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Nobel Peaced together

"I had tried hard, attempted the right things, was not always successful ... I never was able to convince the American people that I was a forceful and strong leader." That is how Jimmy Carter summed up his presidency (1977-81) in retrospect. Elected to the highest post in the U.S. during the national furore over U S intervention in Vietnam, Carter prioritised human rights over aggression, dialogues over militancy, cancelled some weapons systems, and became known as the President "who never sent a U.S. soldier into war". He may be best remembered for coaxing Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and the Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to sign a historic peace accord at Camp David. But Carter was no hero to his people. Not only was he accused

Was your choice of Jimmy Carter for the Nobel Peace Prize 2002 prompted by the need to chastise a war mongering George Bush?

THE Committee has felt slightly guilty about the fact that Carter did not get the peace prize in 1978, when he brought off the Camp David peace accord between Israel and Egypt. Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin shared the prize, but Carter missed it by not being nominated before the expiry of the deadline, though he was the crucial mediator of their agreement.

Carter has not been the most successful U.S. President, but he has been a most successful ex-president. Ever since he left office, he has been working very hard to promote democracy, human rights, conflict resolution, health, progress. He travels around the world observing elections. He has set up the Carter Centre to promote socio-economic development in deprived regions.

Then why did the committee refer to the threats in today's politics?

We thought we should point out that his achievements and general approach to international politics are different from those of the present day administration. We added a final paragraph placing Carter in today's context.

As President Carter has faced failures, both in and out of his country, like the hostage rescue effort in Iran, high inflation, energy crisis ...

Oh, Carter's missions have not all been successful. But we want to stress the importance of trying to promote peace, even when, especially when, success is not guaranteed. We have in him a wonderful example of an ex-president who, contrary to some of his predecessors and successors, has devoted all his energy and resources after retirement, to the promotion of peace, democracy, human rights.

How strong was Bono's candidature?

(Laughs) I think it is an interesting nomination, a serious one. He is using his vast pop credentials for a good cause, trying to alleviate starvation and poverty. That is wonderful. (pause) I don't know if I should really say this. But he was not on the shortlist.

Why did Alfred Nobel want Norway to choose the Peace Prize, when Sweden is in charge of all other categories?

He gave no reason. We don't know what prompted him to do so. There are probably three explanations. Remember that in 1895 Norway was in union with Sweden. Nobel lived most of his life abroad and saw the two nations more or less as one. He might have wished the junior partner to get to award at least one prize.

Nobel was also somewhat critical of Swedish values. He saw Sweden as elitist, hierarchical, as having had a warlike history, and Norway as more peace-oriented and democratic. In the 1890s there had been a strong interest in the Norwegian Parliament in the peaceful resolution of international problems. This probably influenced him. Besides, Nobel admired Norwegian writers, particularly peace activist and Nobel laureate (literature) Bjornstjerne Bjornson.

Why are there fewer debates over prizes for science?

While it is virtually impossible for the common man to have an opinion on who should receive the prize for physics or medicine, everybody can have strong opinions about peace and literature. We see this as an advantage. We are not afraid of controversy. Some of our most successful prizes have been controversial. Way back in 1936, the nomination of Carl von Ossietzky, the anti-militarist who was a symbol of resistance against Nazism, enraged Adolf Hitler so much that he made it impossible for three German scientists later to go and pick up their prizes in Stockholm. This caused great strain in German and Norwegian relations. Two members stepped down from the committee.

There were furious debates in many European nations. However, many consider this the highlight in our 101 year prize history. I am not saying that we should always try to be controversial, but we shouldn't shy away from controversy. The Chinese were very critical of our choice of the Dalai Lama and so were the Burmese authorities when we opted for Aung San Suu Kyi. We had followed her struggle, deeply impressed by her inner strength and stamina. We were hoping she would be able to come to Norway to deliver the Nobel lecture. We understand there are other things she must attend to, but she has said many times that the first country she will visit will be Norway.

Could Alfred Nobel have established the peace prize because he was prompted by a sense of guilt as the inventor of dynamite?

Nobel was a very complex man. True, he made his money primarily in dynamite, it was the most significant of his many inventions. But he didn't feel particularly guilty about it. He wrote to his friend Bertha Von Suttner, the Austrian writer who won the peace prize in 1905, that his invention (dynamite) would do more to promote peace than her peace congresses! He had great sympathy for peace movements and contributed funds to them.

Is the Nobel Committee's decision based on the number of nominations a candidate gets?

Not at all. Some laureates have had just a single nomination.

There has been some criticism of lack of young members in the committee.

And women?

It is inevitable that most members will be middle aged because it is difficult for young people to have the basis of achievement to qualify them as selectors for the prize. But we have had four laureates who have received the Peace Prize in their mid-30s. I will tell you something interesting. In the last four years the committee has had a majority of women, but has not chosen a single woman laureate. We have had 10 women peace laureates in all. Not a strong record, but it is okay.

Omissions that you regret?

Gandhi! The committee had more or less decided to give him the prize for 1948 when he was assassinated. This was seen as such a big complication that they decided to withhold the award that year.

Why not a posthumous award?

Posthumous awards were possible then (not any more). Difficult to pinpoint any specific reason for not giving it then, or earlier for that matter. I think it is a combination of theories. Not really paying attention to what was going on in a country like India as members should have done. Possibly it was misguided deference to Great Britain. The Committee was also influenced by the partition of India in 1947 and the bloodshed that followed.

All the more reason to recognise the man who stood up against the atrocities.

Yes. Gandhi could manage without the Peace prize but the Peace prize should not have managed without Gandhi.

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