Nobel Peace Prize for Barack Obama – premature but will it encourage other world leaders to be bold

In many ways the decision to award President Barack Obama the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize is a strange decision.

I am an enormous admirer of the new US President and delighted with many of the changes in the US stance on a wide range of topics that have been initiated in his first few months in office.  But so far these are all changes of stance.  They have yet to be translated into solid achievements.  I hope they will be.

However, to quote former Governor of New York, Mario Cuomo: “You campaign in poetry, you govern in prose.”  Obama is of course now governing, but his foreign policy initiatives are still by and large at the campaign stage.  Making things happen is genuinely difficult; wishing for them is easier.

Thus, the Nobel citation stresses his “vision”, the “new climate” he is creating whereby “dialogue and negotiation” are the preferred instruments for resolving conflicts, and the “more constructive role” that the USA is taking on climate change.  The citation is right that all of these are a breath of fresh air and potentially set a new direction with a values-based approach to global issues.

Capitalising on this new direction and achieving sustainable solutions to these global issues, however, necessarily remains a long way off.  Normally, the Nobel Prize is awarded for a “result” or at the very least tangible progress – for example, US President Woodrow Wilson’s award in 1919 celebrated the achievements that had led to the formation of the League of Nations (even if the US Congress then declined to allow the USA to join).

Presumably, the intention of the award to Obama is to encourage other World Leaders to follow his lead.  I hope it succeeds, but I am not sure that that is the proper purpose of the Nobel Peace Prize.

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