Gamed: Why the Nobel Prize lacks credibility

Serial offender Henry Kissinger got the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, a year after ordering the strategic bombing of Vietnam
Serial offender Henry Kissinger got the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, a year after ordering the strategic bombing of Vietnam, Photo: AFP

A delusion many people harbour is that the Nobel awards are fair and impartial. These are the same people who believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. But look at the cold facts in an objective light and you will discover that the Nobel Prize is gamed. In fact, the Nobel Academy judges can sometimes give a matchfixing bookie a run for his money.

Here is a short list of people that even a blind judge could not have missed: Mohandas Gandhi (rejected all forms of violence), Dmitri Mendeleyev (the Russian scientist famous for the Periodic Table), Leo Tolstoy (perhaps the greatest novelist of all time; also rejected violence), U Thant (played a key role in defusing the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis) and Anton Chekhov (one of the world’s greatest writers).

For all his failings as a political leader, Gandhi should have been a shoo-in for the peace prize. Many people of British origin living in different parts of the world owe their existence to Gandhi because he prevented the Indian revolutionaries from carrying out a massacre of their forefathers — the 100,000-odd British soldiers, bureaucrats and civilians ruling India. Despite the fact that the British were indulging in massacres in India, the Norwegians — who annually award the Nobel Peace Prize — did not want to ruffle any feathers in Britain by honouring Gandhi.

On the contrary, Norway had no problems awarding the peace prize to Henry Kissinger in 1973. There is a special place in hell for Kissinger, the former US secretary of state, who was responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and okaying Operation Linebacker — the strategic bombing of North Vietnam. American satirist Tom Lehrer said the award “made political satire obsolete”.

Kissinger was a serial offender. Just two years earlier, he had winked at Pakistan’s massacre of nearly 3 million Bengalis, mostly Hindus, in East Pakistan or modern Bangladesh. He had described Indians as “bastards” for putting an end to the genocide.

The Norwegians were red-faced when North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho, who was jointly awarded the prize, declined it, saying peace in Vietnam was a big lie. Kissinger had no such scruples and accepted the prize “with humility”.

Left out Leo Tolstoy was denied due to Sweden’s bias against Russia
Left out Leo Tolstoy was denied due to Sweden’s bias against Russia

Presidential follies

By giving the 2009 peace prize to US President Barack Obama even as he was ramping up the war in Afghanistan, and in 2012 to the European Union after it had bombed and destroyed Libya, the Nobel awards gave tacit approval for war. It was almost Orwellian. Russian channel RT commented: “Sometimes the makers of permanent war are awarded for bringing temporary peace.”

Obama was not the first American president with a penchant for war to be honoured by the Nobel Academy. Irwin Abrams writes in the book The Nobel Peace Prize and the Laureates (1988) that Theodore Roosevelt “showed his determination to see the US as a great power using military force, primarily in the Caribbean, and this even in the year he became a Nobel Laureate”. Many American newspapers found the award curious, and The New York Times later commented that “a broad smile illuminated the face of the globe when the prize was awarded… to the most warlike citizen of the US”.

US president Woodrow Wilson was awarded the peace prize in 1919 for his sponsorship of the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations. But Wilson was a racist whose administration wreaked havoc on the government careers of thousands of African-Americans in the 1910s, says Eric Yellin, associate professor of History and American Studies at Richmond University, Virginia.

“In 1912, and when Wilson arrived in the nation’s capital in March 1913, he brought with him an administration loaded with white supremacists,” Yellin writes in the online literary magazine Berfrois. “His lieutenants segregated offices, harassed black workers and removed black politicians from political appointments that had been held by black men for more than a generation.”

It was Wilson who introduced segregation in the US civil service, which had offered social mobility for black Americans.

Another nasty character honoured by the Norwegians was Cordell Hull. The American, who received the peace prize in 1945 for his role in establishing the UN, was directly responsible for condemning hundreds of Jews to the Holocaust.

In what is known as the St Louis crisis, in June 1939, Hull threatened to withdraw support to US president Franklin Roosevelt if the ship SS St Louis, carrying 950 Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, was allowed to dock in an American port. Lobbying by Hull, and the Christian Right, ensured the Jews were not allowed to enter the US but had to return to Europe, where the Germans despatched more than a quarter of them to the gas chambers.

