Prof. Christine Ingebritsen, Director of the Center for West European Studies, just can’t rest when it comes to studying and teaching about the role of Scandinavian countries in international policy. So it came as no surprise when she launched an essay contest regarding the meaning of the Nobel Peace Prize to modern Norway. The essay contest was offered to students in the Department of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Washington. The winning essayist received the benefit of learning and also the opportunity to travel to Minneapolis for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize Forum.
This year’s contest winner is Kristianna Anderson, a sophomore student studying Norwegian Language and Literature and History at the University of Washington. She was born and raised on Anderson Island outside of Tacoma, Wash. She attended Covenant High School in Tacoma where she graduated cum laude in 2011. She spent the summer of 2011 teaching violin and cello at a music school in Davao, a city in the Philippines. Her passion for global initiatives inspired her to work with the Intensive English Language Program at the University of Washington. In her spare time she plays cello in a Seattle-based indie roots band, The Cellar Door. She will study at the University of Oslo in the fall. Her essay can be found below.
Small Country, Big Goal: Norway and the Significance of the Nobel Peace Prize
“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” These words Albert Einstein spoke are an ideal description of what the Nobel Peace Prize strives to convey. Established by Alfred Nobel in 1901, it is awarded by the Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo each year to those who 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.” The following essay will explore the history behind its origin as well as the significance of Norway bestowing the Nobel Peace Prize.
Alfred Nobel was born in 1833 Stockholm, Sweden. His father was an inventor and engineer, which contributed to Alfred’s fascination with science from a young age. Alfred was particularly interested in explosives and chemistry, and by 1857 he had filed for his first patent. By far his most famous invention is dynamite, which he debuted in 1867. At the time of his death in 1896, Alfred had issued 350 patents and established 90 weapon factories. He left the majority of his money in a trust with instructions to fund the awards that would become the Nobel Prizes.
When examining the life of Alfred Nobel, there are two important questions that must be considered. First, why did he commission the peace prize? It makes sense that he would establish a prize in physical science, chemistry, medical science or physiology, and even literature, as he was an avid reader and writer. What is less obvious is that Nobel did in fact have a deep belief in pacifism. Many people speculate that Nobel instituted the peace prize so that he might compensate for the consequences of his inventions. Einstein believed this to be the case: “Alfred Nobel invented an explosive more powerful than any then known—an exceedingly effective means of destruction. To atone for this ‘accomplishment’ and to relieve his conscience, he instituted his award for the promotion of peace.” Nobel seemed to be caught in a dilemma between his inventions and his social responsibility, and perhaps instituting the Nobel Peace Prize was a way to secure his reputation not as an aid to acts of violence, but to his inherent belief in a peaceful world.
The other question that must be considered when examining Nobel and his awards is why he chose Norway to bestow the peace prize. Alfred was a Swede, and a Swedish council gives out every award besides the Peace Prize. Although there is no clear reason Nobel gave for Norway bestowing the peace prize, there are many hypotheses for what influenced this decision. At the time, there was a union between Sweden and Norway, and it is thought that perhaps Nobel wanted to give Norway a say in the proceedings of the world—to help them out by giving them the gift of influence. Nobel was also an admirer of Norwegian author Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, who was a passionate peace advocate. Because the literature prize was given to the Swedish Academy, perhaps the peace prize was chosen for the Norwegians. The Norwegian Nobel Committee has also suggested that the contrast between Norway and Sweden’s military history contributed to the decision. Sweden had a much different militaristic tradition than Norway, and they observed “at the end of the 19th century the Norwegian Legislative Assembly had become closely involved in the Inter-Parliamentary Union and its efforts to resolve conflicts through mediation and arbitration.” Taking these reasons into account, it is possible that Nobel saw Norway as better suited to give out the peace prize.
