The award for peace has always been the most controversial of the Nobel Prizes. Peace is of a very different nature than the other fields. The number of people qualified to judge who made the greatest contribution to chemistry, for example, is rather small, and controversy is therefore usually muted.
We can all see peace and moral heroism though. The problem is that we cannot measure it.
How does one quantify who has caused the most “peace” in the last year? What barometer exists to measure goodwill created in the hearts of humanity?
Such questions are impossible to resolve. The Nobel Committee makes a heroic attempt to overcome this every year and often ends up failing. Plenty of deserving people are never recognized and plenty of awards are thrown away in transparent political gestures instead.
This is perhaps why there was such worldwide disappointment when the 2013 winner was revealed to be not 16-year old Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, but disarmament group the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
I would argue such disappointment is misplaced. Any group that has lauded Yasser Arafat as a peacemaker in the past will always have my skepticism, but this year I think they made a great choice.
Alfred Nobel’s will states the Peace Prize should go “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
That the OPCW fulfills that requirement should be clear to the most jaded of observers. The OPCW’s work in Syria has grabbed the headlines, and rightly so, but they did not spring into existence a month ago the way some seem to believe.
Since being formed in 1997 they have overseen the destruction of the chemical arsenals of entire nations, including those of India and South Korea. Even in the best of conditions, rendering vats of neurotoxins so deadly a drop of them could kill you in minutes harmless is time consuming and difficult.
The OPCW is now being tasked to do it in an active war zone. Regardless of what you think of the genuineness of Assad or the realistic possibilities of destroying the Syrian arsenal, that is in and of itself worthy of the world’s respect.
Malala is hardly the only deserving candidate to draw the short straw. The Nobel Prize nominee list is made up of some of the best people alive on this planet, almost all of whom deserve recognition they will probably never get. Consider some of the other front-runners who fell short.
Dr. Denis Mukwege of the Congo lacks star power, but he has helped an estimated 30,000 rape victims from the Congo’s brutal ongoing war and survived an assassination attempt after speaking to the UN about the world’s blind eye to mass rape in his country.
Claudia Paz y Paz, Latin America’s first female attorney general, has risked her life bringing major figures in organized crime and public life to justice in Guatemala, one of the world’s most violent countries. That includes the trial of ex-dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide, making Guatemala the only country in history to put one of its own former leaders on trial for such crimes against his own people.
Mukwege and Paz no doubt would have made excellent use of the prize money and publicity to help their causes, as would dozens of others. But we cannot give awards to all of them.
Instead of faulting the Committee for not picking the same person we would have, let’s just leave that all aside and recognize that risking your life to destroy horrific neurotoxins is a noble act and one deserving of our praise. There are not enough people in the world like the OPCW and we should celebrate, not complain about, the ones that we do have.