President Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.”
Watching the President’s speech in reaction to the news this morning, I couldn’t help but appreciate his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize not “as a recognition of my own accomplishments,” but as “a call to action” to continue to work for nuclear disarmament and a new foreign policy based on diplomacy.
The Nobel Committee’s decision highlights the international community’s recognition of the window of opportunity the world has to address the grave threat posed by the more than 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world today and the importance of diplomacy in resolving and preventing conflict. Leadership by the US will play a critical role in determining what type of progress is made in carrying out this important agenda.
Robert Naiman at Just Foreign Policy sees the committee’s decision as a way of building momentum for a new approach to foreign policy and nuclear disarmament:
But anyone who thinks this award is unprecedented hasn’t been paying attention.
The Nobel Committee gave South African Bishop Desmond Tutu the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his leadership of efforts to abolish apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid wasn’t fully abolished in South Africa until 1994. The committee could have waited until after apartheid was abolished to say, “Well done!” But the point of the award was to help bring down apartheid by strengthening Bishop Tutu’s efforts. In particular, everyone knew that it was going to be much harder for the apartheid regime to crack down on Tutu after the Nobel Committee wrapped him in its protective cloak of world praise.
That’s what the Nobel Committee is trying to do for Obama now. It’s giving an award to encourage the change in world relations that Obama has promised, and to try to help shield Obama against his domestic adversaries. The committee is well aware that history is contingent and that Obama might fail. It knows very well that the same country that elected Obama also gave the world George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.
We should take to heart the “call to action” this award represents. Solutions to foreign policy challenges urgently need the public’s strong support. Negotiations with Iran have begun, but will Congress hold off on sanctions? The US and Russia are negotiating for a new treaty to reduce both our nuclear arsenals, but will the Senate ratify it? The President is struggling with how to address Afghanistan. Will he feel he has the public support to focus on non-military efforts, like diplomacy and aid, or will he feel that he must continue with a military strategy? So let’s continue to press our leaders in Congress and the Obama administration, showing our support for a foreign policy that relies on diplomacy and international cooperation as the best way to create a safer and more peaceful world.