October 9, 2009 / 3:23 PM / 10 years ago

Obama's Nobel seen as "daring" bet on future

OSLO (Reuters) - Barack Obama is not the first Nobel laureate to win mainly for raising hopes of a better world, rather than achieving peace. But rarely, experts say, does a politician win so soon after gaining power and without a major foreign policy accomplishment under his belt.

“The Nobel Committee wants the prize to have an impact and it certainly can with Obama, although in many ways it’s premature,” said Kristian Berg Karpviken, head of the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo (PRIO).

“I can’t see another Nobel as daring as this — to present someone who is only at the beginning and is yet to have a significant impact,” he said.

The long process of picking the laureate by the Nobel Committee meant that Obama had to be nominated for the prize by the start of February, just days after he was sworn in as U.S. president.

In its citation, the Nobel Committee said: “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future.”

Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said what Obama had already achieved since replacing President George W. Bush — including seeking nuclear disarmament and creating “a new climate in international politics” — made him a worthy winner.

But not all agreed, even in Norway, which cherishes the Nobel Peace prize as its most heard voice on the global stage.

Siv Jensen, the head of Norway’s biggest opposition party, said: “In the year he’s been president he has not achieved concrete things in peace work. I mean that should be the criterion in handing out the peace prize, not expectations.”

Jagland compared Obama’s prize to the 1990 award to ex-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and the 1971 prize to then German Chancellor Willy Brandt.

But Gorbachev won a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall — the main symbol of the ending of the Cold War — although the Soviet Union had not yet disintegrated. And Brandt, who won for opening up to the East, had been chancellor since 1969.

Often Nobels are given as a sort of lifetime achievement award for peace makers, such as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who won in 2002, and the 2008 winner, former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari.

Some likened Obama’s prize to the 1978 award shared by Egyptian President Mohammad Anwar Al-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who negotiated peace between their countries which, at the time, provided much hope for security across the Middle East. Such peace still remains elusive.

Another prize based on hopes of achievement, rather than past success, and producing little impact was the 1976 award to Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan, co-founders of the Peace People who vainly sought reconciliation in northern Ireland.

Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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