor. She is a member of the Board of Directors in Statoil, Norway's largest oil company, in Scheiblers Legacy and in SOS Kinderdorf, Norway and Head of the Board of Directors of the Radio Channel P4. Ms. Kullmann is married to Carsten O. Five, former editor of the magazine Dine Penger (Your Money).

Sissel Marie Rønbeck, 59, is a Norwegian politician for the Labour Party. She was Minister of Administration and Consumer Affairs from 1979-1981, Minister of Environmental Affairs from 1986-1989, and Minister of Transport and Communications from 1996-1997.

Between 1981 and 1993 she was a parliamentary representative for Oslo in the Norwegian legislature, the Storting. She is currently deputy director of the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage (Riksantikvaren).

Sissel Marie Rønbeck became engaged in politics when she was in her teens. She worked for the youth organization of the Labour Party in 1970-1972 and was chairman of the organization from 1975-1977.

Later she held different leading positions within the Labour Party. She was a member of the Storting in 1981-1993; a cabinet minister from 1979-1981, 1986-1989 and in 1996-1997. When she left the Storting in 1993, she became deputy director of the Directorate for Cultural Heritage (Riksantikvaren). Sissel Rønbeck has been a member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee since 1994.

The committee chairman said after awarding the 2002 prize to former Democratic President Jimmy Carter, for his mediation in international conflicts, that it should be seen as a "kick in the leg" to the Bush administration's hard line in the buildup to the Iraq war. 

Five years later, the committee honored Bush's adversary in the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore, for his campaign to raise awareness about global warming.

Ms. Ytterhorn told the Associated Press that the prize could be seen as praising Obama's reversal of Bush administration policies: "I guess you could read it like that."

The award appeared to be at least partly a slap at Bush from a committee that harshly criticized Obama's predecessor for his largely unilateral military action in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Ms. Valle, who joined the prize committee in 2009, said she expects Bush supporters to criticize the decision to award Obama: "Those who were in support of Bush in his belief in war solving problems, on rearmament, and that nuclear weapons play an important role .. probably won't be happy," she said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele said Obama won because of his "star power" rather than meaningful accomplishments.

The Nobel committee said it paid special attention to Obama's vision of a nuclear-free world, laid out in a speech in Prague and in April and at the United Nations last month.

Scott Stockdale is a freelance writer based in Toronto.

  • Think green before you print
  • Respond to the editor
  • Email
  • Delicious
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • MySpace
  • StumbleUpon
Subscribe to the E-bulletin

The West's War on Venezuela - Why Canada is Wrong

Subscribe to our YouTube Channel