Prize questions

The Nobel committee's choices seem confusing because its methodology is unknown.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded the Peace Prize to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an intergovernmental body which has been in the news for its role in disarming Syria. Last year, controversially, it had honoured the European Union, though its nations had projected military force overseas. Is the world running out of men and women of stature who have an interest in pece? Or are the times so confusing and the world so interconnected that no one is left clear of moral contagion?

The tendency to award the prize to organisations rather than individuals feels like a cop-out, perhaps because the methodology is unknown. Contrast Médecins Sans Frontières (laureates in 1999) with the International Atomic Energy Agency (2005). Or Amnesty International (1977) and George Catlett Marshall (1953, for the Marshall Plan). These are clearly more than choices of value. They are also choices of kind. Whether a candidate is part of the system or a counterpoint to it ought to make a difference. Prizeworthiness cannot be judged on impact alone but must allow for the odds against which it was achieved.

Negotiating this difficult terrain, organisations probably look like safer bets than individuals, from the vantage point of Oslo. The award to Barack Obama in 2009, when he had been in office only for a few months, had sparked demands for a recall. And the most scandalous award ever must have been the 1973 Peace Prize for Henry Kissinger and Viet Minh leader Le Duc Tho for steering the Paris Accord on Vietnam. Tho had refused, protesting violations of the accord. Kissinger had accepted gratefully. After such controversial choices, an organisation enforcing the Chemical Weapons Convention may look like a reliable hedge against criticism.

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