Can President Trump win the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his bringing North and South Korea together to sign a peace treaty “de-nuclearizing” the Korean peninsula? Should he? Will he? Three questions, possibly different answers. In my opinion they are “yes,” “yes,” and “perhaps.”
First, a little background for those who are unfamiliar with the Nobel Prize, how it’s awarded and, perhaps, who Nobel even was.
- The so-called Nobel Prize consists of five individual awards that recognize achievement or advances in Chemistry, Physics, Literature, Medicine and Peace. Following a lengthy nominating process, the first four are awarded by a board of prominent Swedish citizens; the peace prize honoree is selected by a Norwegian Nobel Committee. Aside from enduring fame, the winner, or laureate as it officially called, receives a gold medal, a diploma and a sum of money. In 2017 this sum was in excess of $1 million.
- The awards are named after Alfred Nobel, a renowned 19th century chemist, engineer and inventor. Nobel was born in Stockholm, Sweden on October 21, 1833. During his lifetime he amassed a fortune, primarily in the manufacture of armaments, notably explosives. He is credited with some 350 inventions. One of his most well-known was dynamite. In his will, he stipulated that his fortune be used to fund a series of “prizes” to be bestowed annually upon those that confer “the greatest benefit on mankind” in the abovementioned categories. The Peace Prize may be, and has been, awarded to an institution as well as an individual. Moreover, the prizes may be, and often have been, shared.
- Nobel died in 1896. (As an aside, in 1888 Nobel actually read his own obituary published in a French newspaper. The headline was “the merchant of death is dead.” Obviously, it was an error. In point of fact, it Nobel’s brother who had died.)
- A few individuals have been awarded more than one prize. Only one, however, Marie Curie, has been awarded prizes in two different disciplines (Physics and Chemistry). Furthermore, the extended Curie family has won four prizes.
What did the three US Presidents do to win their respective Peace Prizes?
- Teddy Roosevelt won in 1906 for mediating the terms of the Treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905).
- Woodrow Wilson won in 1919 for helping end WWI and for his staunch efforts in conceiving and promoting the League of Nations. Ironically, the League was DOA since the US never joined. In addition, many historians maintain that Wilson’s tireless and ultimately futile efforts to convince the US Senate to vote to approve the US’s joining the League contributed to his fatal stroke.
- Barack Obama won in 2009 for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” Obama was a curious choice. Some members of the committee denoted that he had only been President for a couple of weeks and had “not yet secured the achievements to merit such an accolade.” Obama, himself, was quoted as saying he did not feel deserving of such an award. He may have been just being modest, although if one compares his achievement to that of other laureates one would have to agree.
So, back to President Trump. What is his achievement? It relates to the Korean peninsula. The Korean War (officially a “conflict”) began on June 25, 1950. North Korea was supported mainly by China and the USSR. South Korea had the backing of the UN (basically, the US). After three years of often brutal fighting the parties agreed to an Armistice on July 27, 1953. No formal peace treaty was ever signed, so, technically, NOKO and SOKO are still in a state of war. Tensions have been very high for some 65 years. During this time, the US has been trying to ease tensions, but to no avail. Every president has failed.
Now, the tension has ratcheted up as NOKO is on the verge of becoming a nuclear power, if it has not already. President Trump has succeeded in getting NOKO at least to agree to join negotiations for denuclearization and other matters, possibly a treaty. We don’t know how it will end up, but at least we have a good start. For the first time a thaw in relations between NOKO and SOKO seems possible.
I realize that the selection of the Nobel laureates is based on politics as well as actual achievement. Therefore, Mr. Trump may be denied the prize many think he deserves, because many dislike him, personally, or disagree with his politics. In my view, however, personal or political factors should not be relevant. After all, Yasser Arafat, a terrorist, was selected as a laureate in 1994 for his efforts to make peace between Palestine and Israel. We can all see how that has worked out.
I maintain that President Trump has earned the award, regardless of the outcome of the negotiations. After all, efforts at peace have been recognized in the past, and we likely will not know the true outcome of the peace talks for many years.
The Nobel Committee may even deem it appropriate to award a share to Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-in. Okay by me.