In Retrospect

Feeding war on peace?

The Nobel Peace Prize to three anti-Russia entities amid the war in Ukraine entails the long-prevailing Western strategy of sustaining conflicts which, in the present scenario, may take Russia closer to China in the bipolar world order

Feeding war on peace?

The Nobel Peace Prize has, for most of its history, been the subject of numerous disagreements. The most recent prize for 2022, awarded to human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski from Belarus, the Russian human rights organization Memorial and the Ukrainian human rights organization Centre for Civil Liberties, is also marred with controversies. "The Peace Prize laureates represent civil society in their home countries," Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said in announcing the awards. "They have for many years promoted the right to criticize power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens." The committee said its choices reflected its desire to honor the champions of "human rights, democracy and peaceful coexistence" in the neighboring countries of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.

This year's Nobel Peace Prize, announced on October 7, is seen by many as a condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was celebrating his 70th birthday on that day. The prize was an implicit rebuke to Putin, whose tenure has been punctuated with violent crackdowns on dissidents and critics at home. "On Putin's 70th birthday, the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to a Russian human rights group that he shut down, a Ukrainian human rights group that is documenting his war crimes, and a Belarusian human rights activist whom his ally Lukashenko has imprisoned," Kenneth Roth, former executive director of Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter.

Quoting the New York Times and the Reuters, the Telegraph has reported that the award has echoes of the Cold War era, when prominent Soviet dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn won Nobel for peace and literature. It may be recalled that in 2021, Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the Russian Novaya Gazeta, one of the few independent newspapers in Vladimir Putin's Russia, was a co-winner of the Prize for his "efforts to safeguard freedom of expression", reported The Hindu.

From 'Merchant of Death' to supporter of peace

The Nobel Foundation is a private institution founded on 29 June 1900 to manage the finances and administration of the Nobel Prizes. In many ways, the Nobel Foundation is similar to an investment company, in that it invests Nobel's money to create a solid funding base for the prizes and the administrative activities. The Nobel Foundation is exempt from all taxes in Sweden (since 1946) and from investment taxes in the United States (since 1953). Since the 1980s, the foundation's investments have become more profitable.

Alfred Nobel — a wealthy Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite — had been subjected to controversy due to his gained wealth from an invention used in conflicts and wars. In 1894, Nobel purchased the Bofors iron and steel mill, which he made into a major armaments manufacturer. Nobel also invented ballistite. He amassed a fortune during his lifetime, with most of his wealth coming from his 355 inventions, of which dynamite was the most famous.

As the inventor of dynamite and other explosives, Nobel did not have the best public image. In fact, when his brother Ludvig died, a French newspaper confused him with Alfred and used the headline: "The merchant of death is dead." It then stated that Nobel "became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before." It is believed that the premature obituary was possibly what motivated Nobel to create the namesake prizes in order to enhance his legacy.

On November 27, 1895, Nobel signed his last will and testament that the largest share of his fortune would go to a series of prizes. In Nobel's will, one part was dedicated to "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses". Five years after his death, the first awards were handed out in 1901. The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the five awards given in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace. Although economics was not included as one of the five Nobel Prizes that were established by Alfred Nobel's will in 1895, the economics award, established in 1968, is administered and referred to along with the Nobel Prizes.

Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel Prizes, except for the Peace Prize, are presented in Stockholm, Sweden, at the annual Prize Award Ceremony on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death. But the Peace Prize and its recipients' lectures are presented at the annual Prize Award Ceremony in Oslo, Norway, usually on December 10. The Norwegian Nobel Committee – composed of five members appointed by the Norwegian parliament – is responsible for selecting the Nobel Peace Prize laureates.

It is unclear why Alfred Nobel wished the Peace Prize to be administered in Norway, which was ruled in union with Sweden at the time of Nobel's death. The Norwegian Nobel Committee speculates that Nobel may have considered Norway better suited to awarding the prize, as it did not have the same militaristic traditions as Sweden. It also notes that at the end of the 19th century, the Norwegian parliament had become closely involved in the Inter-Parliamentary Union's efforts to resolve conflicts through mediation and arbitration.