The union between Sweden and Norway officially ended in 1905, four years after the Nobel Peace Prize was first established. The proximity of their birth, Norway as an independent nation and the peace prize as one of the country’s international means of influence bred a close relationship between Norway and the idea of a peaceful society. Today, Norway is known for being one of the most peaceful countries in the world. As it is economically stable and has a large supply of natural resources, they are able to provide for their citizens with social welfare programs like university healthcare. The Norwegian military has a population of only 22,000, while the United States has an active personnel population of nearly 1.5 million. Why then, is Norway ranked as the 18th most peaceful country in the world while the United States is 88th? What Norway has done is proven that Einstein was right when he said that peace must be achieved through understanding, not through force. Norway’s participation in external conflicts is predominantly limited to peacekeeping, and the peace prize has reinforced to its winners from a wide variety of countries that their means of reaching peace while avoiding conflict have been highly commendable.
Norway’s involvement in the United Nations has also reflected its strive to achieve world peace. Norwegian politician Trygve Lie served as the United Nations first Secretary General from 1946 to 1953, and Norway has since participated in twenty-five peacekeeping operations. Today the country’s operations are focused on the Middle East and South Sudan, where they have worked to consolidate peace and security and establish conditions for development.
Few could reason that there is a more exemplary country to give out the Nobel Peace Prize than Norway. They have made peace a priority over power, and yet this has given them great influence in the world. With a population of a little less than five million, they have proven that small countries can also play a constructive role in facilitating peaceful operations. Aside from direct peace facilitation, they have also demonstrated their intentions by giving out over 4 billion dollars of aid each year. Norway ranks number two in the world by the amount of money they give as a percentage of their gross national income. As well as being the location where the peace prize is distributed, Norway’s capitol Oslo is also home to the Peace Research Institute of Oslo. This leading institution in peace research “works to identify new trends in global conflict,” as well as “study the normative foundations of peace and violence.” Norway’s society reflects the ethics outlined in the peace prize’s description—they have striven to bring fraternity between nations and promote peace congresses to the best of their ability.
Norway’s reputation as a peaceful society was abruptly interrupted on July 22, 2011 when Norway was hit with two terrorist attacks. A bomb exploded in government buildings in Oslo, and two hours later a gunman killed sixty-eight youth at a camp for young political activists on Utøya Island. The gunman was discovered to be Anders Breivik, who was also responsible for the attack in Oslo. Breivik was a right-wing fundamentalist who admitted to having perpetrated the attacks in retaliation to Norway’s acceptance of immigrants and is believed to have wanted to trigger an anti-Muslim revolution. The camp was organized by the Norwegian Labor Party, a social-democratic political party that reflects Norway’s progressive ideas and campaigns for the right of all workers. This clash of beliefs challenged Norway’s reputation as a peaceful country and the world watched closely to see how they would handle it. Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg delivered their response: “We must never cease to stand up for our values. We have to show that our open society can pass this test, too. And that the answer to violence is even more democracy, even more humanity, but never naïveté.” Indeed, Norway did not retaliate with violence and re-instate the death penalty for Breivik after the attack—instead they vowed to fight with democracy and humanity. This reaction further demonstrated that Norway is a country that acts upon its beliefs and holds fast to their ideals of establishing peace in the world, even when the challenge presented was in the confides of their own quiet society.
Norway has previously given out the Nobel Peace Prize 93 times to 101 different individuals and 21 organizations from countries across the globe. Notable winners include Fridtjof Nansen of Norway in 1922, Martin Luther King Jr. of the United States in 1964, Mother Teresa of Albania in 1979, and Desmond Tutu of South Africa in 1984. All these winners share something in common: each was able to establish peace not through force, but by uniting people and working to bring relief to many in need. Indeed, the peace prize is a microcosm of what Norway endeavors to be as a society and a nation, and they have demonstrated this widely through their work.
Previous winner Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote that “darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” The idea that having a large military and exerting yourself as powerful threat to other nations will establish peace is contradictory. Norway has proven that even with a tiny military, campaigning for peace by establishing a will to negotiate can be a much more effective means to reach an agreement. Their reputation as a peacemaker continues to give great significance to the relationship between this small country and the Nobel Peace Prize they award.