Does the Nobel Peace Prize matter?

Oct 12, 2012

The European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, a choice that celebrates Europe's post-World War II economic and political integration but comes as the 27-nation body confronts widespread criticism over its handling of a massive debt crisis that is by far the biggest challenge of its existence.

Does the prize really matter, and if so, how? What do you think about the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to the EU? Do they deserve this recognition?

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Has the Nobel Peace Prize become the Nobel Peace Prayer?  Does it reflect the actual accomplsihments of the recipient(s), or simply the politcal and cultural agenda of those who award the prize?


Is the prize losing it's moral authority because of how it is used? 


Let's get started?

Winston Churchill won for Literature in 1953. He was on the Peace short list for 1945, but didn't win.

Crazy, right?  Now I appreciate that some would see a politician who lead his nation at war as a less than ideal candidate for a peace prize, but in doing so, they would have to argue that there was no moral or ethical difference between the two sides in WWII, and really IS crazy!


There has been a weird moral calculus related to this prize for some time, as your reference makes clear, but it seems to be getting worse.  At least they found some way to acknowledge Mr. Chuchill!

Why not just give the Nobel Peace Price to the greatest planet in the solar system, Earth.

I hear you, but I actually think that what they are doing is worse than mindless self-congratulation and dilution of a meaningful award.  I think that they are polticizing the award in potentially dangerous and ugly ways.


The comittee's statments are clearly agressively post-nationalist, and are more concerned about the existance of national identity in Europe, than they are about the fact that the EU may fail for economic, not cultural or politcal reasons.


On top of that, the Chair of the group went to so far as to blame Europe's economic failures entirely on the United States in general, and on Lehman Bros. in particular! 

Europe hasn't started a World War in 50 years, so they've earned it. For some Nobel trivia, can you name the only head of state (living or dead) who was awarded a Nobel prize that wasn't for Peace?

Your trivia question was anticipated by our first commenter, and the answer is Winston Churchill for Literature.  As I pointed out, that decision simply underscores that the process has been damaged for some time.


To say that not starting a world war for 50 years merits the highest profile award for peace, especially in the case of Europe, is like saying that a former child abuser deserves Parent-of-the-Year for no longer beating his/her kids.   When you add to that the EU's response to the Balkan crisis, crises with various immigrant populations, and a host of other issues, not to mention the rising tide of violence in Greece, Spain and other locations, the whole things smacks of ugly fakery at worst, and naive silliness at best.

I recognize what has been accomplished on the larger continent relative to the past, but it is a bit ironic given that the EU has not been able to resolve the situation in member state Cyprus. Perhaps if the EU can show some out of the box thinking and flexibility in order to find a solution there on this still divided island that was accepted as a member state in 2004, the award would have even more meaning.

You are so correct -- both in your general observation about the EU, and your concrete example re Cyprus, whatever that solution might come to look like.


Of course, your comment surfaces the real shame of all this.  There is no new thinking in Europe.  Instead, we are witnessing a rising wave of old-fashioned ultra-nationalism bordering on fascism on the one hand, and morally ambiguous, post-nationalism on the other. Neither is new, and both are dangerous.


The prize committee land squarely in the latter camp and the prize is now almost always about reward that approach. 

Totally absurd.Absolutely bizarre.Completely out of sense.The decision to bestow the Nobel Peace Prize on European Union is utterly disgusting.Nobel Peace Prize to European Union. For what? For undermining world peace by causing a worldwide economic crisis! It can't get any worse than this.Alfred Nobel must be turning in his grave and trying to pronounce correctly "Thorbjørn Jagland."

Well, especially since you mentioned Mr. Nobel, who made a living creating explosives and then endowed a peace prize, you can at least endow the continuity of irony represetned by the EU getting the prize!


On a more serious not, blaming Europe alone for the economic crise facing the world, is as overly narrow as as Mr. Jagland blaming it all on the US.  In a global economy, we share responsibility.  While people can debate the proportion that different parties should bare, it seems safe to say that all could do better.

When you give it to Arafat, who was a mass murderer, it loses all credibility. The EU is a cop-out of a choice. If they wanted to make it relevant against, give it to the Pakistani girl who was just shot for promoting literacy.

Although the Middle East Peace process is a mess, and it personally pained me to see Arafat get the prize (along with Israeli leader Shimon Peres), that the two of them could come together, and that a mass-murdering terrorist could come to see the necessity of peace, is no small thing.


If peace ever comes to the Middle East, I actually think that the choice of Arafat and Peres will be seen as wise, if morally ambiguous.

Do you think the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to the EU will affect the public's perception of the EU in Spain and other member states instituting austerity measures?

Great question.  My 3 word answer: not one bit!  If anything, I think this will stimulate more anger from the typically nationalist/isolationist elements in places such as Spain and Greece, who will see it for what it was -- a sop meant to molify them offered by those who truly oppose any real national identity for any country in Europe.  It will make them dig in harder and behave even more foolishly.  Everyone loses.

What will the likely affect of the Nobel Peace Prize be in countries that currently maintain rather negative perceptions of the EU, such as Greece? Will the award successfully draw attention to the EU's humanitarian endeavours?

It will not, I think have that effect at all.  For starter, the "humanitarian endevours" of the EU are selective and even dubious.  They sit by when any conflict actually looms on their own doorsteps, and support action mostly when it is far away, costs them little, and allows them to avoid any real moral responsibility.