In his article, 'The Nobel Peace Prize: 1901-2000', the former secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and director of the Nobel Institute, Geir Lundestad, summarized the most frequent guesses about Alfred Nobel's possible motivations for asking the Norwegians to select members for the Nobel Peace Prize awarding committee. He wrote, "Nobel left no explanation as to why the prize for peace was to be awarded by a Norwegian committee while the other four prizes were to be handled by Swedish committees. On this point, therefore, we are dealing only with educated inferences. These are some of the most likely ones:

• Nobel, who lived most of his life abroad and who wrote his will at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris, may have been influenced by the fact that, until 1905, Norway was in union with Sweden. Since the scientific prizes were to be awarded by the most competent, i.e., Swedish committees at least the remaining prize for peace ought to be awarded by a Norwegian committee.

• Nobel may have been aware of the strong interest of the Norwegian Storting (Parliament) in the peaceful solution of international disputes in the 1890s. He might have in fact considered Norway a more peace-oriented and more democratic country than Sweden.

• Finally, Nobel may have been influenced by his admiration for Norwegian fiction, particularly by the author Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, who was a well-known peace activist in the 1890s. Or it may have been a combination of all these factors.


The Nobel Peace Prize has often led to controversies. The prize committee has been accused of being politically motivated, subjective and sometimes basing the award on aspiration rather than achievements. The selection process has at times been marred by accusations of sexism, racism and the award committee being Eurocentric. Further criticism holds that the Nobel Peace Prize has become increasingly politicized, in which people are awarded for aspiration rather than accomplishment, which has allowed for the prize to be used for political effect but can cause perverse consequences due to the neglect of existing power politics.

Few major controversies

• Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, along with North Vietnam's Le Duc Tho, for brokering a cease-fire to end the Vietnam War. The award was highly criticized, not least because Kissinger had ordered a bombing raid of Hanoi while negotiating the cease-fire but Kissinger was also accused of several war crimes during the Cold War, including bombings in Cambodia in 1969 and 1970. Le Duc Tho declined his half of the award.

• In 1991 Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize when she was under house arrest during military rule of the country. Unfortunately, the Myanmar government launched a military campaign in 2017, when Suu Kyi was in power, that forced seven hundred thousand Rohingya to flee. The Rohigya genocide is considered as the worst genocide in recent years.

• Barack Obama's award of 2009 faced a wave of criticism. He received the prize in the first year of his presidency, which some considered too early. But it raised questions about the selection due to the Obama administration's involvement in wars in Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Yemen.

• In 2012 the peace prize was given to the EU "for over six decades contributing to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe". Critics flagged the fact that the EU was one of the biggest weapon producers in the world."

• Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the prize in 2019 for ending the 20-year conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia by establishing a peace agreement. However, a conflict started in northern Ethiopia in November 2020, and Abiy has been criticized for human rights violations and war crimes committed by his forces in the Tigray region.

• The 2022 peace prize is also criticized for mirroring the West's current geopolitical choice. The common thread among the winners of the Prize is that they stand, directly or indirectly, against Russia or an ally of Russia, reported Indian Express.

Role in facilitating new markets

Norman Ernest Borlaug, American agricultural scientist and plant pathologist, won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1970. Known as the 'Father of the Green Revolution', it is claimed that Borlaug helped to lay the groundwork for agricultural technological advances that alleviated world hunger. However, that never happened. According to the critics, the green revolution varieties undoubtedly had averted food shortages temporarily, but, said his obituarist Christopher Reed, they had not averted poverty. In fact, they might have added to it. According to FAO's chief economist, the present wheat and fertilizer supply shortages have driven up prices and increased food import bills for the most vulnerable countries by more than USD 25 billion, putting 1.7 billion people at risk of going hungry.

