Barack Obama doesn’t deserve to win the Nobel Peace Prize… just yet

A distinctly modest looking Obama, back in July 2007 (flickr user: Llima)
A distinctly modest looking Obama, back in July 2007 (flickr user: Llima)

The announcement that Barack Obama has won the Nobel Peace prize today came like a bolt out of the blue. How can a man who has been in office just nine months warrant such an accolade? Whilst I am completely pro-Obama, and think he’s getting an undeservedly harsh time in America over health care reform, this prize does seem absurd.

Obama had only been in office for two weeks when he was nominated for the award, and since then he has refused talks with the Dalai Llama (an earlier Nobel peace laureate) for fear of angering China. This is hardly the kind of behaviour that will bring about world peace. Obama has been  greatly ambitious in his aim of global nuclear disarmament, and it will be interesting to see how he goes about this, but so far (and I have to agree with the Saturday Night Live critics here) it is more talk than action.

Given three more years in office, Obama may well merit the Nobel Peace Prize. But giving it to him now, just as the honeymoon period wanes in the States, is surely evidence that the world is still celebrating him, whilst his electorate have started to see past the wave of hollow optimism which ushered in his presidency.

Obama becomes the fourth American president to win the Nobel Peace Prize and by far the fastest. Previously Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter have won the prize, but they had to wait five, six and 25 years respectively after their inauguration before becoming laureates. This context makes Obama’s nine months to win the prize all the more ludicrous. I am certain that the smooth-talking president will come out with a statement of modesty, and so he ought. His work to bring about world peace has only just begun.

7 thoughts on “Barack Obama doesn’t deserve to win the Nobel Peace Prize… just yet

  1. About the Dalai Lama. Obama’s policy of not trying to wind up China is precisely aimed at the Nobel goal of world peace. Certainly the previous US administration were more interested in the man’s status as an exiled leader of an oppressed minority, but there are bigger things at stake. China are the key to solving a number of the worlds problems, not least the volatility of North Korea and in securing a nuclear free future. These are much more ‘peaceful’ goals than democratic, but isn’t that exactly the point of the Nobel.

  2. He also heroically implored Netanyahu to cease all settlement building in the West Bank; a demand that has…completely ignored.

  3. The point is that the Prize wasn’t being awarded on what has been ‘warranted’ by whatever Obama has achieved thus far.

    Let us suppose there are two possibilities of Obama being awarded the prize:


    He is awarded the prize now (the actual case). Obama continues the work he is doing. Of course, much of that work has relied on conciliation with other governments. In some instances, as has been pointed out here, this has gone too far, or Obama has not pushed for enough in return. And still much of his political vision, both at home and abroad, remains concerning. Yet, Pakistan and Afghanistan notwithstanding, Obama certainly has made a great deal of progress in a very short period of time in radically recasting America’s image overseas. This process is fragile, especially the relationship between Obama and American voters.

    The Peace Prize will go some way towards sweetening this relationship, but, perhaps more importantly, will give Obama increasing foreign credibility. He will be able to demand more from (inter alia) the Chinese and Israelis. This is a good thing.


    The prize is awarded in (say) 6 years. Even allowing that Obama is re-elected, the prize is awarded essentially after his Presidency. Best case scenario, he becomes a new Jimmy Carter, becoming, in essence, a powerful foreign diplomat and ambassador. The Nobel Prize will strengthen his position, particularly abroad, and he will be able to do some good work. But he cannot achieve post-Presidency anything like that which he can achieve during his Presidency. Negotiations with foreign powers become essentially impotent without the force of the Presidency.

    The Nobel Prize has often been awarded ex-post to those who have done a great deal of good. And they have often ‘deserved’ it. But in some instances, its conferment has also strengthened and supported important causes (for example, in the instance of aung san suu kyi).

    It is remarkable that the Prize has been used almost exclusively for this latter purpose. But this is a change to be celebrated, not condemned.

  4. Think he’s totally justified for the award simply on the amount of optimism and faith he brings to everyone. Raw emotion can supplant the need for action.

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