Award ceremony speech

Presentation Speech delivered by Mr. Egil Aarvik, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, on the occasion of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1982, Oslo, December 10, 1982.


Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

People occasionally ask whether the task of nominating Peace Prize winners may not prove a difficult one.

It is certainly not difficult to understand the reasoning prompting this sort of question. Naturally a Peace Prize committee, too, is bound to feel a sense of affliction at the setbacks suffered by the cause of peace. Great is our disappointment every time national boundaries are violated, and naked force of arms unleashed. One knows the feeling of despair at the news that innocent people are being killed and old enmity rekindled.

The world in which we live is not at peace. Tensions and unresolved disputes are dominant features of our age. Despite disarmament conferences and other verbal endeavours to promote peace, the armaments race continues. Military budgets merely mount up, and have today reached a level of close to 65 billion dollars annually. Nuclear armaments are the cause of deepest concern. With these weapons the killing power of the super powers appears to have reached its maximum potential – the extermination of the human race. There are, in short, ample grounds for pessimism in our time.

But, as one of this year’s laureates has declared: “Giving up is not human!” And it is, in fact, from the ranks of people imbued precisely with such ideas that the Norwegian Nobel Committee has this year made its choice.

Alva Myrdal and Alfonso García Robles have, in the opinion of the Committee, proved outstanding candidates for two reasons. In the first place owing to their magnificent work in the disarmament negotiations of the United Nations, where they have both played crucial roles and won international recognition; and secondly because, too, they have made such a notable contribution to the task of informing world opinion on the problems of armaments and of arousing the acceptance by the general public of their joint responsibility for the train of events.

In awarding Nobel’s Peace Prize to these two, the Committee wishes to focus attention on what – despite the many gloomy prospects – nevertheless constitutes a bright spot. There are people who are not satisfied merely to draw attention to alarming trends, but who also devote their energy and their ability to turning the tide. Pessimism and anxiety for the future have failed to unnerve a few hardy souls, who are endeavouring to convey the message that the fate of mankind has by no means been finally sealed, and that the nuclear holocaust is not the only possible outcome of the conflicts and disputes we face.

The climate of public opinion for peace and disarmament initiated in the western world is on the march, and is now thrusting its way across many national boundaries. The idea of calling a halt to the nuclear armaments race is no longer quite so impossible. Leading politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have grasped its sense of deep commitment, and are giving it their support. It may well be a sign of the times that during the recent elections to Congress and the Senate in the USA there was a substantial majority in a number of states in favour of freezing nuclear armaments at their present level.

The leaders of public opinions for peace and disarmament in the West know to their chagrin what a poor hearing they command in the East. But even here, too, they are not without their allies, of which maybe the most important is the common fear of total extermination in a nuclear war, a fear which we may assume is felt just as forcibly over there as in our part of the world. After all, overriding all conflicting interests there exists a common interest in survival.

Nevertheless, under no circumstances would it be human to give up. And this is precisely the keynote of the message we have received from this year’s Peace Prize winners.

Alva Myrdal’s commitment to the service of disarmament has long since established her international reputation. The many awards and other marks of high honour she has received testify to her standing in the international community.

Her commitment, moreover, reveals a tremendous span, both in terms of time and spheres of interest. As far back as the 1930s she played a prominent part in developing the modern Swedish welfare state. She was a staunch champion of women’s liberation and equal rights. She has proved a brilliant diplomat, and was the first woman to be appointed head of a department in the United Nations.

On an occasion like this it is only right and proper that a Norwegian Nobel Committee should recall her fearless and notable work on behalf of Norway during the Second World War. For this she was deservedly awarded His Majesty King Haakon VII’s Freedom Cross.

Alva Myrdal belongs to the world community: but she is ideologically firmly rooted in Nordic constitutional principles and in our democratic ideals. These were the ideals that motivated her when she acted as head of delegation during the disarmament negotiations in Geneva. Nor is that all: in other UN contexts, too, she has been a staunch spokesman of peace and disarmament.

As a researcher and disarmament expert, with a wide knowledge of the problems of world politics, she has commanded attention in the international forum, and not least in her literary work where her influence has been profound.

It is no doubt typical of great personalities that it is easy both to agree and disagree with them. Alva Myrdal is hardly an exception to this rule: but on one point all will agree – her name has become a rallying point for men and women who still cling to the belief that in the last resort, mind is bound to triumph over matter.