Critics allege that the long-term cost of depending on Borlaug's new varieties has reduced soil fertility, genetic diversity, and increased vulnerability to pests. Not only did Borlaug's 'high-yielding' seeds demand expensive fertilizers, they also needed more water. Both were in short supply, and the revolution in plant breeding was said to have led to rural impoverishment, increased debt, social inequality and the displacement of vast numbers of peasant farmers. The US agricultural science establishment, chemical and agribusiness industries love him because he helped their industries grow massively around the world on the back of patented seeds and herbicides, writes The Guardian.

In January 2002, CK Prahalad and Stuart Hart, professors at the University of Michigan and North Carolina, respectively, urged leaders to imagine the world's 4 billion poorest people as potential consumers — and described precisely how they could engage them profitably. The prophetic article was followed by the best-selling 2004 book, by CK Prahalad, of the same title. The Nobel Foundation had taken this advice very seriously and in 2006, they awarded Nobel Peace Prize to Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh. Earlier, Professor Yunus launched a research project to study how to design a credit delivery system to provide banking services to the rural poor which led to the formation of the Grameen Bank. The bank grew significantly between 2003 and 2007. Unfortunately, Yunus, his Grameen Bank and Grameen Telecom now face a number of serious charges against them.

It may be recalled that In November 2014, the then RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan had cautioned that one should not think of making a fortune while serving the poorest of the poor. The comments come in sharp contrast to management guru late CK Prahalad's views in his book and the tall claims made by Prof Yunus on the success of Bangladesh Grameen Bank.

Role in engineering an economy of apprehensions

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1987, the cold war came to an end, and the need for a huge defense budget for national security had been reduced considerably. In this transition phase, the Club of Rome came out with a new prescription in their widely-read book, the First Global Revolution (1991). The authors wrote: "New enemies have to be identified, new strategies imagined and new weapons devised. Searching for a common enemy against which we can unite, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine, and the like, would fit the bill."

Few global initiatives have been taken in the recent past to build innovative space for the expansion and creation of the world market by engineering a new 'economy of apprehensions' (Dey 2009). International consensus has been developed to wage wars against various apprehensions like (i) climate change (ii) terrorism and (iii) deadly viruses like AIDS and Corona. There are widespread apprehensions about the possible rise in sea level, occurrence of 'drought-like situations' due to climate change, possible losses of innocent lives due to a terrorist attack, and the possibility of getting infected with the HIV, Coronavirus etc. Preventive measures against these apprehensions have created a huge new economy of its own and it is growing very fast.

The Nobel Foundation has played its role in establishing these new markets, especially a huge market of green economy to combat climate change. The Nobel Peace Prize 2007 was awarded jointly to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr. "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change"

The decision of the Nobel Committee to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore and Barack Obama (2009) should be analyzed in the light of the Nobel Peace Prizes announced particularly after 2005 when the Kyoto Protocol came into force. This Nobel Prize to the serving US President attains more significance in the light of the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change in December 2009 where USA, which had not ratified the Kyoto Protocol (KP), was expected to make important announcements on emission reduction targets to make sure that the emission market and the associated economy that has been created to mitigate and adapt with the changing climatic condition thrive in future. On December 18, 2009, Barack Obama stepped into the chaotic final hours of the Copenhagen summit saying he was convinced that the world could act "boldly and decisively" on climate change.

Going by this trend, one would not be surprised if 2023 Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to Anthony Fauci, the face of US COVID fight, who has led the global war against the deadly Coronavirus with the help of untested vaccines which has created an enormous market for vaccines and cardiac medicines.


The Nobel Peace Prize 2022, awarded to recipients of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, and declared amid the worst conflict in that region since World War-II, is considered as one of the most politically contentious decisions in decades. It has echoes of the Cold War era when the Nobel Peace Prize was used to sustain the conflict between the blocs led by the USA and USSR. Geopolitical and economic strain is already pushing the world economy to consolidate into two blocs, led by China and USA respectively. The Nobel Peace Prize will certainly drive Russia closer to the emerging anti-USA bloc led by China.

Views expressed are personal

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