Commentators have been struggling to make sense of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, which went to the quarreling, rioting, and crisis-ridden multilateral morass that is the European Union. The Nobel commendation praised the EU “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.”
Among the saner responses to this was a column by former State Department adviser Christian Whiton, who asked “Is this a joke?” And, with a degree of lucidity that routinely eludes the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, speaking on Fox News (about 5 minutes into this clip), noted that if Europe has had peace “It’s not because of the European Union. It’s because of American power,” which, he pointed out, has sheltered Europeans for decades, and given them a chance to work out their differences.
But, with the EU enterprise lurching from one crisis to the next, with the Greeks and Spanish rioting over austerity, with the French and Germans bickering over bailouts (and with American power, perhaps not so coincidentally, in decline), much of the reaction to this prize defaulted to the rationale that the Nobel Committee was trying to give the EU a nudge away from the precipice. Or, as the the New York Times summed it up: “The decision sounded at times like a plea to support the endangered institution at a difficult hour.”
Does that bode well for the EU?
While the Nobel Peace Prize has had its good moments — Lech Walesa, Aung San Suu Kyi — it also has a record that suggests it can be something of a portent to be feared. Here are just a few highlights, or maybe lowlights, of the laureates over the years, and events subsequent to the prize:
1973: Jointly awarded to Henry Kissinger and Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho, for the Paris peace agreement on Vietnam. Tho refused the prize, and two years later South Vietnam fell to the guns, ravages, and reeducation camps of the communist North.
1990: Mikhail Gorbachev, president of the USSR. A year later, the USSR imploded, and Gorbachev was president of nothing (this was not actually part of the peace plan for which Gorbachev won his prize).
1994: Yasser Arafat, along with Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, “for their efforts to create peace in the Middle East.” You know how that went…
2000: Kim Dae Jung, president of South Korea, with special emphasis on his work for peace and reconciliation with North Korea. Kim’s Sunshine policy toward North Korea proved an abysmal failure; North Korea moved right along with the usual totalitarianism, further hostilities and ultimately to two nuclear tests; and Kim, soon after winning his Nobel, was engulfed in corruption scandals.
2001: Kofi Annan and the United Nations. The prize coincided with the near-zenith of corruption in the UN’s Oil-for-Food program in Iraq, which became the signature scandal of an Annan tenure that also encompassed peacekeeper rape, massive corruption in the procurement department, and the roots of the Cash-for-Kim transfers of cash and dual-use technology by the UN Development Program to the government of North Korea.
2002: Jimmy Carter. This was a late-in-the-day prize; Carter had already racked up an astonishing set of failures, from Iran’s Islamic revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan during his presidency, to his inspiration for a predictably doomed North Korean nuclear freeze deal in 1994, and so forth. But we can credit Carter for such post-prize feats as his continuing support for the Hugo Chavez electoral system in Venezuela.
2005: Mohamed ElBaradei and the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. In a fascinating book about the Nobel Peace Prize, Peace They Say, author Jay Nordlinger suggests that this was arguably the “very worst award” of the Nobel Committee. For almost 20 years, writes Nordlinger, the IAEA was “clueless about Iran.” ElBaradei himself, writes Nordlinger, seemed more interested in protecting the Iranian regime than in holding it to account.
2007: Al Gore and the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2009: Climategate.
2009: Barack Obama. Fill in the blanks…Even Obama himself, in the thick of a reelection campaign, hasn’t been citing this prize.
2012: The EU. Uh-oh.