Today, in her eighty-first year, she can look back on a life which must of necessity have been not only rich but also dramatic. It must have alternated between hope and disappointment, and almost certainly, too, between encouragement and discouragement.

So much the greater on such occasions the joy of witnessing the fruits of one’s labour, heralding the consummation of the dream conceived in the finest moment of life. In this connection it might be fitting to recall Bjornstjerne Bjornson’s words

All that your hopes have illumined,
all that your fears have bedewed – now grows apace.

For obvious reasons Alfonso García Robles is less well known in the Nordic countries. But, as we all know, a considerable part of the world is situated outside the North. And in international disarmament work García Robles bears a name that is truly illustrious. He was the driving force behind the agreement, signed in Mexico City in 1967, that declared Latin America a denuclearised zone. And in view of the fact that the wording of this treaty is so markedly the work of Garcia Robles, it gives us at the same time a very fair description of the man and his way of thinking.

The outstanding feature of this agreement – the first of its kind in the world – is a realistic view of the destructive power inherent in nuclear arms. The starting point for the agreement that was reached is a clear recognition that nuclear arms are in essence not defensive weapons, but weapons of self-destruction. They are – to quote the words of the agreement – an attack on the integrity of the human race, and could in the final resort even render the world uninhabitable.

It has rightly been maintained that the first essential condition required for the solution of political problems is the moral courage to look these problems in the face. Frequently this is precisely what is lacking, and this is maybe particularly applicable to the problem of nuclear arms. It is such a temptation to shut one’s eyes. It is as though the process of comprehension were obstructed. We are not in a position to pursue our own reasoning to its logical conclusion. At some point or other we recoil, lacking the courage to know what we actually know. The truth concerning the situation that has been created by modern nuclear weapons is so horrifying that in a way it numbs our ability to comprehend it.

The American social economist and author Professor John Kenneth Galbraith has expressed this in the following words:

“The truth that men seek there to evade is that this small planet cannot survive a nuclear exchange… Asked if we want life for our children and grandchildren, we affirm that we do. Asked about nuclear war, the greatest threat to that life, we regularly dismiss it from mind. Man has learned to live with the thought of his own mortality. And he now has accommodated to the thought that all may die, that his children and grandchildren will not exist. It’s a capacity for accommodation at which we can only marvel. I suspect that our minds accept the thought but do not embrace the reality. The act of imagination is too great or too awful. Our minds can extend to a war in some distant jungle and set in motion the actions that reject it. But not yet to the nuclear holocaust. A commitment to this reality is now the supreme test of our politics.”

It is in the light of this that we should consider the agreement that declared Latin America a denuclearised zone. Alfonso García Robles has rightly been called the father of the Mexico Agreement. It is his ideas and his realistic assessment that are reflected in the wording. He is one of those people who possess the courage to face the truth of the situation created by nuclear arms. And it is precisely for this reason, too, that the successful negotiation of the agreement redounds so very much to his credit.

Once the horrific truth about nuclear arms is recognised, the question of nuclear armament likewise acquires a fresh dimension. It is no longer a question of being for or against national defence or an international system of security. The development of nuclear arms has taken us well beyond this stage in the argument. As everyone knows, there are today divided opinions on the justification of military defence. Many of us believe – in the light of what history has taught us – that a credible defence of freedom, independence, and humanity must, in fact, be regarded as the defence of peace. Others adopt a more or less consistent pacifist attitude.

What the Mexico Agreement, however, so clearly demonstrates is that we can no longer continue our argument on this level. The matter has acquired a fresh perspective: we must seek a way out, so that mankind can survive. This is the real disarmament problem facing us today.

This has provided a platform on which all mankind will have to come together, irrespective of political views or strategic considerations. The alternative is a continued nuclear build-up and the proliferation of nuclear arms, which can only lead ultimately to a catastrophe.

Man was once told: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall inherit the earth”. Today we know that if the peacemakers fail in their efforts, there will be no one left to inherit the earth, an earth, moreover, no one would consider it worthwhile inheriting!

