New 'Peace' Prize Laureate Was Accessory to War

The Nobel Peace Prize committee has returned to its roots -- at least if the Associated Press is to be believed. Commenting on the committee's selection of the former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari, as this year's Nobel laureate, the AP wrote: "By selecting Ahtisaari, 71, a seasoned conflict mediator, the Norwegian award committee returned to honoring traditional peace work after years where they recognized accomplishments in economics and safeguarding the environment." Now, it is certainly true that the Nobel committee has in recent years made a practice of bestowing the award upon persons and/or organizations whose accomplishments, such as they are, bear no evident connection to matters of war and peace. Last year's award to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was only the most recent in a whole series of puzzling choices in this regard.

But on closer inspection the choice of Ahtisaari is no less puzzling and hardly any more "traditional." Traditionally -- i.e., when the bestowal of the prize really did have something to do with peace -- the idea was to bestow it upon persons and/or organizations that had actually contributed to achieving or fostering the latter in a concrete situation of conflict: notably, for instance, political leaders who had negotiated or championed peace agreements among hitherto warring parties. Think, for instance, of the 1994 award to Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, on the one hand, and Yasser Arafat, on the other, following the signing of the Oslo Accords.

Martti Ahtisaari, however, is best known for having his name attached to an agreement -- the famous "Ahtisaari Plan" for the final status of Kosovo -- to which the concerned parties, Serbia and the formerly merely provisional government of Kosovo, never in fact agreed. In the meanwhile, that plan is quite simply being imposed on one of the parties: namely Serbia, which has thereby seen a large chunk of its territory forcibly removed from its authority. (On the history and details of the "Ahtisaari Plan," see my December 2007 article "Ahtisaari or Bust.")