x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Nobel Prize choice isn’t about peace

This year's Nobel Peace Prize award amounts to approval of a failure of diplomacy.

Admit it: until about a month ago, you had never heard of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Few people had. Just 16 years old and with a staff of only 500, the OPCW has until now been a respectable but minor ingredient in the alphabet stew of world organisations.

But this weekend the OPCW was struggling to cope with the attention of the world’s media. A Nobel Peace Prize will do that.

Still, the award raises some troubling issues. To consider them, it is useful to start with the last will of Alfred Nobel, dated 1895. He endowed the award for “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

Time changes everything: “peace congresses”, a fad in the inventor’s time, have largely been supplanted by the United Nations. The “person” part has not always been adhered to since 1904, when the Institute of International Law became the first organisation to win.

But flexibility should have some limits. The criteria for the Peace Prize have mutated considerably, as a glance at the list of recent winners shows. The European Union in 2012 and jailed Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo in 2010 were both cited for work on human rights, not peace per se. This year, many around the world hoped Malala Yousafzai would be named. She too is a beacon in the struggle for human rights but it must be said she has not really contributed to peace among nations. Nor had Barack Obama when he won in 2009.

Equally, the OPCW has not visibly built up “fraternity between nations” or reduced standing armies, either. The OPCW does what it was designed to do, and capably by all accounts. But has it advanced peace?

Indeed the OPCW’s presence in Syria may actually have harmed, not helped, the cause of peace – and of justice. The deal to have the OPCW neutralise Bashar Al Assad’s cache of killer chemicals may well prolong the regime’s life, since destroying Mr Al Assad’s chemical stockpile may open the way to a further multilateral accord, one leaving him in power – to continue using all his other weapons against “his” people.

Because Syria’s agony is the culmination of political and diplomatic failures, the best that can be said of this Nobel award is that it should remind the world that a just peace is elusive, with or without prizes.