OSLO (Reuters) - The effect of giving the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to U.S. President Barack Obama fell short of the nominating committee’s hopes, and several awards in the past 25 years were even more questionable, the committee’s former secretary says in a new book.
Geir Lundestad, lifting a veil on the secretive five-member panel, also reveals that former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, late Czech president Vaclav Havel and several rock stars were among those who were considered for the award but never won.
Lundestad writes in “Secretary of Peace” that the prize to Obama was the most controversial during his time as director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute from 1990-2015. He attended committee meetings but had no vote.
“Even many of Obama’s supporters thought the prize was a mistake,” Lundestad wrote, adding that many Americans viewed the award as making Obama a spokesman for international peacemaking values rather than their own interests.
“In that sense the committee did not achieve what it hoped for,” he wrote, noting Obama himself rarely mentioned the prize.
The award, made by the committee in particular recognition of Obama’s vision of ridding the world of nuclear weapons, was widely criticized in the United States as premature. It came just nine months after he took office.
Lundestad, a professor of American history, said he had strong doubts before the award but denied Norwegian media reports that he regretted it. The five-member committee was unanimous in awarding the prize.
In the past 25 years “there were no obvious mistakes,” Lundestad said. But two or three were questionable, such as the 2004 award to late Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai, he added.
Maathai was the first to get an award for environmental protection, with a campaign to plant millions of trees across Africa, but “it’s far from given that she was the best candidate,” he wrote.
He said former Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy should perhaps have shared the 1997 prize awarded to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and its coordinator, Jody Williams. It was Canada that launched the process that led to a treaty to eliminate landmines, signed in Ottawa that year.
Lundestad noted that campaigning rock stars such as Bono, Bob Geldof and Sting had all enjoyed a high profile in international politics. “In the 2000s several such names were in fact considered, but the conclusion was that these artists were better suited to receiving Grammy prizes than Nobel Prizes,” he wrote.
He said he wanted to push for greater openness around the prize, which has a 50-year secrecy rule.
“We plan to read the book first before making any comment,” said Annika Pontikis, spokeswoman of the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm which oversees prizes from Chemistry to Literature.
Reporting By Alister Doyle and Stine Jacobsen; Editing by Mark Trevelyan