If anything, I think this will harden negative sentiment against the EU by those already most hostile.  They see a prize committee that rewards trans- or post-natinalism at the expense of national identity and local need.  Whether that is a fair characterization of the EU, it the prize givers have made that their own approach and want it to be the EU's as well. 

Do you think the EU being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize will mitigate the increasing Euroskepticism across the continent?

Agaon, NO!  And while I don't know if you are the creator of the term "Euroskepticism" or not, thank you for bringing it to our discussion!  Love it.


No, I think this was a politcal play by those who hate nationalism as much as ultra-nationalists hate the EU, and will only harden those differences.

I think the prize is mostly political rather than anything else. They really don't deserve the prize because when there is so much unrest there about the economies, there really is no peace. They did not manage their economies well at all.

I am open to people getting the prize in advance of the peace they work for being achieved.  In fact, the awarding of the prize can be quite useful in helping them to do so.  But let them at least be active peace pursuers!


In this case, as with past awards that were entirely politcal, awards including those to President Obama when he was barely in office, the International Atomic Energy Comission, and Al Gore,  it's about the committee's desire to make a politcal statement, not reward successful peace-makers, or peace-pursuers. 

The EU is understood by few and appreciated by fewer. I think the Nobel Peace Prize represents a strong recognition of the EU's accomplishments. This is particularly important giving the economic crisis it is currently suffering through. Many people forget that the EU and its forerunners were created in a desperate attempt to save the continent from war. By that measure, it has been a resounding success. More than six decades of peace among the European powers has led to an increasingly open, free, and prosperous society. Were they still alive, I believe that Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, and the other founding fathers of the EU would be immensely proud on this day. Congratulations to the EU. Keep up the good work.

I certainly appreciate your idealism, and agree that a Europe at peace for 60 years is quite an accomplishment.  That said, one could just as easily imagine celebrating that milestone by giving the prize to the United States for re-bulding post-war Europe, or more grotesquely, to Germany for starting WWII which lead to the devastation of Europe and the the awareness that war ultimately costs far more than one imagines.


When you add that analysis to the positively weird time of this, it's hard to take the award seriously, and easy to see how it was nothing more than a play for a particular politics, and totally unrelated to the EU's history which you describe so eloquently.

They should be so proud that during the ethnic cleansing of the Bosnian war, they issued statements saying that ethnic cleansing is to be frowned upon. And when it didn't stop, they issued more harshly worded statements. I can't believe the Peace Prize committee waited this long to reward such bravery. (Yes, this is sarcasm.)

And it's hard not to share it.  The EU has consistently taken stands based on how clean it can keep it's own hands, and how disengaged from tough moral questions it can remain -- especially when they fall closer to home.  That doesn't mean they do no good however -- not by a long shot -- but giving them this particular prize, at this moment, degrades the prize itself.

The "Nobel Wish for Peace Prize." Once again, they don't disappoint.

And to be clear, the idea that the prize can legitimately be awarded as the reflection of an aspiration, not only for a completed task, should not be dismissed.  But here, the committee claimed it was for attainments, and that is just not right.  If they want the prize to be aspirational, and it can be that way some years and not others, they need to be honest about that.  Instead, they avoid that issue and end up rewarding -- at least this year -- neither the pursuit of peace, nor it's attainment, but the pursuit of the committee's own politcal vision.

The EU absolutely deserved to win the Nobel Peace Prize. It is not the first time an organization has won, so a precedent has already been set. The EU, despite it's shortcomings and current economic crisis, is the antithesis of European history. A continent that suffered from incessant warfare for millenia has finally entered an era of peace and prosperity. Arguing that the EU does not deserve this prize belittles those who worked tirelessly to prevent the continent from being destroyed by another war. Europe now exists as an increasingly prosperous, free, and open society that deserves to be emulated in other parts of the world.

You are 1005 correct that organizations can, have, and sometimes should, win this prize.  And you are correct about the past 60 years being peaceful.  Of course most of that time of peace was maintained by the presence of a cold war, so the whole thing is abit more complicated than the picture you paint.  It was as much about the enemy of my enemy being my friend, and mutally assured (nuclear) destruction, than it was about some grand vision of peace.


When those fact are added to the my question about what Europe living in peace and prosperity you are looking at, I wonder how wise this really was, and that it puting it mildly.  Europe at peace?  Ultra-nationalism, neo-fascisim and hatred of immigrants is rising faster in Europe than it has in all of those past 60 years put together.  Prosperity?  They are rioting in the streets in at least half a dozen countries!


Can we learn from the Europeans in many way?  For sure!  But let's not lose perspective on what Europe is, and where it could be headed.

Well, our time is at hand and my hands are tired!  As always, thanks for so many interesting comments and questions.  I wish we had time for more of them.


Of course, we can continue this conversation if you find me on facebook or follow me on twitter @bradhirschfield.  Please do so.


'Til next week,


In This Chat
Brad Hirschfield
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is an author, radio and TV talk show host, and President of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. His On Faith blog, For God's Sake, explores the uses and abuses of religion in politics and pop culture. He wrote "You Don't Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism." Named as one of the nation's 50 most influential rabbis in Newsweek, and one of the top 30 "Preachers and Teachers" by, he is the creator of the popular series, Building Bridges, airing on Bridges TV, and co-host of the weekly radio show, Hirschfield and Kula: Intelligent Talk Radio. For more information see
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