Last year, the peace prize could have easily gone to Vladimir Putin. While the Americans, their NATO allies and the Gulf vassals had wanted to bomb Syria into the Stone Age, it was the Russian president’s forceful intervention that averted war in West Asia. Think about it, besides a terrible loss of life and the very real chance of sucking in everyone into an Arabian Armageddon, war would also have sent the world economy into a tailspin.

Europeans preferred

Ever wondered why famous Indian author RK Narayan never received the Nobel? According to the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter the Nobel Academy prefers to pick European authors. “Since 1995, 85 percent of the winners have been Europeans,” it said in a 2008 article. In the nine years starting 1999, the Nobel Academy chose seven European winners and only two from outside Europe.

Also, Sweden’s historic antipathy towards Russia is the reason why neither Tolstoy nor Chekhov got the prize.

The Nobel judges are not above bribery and corruption either. In 2008, Harald zur Hausen bagged the Nobel Prize for medicine for discovering that HPV (human papilloma virus) causes cervical cancer. But even as the Swede was basking in his newfound glory, he was being investigated by the police. It emerged that AstraZeneca, a pharmaceuticals company with stakes in HPV vaccines, had close links with key members of the selection committee. Further investigations revealed AstraZeneca was also sponsoring the Nobel website.

Causes of bias

While European ethnocentrism is clearly at work in the fields of science and literature, in the peace prize a deciding factor is Norway’s geopolitical tilt. As a NATO member, Norway reflects the prejudices that are inevitable because of the country’s entanglement in the military alliance.

Francis Sejersted, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee in the 1990s, said without mincing words: “The Prize… is not only for past achievement… The Committee also takes the possible positive effects of its choices into account… Awarding a Peace Prize is, to put it bluntly, a political act.”

In fact, in a rare moment of candour, the Nobel Academy questions its own competency: “Is a committee that is constituted only by members of the political establishment in one small West European nation really capable of assessing who — in the whole world, in the preceding year — has done the most for peace? Is it not likely that their decisions will be marked by ethnocentricity, or by some kind of ideological bias?”

India has always been a target of the West’s propaganda apparatus. By awarding the prize jointly to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel committee has managed to hyphenate India and Pakistan yet again. The message is: it does not matter if you make it to Mars, you are no better than the Pakistanis.

Sankrant Sanu writes in Niti Central: “The verdict is still out on Satyarthi and the Nobel on whether he is a hero manufactured by western institutions for their own interests or a simple, unassuming human rights worker. Given the pattern of funds… and relationships with evangelical organisations such as World Vision, we should take our newly minted hero with a grain of salt.”

Impact of the Nobels

Will giving the peace prize to Malala make a difference in Pakistan? Sure — the Pakistani Taliban has promised more violence. And you can assume they will carry out more attacks on women and schoolchildren just to show who’s the boss in Pakistan’s wild west.

In a detailed study titled The False Promise of the Nobel Peace Prize, University of Minnesota professor Ronald Krebs says the peace prize has more often brought the heavy hand of the State down on dissidents and has impeded, rather than promoted, conflict-free liberalisation.

For instance, awarding the peace prize to pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, women’s activist Shirin Ebadi and the Dalai Lama only strengthened the hand of hardliners in Myanmar, Iran and China, respectively. It brought zero benefits to the awardees or their cause.

The Dalai Lama was awarded the prize in October 1989. Krebs shows what happened next: between November 1989 and April 1990, the Chinese executed 2,000 Tibetans, imprisoned countless more, banned religious processions and forbade even burning of incense in Tibet.

It was a clear message from China to the West: we will not be bullied, so do not ever piss us off.

In the backdrop of the power shift from the West to the East, a new set of awards — perhaps a BRICS Prize — would not be such a bad idea. India, China and Russia should take the lead by banning their citizens from accepting the biased Nobels that are focussed on advancing the western agenda. Other countries not aligned to the West will follow the BRICS initiative.

Clearly, it is time to move away from the Nobel Prize, which ironically rests on the foundations of war — the legacy of Alfred Nobel, a weapons magnate and the inventor of dynamite.


  1. @Nilotpal… Nobel not Noble throughout your post. Your first statement if it is true then is actually supports in a way the tenor of the article. There are too many suppositions regarding what you say about Gandhi ji not being given the Peace prize. & as examples…

    In general I agree to some of your points they are very valid.

    @Aswin in my opinion your opinion vis a vis the comment and the main article is too facetious and does not reflect much of any kind of thought process!


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