The decision to award the highly prestigious Nobel Peace Prize to United States President Barack Obama has clearly taken the world by surprise even as Mr. Obama himself seems a bit overwhelmed by the extraordinary gesture. It reflects the tremendous hope that has underlined the emergence of Mr. Obama as a world figure on whom is placed the burden of enormous expectations. The Nobel committee’s logic appears to be a proactive one. The peace prize is not just about recognising achievement. It is also meant to be a catalyst for positive change. The entire world knows that Mr. Obama has triggered strong opposition from the American establishment for his bold ideas on nuclear disarmament, his advocacy of dialogue with Iran, North Korea, and even Myanmar, and his emphasis on the need for a just resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute based on mutual recognition of the inalienable rights of both peoples to security and sovereignty. If the President has so far managed to take only baby steps in the direction of all these goals, one reason could be the extent to which his ideas are being opposed by entrenched interests and lobbies in the U.S.
This said, the conferring of the Nobel award on a leader young in office and still relatively untested has evoked criticism. The decision has been seen in some quarters as premature, going against the tradition which has indeed boosted the Nobel Peace Prize’s prestige, that the award is given in recognition of actual achievements in bringing about peace. Like every politician with a feel for global politics and power, Mr. Obama must long have nurtured the ambition of achieving that recognition. He might have preferred winning the award when the fruits of his promised diplomatic exertions become a little more apparent. The gestation period for the birth of peace in West Asia is obviously longer than the nine months Mr. Obama has been in the White House for. The promised abolition of nuclear weapons would not happen in his lifetime, the U.S. President has famously said in Prague earlier this year. But intermediate arms control can be accomplished in a matter of months and it would seem that the Norwegians could have waited at least until 2010 when his selection would have looked less arbitrary and premature. Perhaps the Nobel committee hopes the peace prize will increase Mr. Obama’s domestic bargaining power while simultaneously making it harder for him to abandon the course he has set should the political pressure get unbearable. Yet this high level assertion of faith in Mr. Obama’s sincerity and capability should make it easier for him to take bold strides in diplomatic initiatives in West Asia and on the disarmament front.