Putting this truth across has been, and still is, the prime concern of this year’s Peace Prize winners. What they have clearly shown us, too, is that the work of promoting peace and disarmament must be carried on at several levels. It is vital to spread information on the issue involved, so that a growing body of public opinion capable of exerting pressure can be built up. But this is not the only object, as Alva Myrdal has explained:

“We must dare to believe that in their heart of hearts men desire peace on earth, but we shall never achieve this merely by coining slogans such as ‘We Want Peace!’ Our aim must be backed by intense efforts to find constructive proposals. The challenge facing peace workers is not to be found in a single universal question-and-answer, but in peaceful solutions to a host of conflicts, and in the exertion to achieve peace on many different levels.”

This is precisely what the two Peace Prize winners have confirmed in their endeavours. They know – better than most people – what it means “to make intense efforts to find constructive proposals”. They have sought no facile short cuts, because they know how vital it is that negotiations on disarmament should be conducted on the basis of down-to-earth realism and on the assumption of give-and-take between the great powers.

And it is precisely in this connection – when we mention the concept of give-and-take – that we get some notion of how complicated and exhaustive the problem of disarmament is. It is not sufficient merely to demonstrate a desire for peace; nor is it sufficient simply to declare that nuclear arms must be done away with. There is no difficulty in getting a wide measure of agreement on aims of this kind.

Difficulty arises when these aims are to be realised through the medium of practical political decisions; and this too is a problem we must have the courage to face up to.

We have watched with growing impatience how difficult it is for the nuclear powers to reach agreement on even the most modest measures of disarmament; and we may well ask why it has not been possible to make any progress with all the negotiations that have been conducted. Maybe the ideological differences are too great? Maybe it is impossible to break through the barrier of mutual mistrust, which unfortunately has received far too much nourishment? Is it once again fear that dominates and dictates the premises on which global political decisions are made?

It is not easy to give a simple answer. Maybe this, too, is a fact we shall have to take into account.

But what we can all see is that a power struggle and intense rivalry are being waged between the great powers. In this struggle there are several parties who believe that they are compelled to safeguard vital interests, and who are genuinely afraid of jeopardising the security of their country. For this reason they feel compelled, one and all, to take military precautions. It is not difficult to understand an attitude of this kind.

But there is also a great deal to suggest that the big powers are caught in what has been called the symbiotic trap, in which the parties concerned are mutually motivating one another to arm. This is how the trap works: In the East, information is received to suggest that the West has plans for further rearmament. And for this reason the East is compelled to arm – out of consideration for its own security. In the West similar information is received on new types of weapons being developed in the East, and so the West is forced to react – they dare not do otherwise. With each side placing the blame on the other, an excuse is found for justifying the arms race.

The persons principally responsible for the present development are, as a result of this, bound to be subject to tremendous pressure. In these circumstances it would be difficult to arrive at solutions which all parties concerned would consider worthwhile and which they feel would ensure their safety. Very careful assessment is necessary in order to arrive at solutions of this kind, the main problem being to arrive at a platform on which all interested parties can, despite their differences, come together.

The question now is whether the fresh situation that has been created by the nuclear powers might not be capable of providing a platform of this kind, since no one can any longer be in any doubt that today a joint interest, overshadowing all else, exists for all the nations of the world – viz. to put a stop to the nuclear arms race. This is the problem, overshadowing all others, to which we must turn our gaze, and in our endeavours to reach this goal all our efforts must and can be coordinated.

It is in the light of this that we can observe two clear lines emerging in the work of disarmament. We have the meticulous work, demanding a great deal of patience and time, that is carried on through international negotiations for mutual disarmament. And it should be emphasised that it is along this line that lasting and real results can be achieved. But we have in addition the work of the various peace movements, consciously committed to creating a body of public opinion, and it must also be emphasised that if this body of opinion is allowed to grow in strength and health, reaching out across still more national boundaries, it could constitute a decisive factor in ensuring the success of international negotiations.

The way ahead may appear long and difficult, and it certainly makes great demands both on the imagination and the patience – and maybe above all on the unflinching honesty which dares to look truth in the face, and still has the courage to continue.

In awarding this year’s Peace Prize to Alva Myrdal and García Robles, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to express its recognition of the intense endeavours undertaken by two people to find constructive solutions to difficult international disarmament negotiations.

At the same time the Committee is anxious – and in this connection we believe we are speaking in the spirit of the prizewinners – that the Peace Prize this year should be interpreted as well as a helping hand to that body of public opinion for the promotion of peace and disarmament to which they themselves have proved such a valuable inspiration.

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1982, Editor Wilhelm Odelberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1983


Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1982

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