December 10, 2019

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Jumping the gun on Nobel nominations

Editorial

So, let’s try this one on for size: Donald Trump, Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The moment the U.S. president’s nomination for this honour was announced — submitted last week by two members of Norway’s ruling Progress Party, which favours limited immigration and lower taxes — observers of American politics took their familiar, deeply entrenched positions.

On one side, some were inclined to shout, "Of course!" in response to the nomination, in the wake of Mr. Trump’s recent peace-seeking summit in Singapore with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. On the other, uproarious laughter was the more likely response from opponents who question the president’s grasp of the complexities of international relations and don’t believe the handshake-and-photo-op occasion accomplished anything of substance.

If you’re in the latter category, you probably think it’s outrageous that Mr. Trump’s push for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula — which at this stage amounts only to a loosely framed statement crafted after a few hours of conversation — would merit consideration for the world’s top peacekeeping recognition.

According to the will of Swedish industrialist/inventor Alfred Nobel, which established the award in 1901, the Peace Prize is given to a person who "shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

A record 330 nominations were received for the 2018 prize. Mr. Trump’s nomination did not meet this year’s deadline, so his eligibility would necessarily be considered for the 2019 award.

Such a delay would allow for thoughtful deliberation of exactly how much progress is made toward dismantling North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. And if — and it’s a very, very big "if" — the next 12 months produce actual, verifiable, enforceable steps that indicate Mr. Kim is serious about ratcheting down the nuclear tensions he has spent the past half-decade cranking up, the nomination might not seem so silly, after all.

In the event of even minimal positive movement on North Korean denuclearization, one thing that’s certain is the notion of nominating the current U.S. president for a Peace Prize will be no more dismissible than the idea that led to actually giving the Nobel award to his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Mr. Obama, you might recall, received the award in 2009, after less than a year of White House duty (his nomination came just two weeks after his inauguration), for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples." Specifically, it was linked to Mr. Obama’s promotion of nuclear non-proliferation in the Middle East and efforts to foster a new climate in international relations, particularly his outreach to the Muslim world.

Mr. Obama said he was "surprised" and "deeply humbled" by the honour. Critics, and there were many, declared the prize premature and based more on Mr. Obama’s image and charisma than any actual achievement. A triumph of aspiration over accomplishment, perhaps.

Some even described the award as outrageous — the same term attached by skeptics to last week’s nomination of Mr. Trump.

Given the current geopolitical climate, it’s too early to make such an assessment of Mr. Trump’s Nobel-worthiness. Time will tell.

But for now, the notion of Donald Trump: Nobel Prize winner is as premature as was the idea of Barack Obama: Nobel Prize winner nearly a decade ago. Each probably says more about the legitimacy of the award than the achievements of the man.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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