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Beall: The Nobel Prize for popularity

BY MIKE BEALL | OCTOBER 14, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last week and, for all intents and purposes, they deserve it. The Nobel Committee cited as a rationale for its decision the organization’s “extensive work to eliminate chemical weapons.”

The group is an intergovernmental organization comprising 190 member states dedicated to the discovery and prohibition of chemical weapons worldwide.

Its goals are noble, but I don’t think the coveted prize was awarded to it because of the work it has done or plans to do. There are many individuals and organizations that do great work to create a more peaceful world, but what sets the chemical-weapons group apart from the other finalists is that it was the most relevant Nobel finalist in the news. 

Had the prize been awarded two months ago, the organization probably would not have won the prize. In all likelihood Malala Yousafzai, the girl who stood up to the Taliban for girls’ education and was shot for it, would have won. Two months ago, she was more newsworthy than the chemical-weapons group.

But because of recent developments regarding the use and dismantling of chemical weapons in Syria, chemical weapons and the chemical-weapons group surpassed Malala in timeliness. The change in the last couple months has little to do with anything the group has done in regards to calming the situation in Syria but rather with that chemical weapons have captured the attention of the international community.   

Awarding this prize to the most newsworthy party has become a recent trend for the Nobel Committee. The Nobel Peace Prize has devolved into an almost irrelevant award based on politics and the hot topics of the day.

This year’s decision has not been marked by the controversy of the recent past, but it follows the same pattern. The European Union, President Obama, and Al Gore were all highly questionable recipients who were given the award because of the fame they each gained in their respective years, not because of their actions.

Obama’s 2009 Nobel Peace Prize seems particularly undeserved in retrospect, considering the military campaigns and domestic spying programs that have continued and even flourished during his administration.  

I might sound very critical, but these are only my observations. The award still holds an enormous amount of prestige, and most recipients have made great efforts to create a more peaceful world.

And this pattern has not yet solidified into a rule by which recipients are judged. Most notably, in 2011, the Nobel Committee ignored the major news stories of the year and gave the prize to three women’s rights activists instead of such newsmakers as Julian Assange of WikiLeaks or any individual involved with the Arab Spring. 

The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the greatest awards anyone could receive. Those who are given it are can be characterized by selflessness and a desire to create a better world and are given a large sum of money to continue their work. Unfortunately, the prize’s recent history is littered with individuals who perhaps beat out more deserving, but less popular competitors. To see the Nobel Prize continue on its current path would be a shame.


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