Criticism. Essay. Fiction. Science. Weather.
When Alfred Nobel endowed his famous prize for peace, he stipulated that the selection committee give the award, as often as it sees fit, to "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses." A little over three weeks ago, Mohamed ElBaradei accepted the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Committee. Critics of ElBaradei and the IAEA have questioned their worthiness of the award in light of the Agency's refusal to impose sanctions on Iran, while critics of the Selection Committee have called this year's award nothing more than a political insult aimed at the Bush administration's current approach to foreign policy.
In many ways the IAEA is typical of past Nobel Peace Prize winners: the UN and associated bodies have won the award many times over, and anti-proliferation activities have been a favorite cause of selection committees since the 1960s. Yet, in giving the Nobel Lecture
this year, ElBaradei made his own distinctive, if subtle, critique of the award, implying the need for significant changes in the types of recipients the Nobel Committee chooses to recognize.
The Nobel Prize for Peace is unique among Nobel's other awards in two ways: first, a committee
made up of five members of the Norwegian Parliament selects the recipient of each year's award. Winners for Physics, Medicine, Chemistry, Literature and Economics, on the other hand, are chosen by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Second, the Peace Prize Committee typically recognizes people who are in the middle of their careers or part of an ongoing effort to secure human rights, while Prizes in the sciences are typically awarded for discoveries made long ago.
This decision-making structure and Nobel's original state-centric mandate have, by and large, led past committees to make selections within well-defined boundaries. Recipients have been overwhelmingly male and overwhelmingly European or North American. Big surprise there. But more importantly, these Pacifist White Men have tended to be the heads of national governments or large government-like bodies. Further, because recipients tend to be in the midst of their life's work, the Committee has often used the Prize as a means to draw international attention to a certain cause. The award, therefore, can increase the political momentum behind a given resolution and make it more likely to succeed.
This pattern of decision-making is indicative of an important assumption, and it conveys a clear message: peace is the domain of the state and not the domain of the people.
The IAEA is typical of past Peace Prize winners in that the United Nations and nuclear arms have been favorite subjects
of the Selection Committee. Further, in recognizing the IAEA, the Committee has praised work that goes on beyond the realm of the people who might be most affected by nuclear attack -- namely us. Once again, they have stated that peace is the responsibility of governments and government-like bodies, not individuals. Yet in this year's Lecture, ElBaradei implied that this view must change. He put forth a vision in which the nation-state and its governors are becoming less relevant and where the quality of life for individuals creates the conditions for peace or violence.
In the first third of his speech, ElBaradei referenced nuclear technology only once, and that was to name the organization he works for. Rather than talk about what he does for a living, he focused on the work of a recent United Nations High-Level Panel that had identified five categories of threats facing the world. Number one on that list was poverty. As ElBaradei put it, "We may have torn down the walls between East and West, but we have yet to build the bridges between North and South -- the rich and the poor."
He used the remainder of his Lecture to connect the divide between rich and poor to the subject of security: "In the real world," said ElBaradei, "[an] imbalance in living conditions inevitably leads to inequality of opportunity, and in many cases loss of hope.... This combination naturally creates a most fertile breeding ground for civil wars, organized crime, and extremism in its different forms." In doing so, ElBaradei moved the discussion of nuclear security from the domain of government to the domain of individuals. Individuals understand poverty. There are things we can do about it
. The same is not true of weapons silos.
In fact, ElBaradei went on to state that the most significant barriers to peace that we face today exist in a context that is far different from the one Nobel left his Prize to: "The globalization that has swept away the barriers to the movement of goods, ideas and people has also swept with it barriers that confined and localized security threats." As such, recognizing efforts focused on reducing standing armies and encouraging "fraternity between nations" is missing the point when conflict increasingly centers around not-quite armies and sort-of nations. We cannot achieve peace in this context by "building more walls
, developing bigger weapons, or dispatching more troops. Quite to the contrary. By [its] very nature, [this environment] require primarily multinational cooperation." In globalization, we find not only new threats, but the solutions to those threats. ElBaradei's bottom line is this: "The positive aspects of globalization are enabling nations and peoples to become politically, economically and socially interdependent, making war an increasingly unacceptable option."
Is ElBaradei right? Can prosperity and interdependence create the conditions for peace? In this week's New York Times Magazine
, Gary Bass published an article
showing that democracies (and by extension, major globalizing nations) do indeed fight less amongst themselves than they do with nondemocracies or than nondemocracies do amongst themselves. One reason for that, certainly, is that the cost of fighting an economic ally are too great to justify the effort. Further, the political cost of killing people in a nation that is "like" your own is significantly greater than that of killing people in a country that is not.
Yet the fact remains: the most active nuclear power
in the world is also the most prosperous and its greatest beneficiary of globalization. The United States currently maintains
somewhere around 10,000 nuclear weapons. Russia has about 14,000, of which 8,500 are active. Between them, the two countries account for more than 96% of all the nuclear arms in the world. Even after they fulfill pledges to reduce this count to 2,200 apiece by 2012, the two countries will continue to possess almost an order of magnitude more weapons than any other nation. Shockingly enough, these numbers are drastically smaller than those of the last several decades. At its peak in the mid-60s, the United States maintained upwards of 30,000 warheads. The Soviet Union peaked in the mid-80s with over 40,000. It's hard to tell if increased economic interdependence -- a significant part of what we are calling globalization and one of ElBaradei's keys to global security -- has been the cause for this reduction. But it has certainly been complimentary to it.