The Nobel Peace Prize, 1901-2000


by Geir Lundestad*
Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, 1990-2014


This article is intended to serve as a basic survey of the history of the Nobel Peace Prize during its first 100 years. Since all the 107 Laureates selected from 1901 to 2000 are to be mentioned, the emphasis will be on facts and names. At the same time, however, I shall try to deal with two central questions about the Nobel Peace Prize. First, why does the Peace Prize have the prestige it actually has? Second, what explains the nature of the historical record the Norwegian Nobel Committee has established over these 100 years?

There are more than 300 peace prizes in the world. None is in any way as well known and as highly respected as the Nobel Peace Prize. The Oxford Dictionary of Twentieth Century World History, to cite just one example, states that the Nobel Peace Prize is “The world’s most prestigious prize awarded for the ‘preservation of peace’.” Personally, I think there are many reasons for this prestige: the long history of the Peace Prize; the fact that it belongs to a family of prizes, i.e. the Nobel family, where all the family members benefit from the relationship; the growing political independence of the Norwegian Nobel Committee; the monetary value of the prize, particularly in the early and in the most recent years of its history. In this context, however, I am going to concentrate on the historical record of the Nobel Peace Prize. In my opinion, the prize would never have enjoyed the kind of position it has today had it not been for the decent, even highly respectable, record the Norwegian Nobel Committee has established in its selections over these 100 years. One important element of this record has been the committee’s broad definition of peace, enough to take in virtually any relevant field of peace work.

On the second point, the selections of the Norwegian Nobel Committee reflected the insights primarily of the committee members and secondarily of its secretaries and advisors.

But, on a deeper level, they also generally reflected Norwegian definitions of the broader, Western values of an idealist, the often slightly left-of-center kind, but rarely so far left that the choices were not acceptable to Western liberal-internationalist opinion in general. The Norwegian government did not determine the choices of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, but these choices reflected the same mixture of idealism and realism that characterized Norwegian, and Scandinavian, foreign policy in general. As we shall see, some of the most controversial choices occurred when the Norwegian Nobel Committee suddenly awarded prizes to rather hard-line realist politicians.

Nobel’s will and the peace prize

When Alfred Nobel died on December 10, 1896, it was discovered that he had left a will, dated November 27, 1895, according to which most of his vast wealth was to be used for five prizes, including one for peace. The prize for peace was to be awarded to the person who “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding of peace congresses.” The prize was to be awarded “by a committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Storting.”

Nobel left no explanation as to why the prize for peace was to be awarded by a Norwegian committee while the other four prizes were to be handled by Swedish committees. On this point, therefore, we are dealing only with educated inferences. These are some of the most likely ones: Nobel, who lived most of his life abroad and who wrote his will at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris, may have been influenced by the fact that, until 1905, Norway was in union with Sweden. Since the scientific prizes were to be awarded by the most competent, i.e. Swedish, committees at least the remaining prize for peace ought to be awarded by a Norwegian committee. Nobel may have been aware of the strong interest of the Norwegian Storting (Parliament) in the peaceful solution of international disputes in the 1890s. He might have in fact, considered Norway a more peace-oriented and more democratic country than Sweden. Finally, Nobel may have been influenced by his admiration for Norwegian fiction, particularly by the author Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, who was a well-known peace activist in the 1890s. Or it may have been a combination of all these factors.

While there was a great deal of controversy surrounding Nobel’s will in Sweden and that of the role of the designated prize-awarding institutions, certainly including the fact that the rebellious Norwegians were to award the Peace Prize, the Norwegian Storting quickly accepted its role as awarder of the Nobel Peace Prize. On April 26, 1897, a month after it had received formal notification from the executors of the will, the Storting voted to accept the responsibility, more than a year before the designated Swedish bodies took similar action. It was to take three years of various legal actions before the first Nobel Prizes could actually be awarded.

1901-1913: The peace prize to the organized peace movement

Although there was nothing in the statutes that prevented the Storting from naming international members, the members of the Nobel Committee of the Storting (as the committee was called until 1977) have all been Norwegians from the very beginning. They were selected by the Storting to reflect the strengths of the various parties, but the members elected their own chairman. From December 1901 and until his death in 1922, Jørgen Løvland was the chairman of the Nobel Committee. He was one of the leaders of the Venstre (Left) party and served briefly as Foreign Minister (1905-1907), and then as Prime Minister (1907-1908). A majority of the five committee members in this period consistently represented that party.

Initially, Venstre represented a broad democratic-nationalist coalition, emphasizing universal suffrage, first for men, later for women, and independence from Sweden. The party strongly wanted to isolate Norway from Great Power politics; not only did it want Norway’s full independence, but also some form of guaranteed permanent neutrality, based on the Swiss model. Yet at the same time, the party had a definite interest in international peace work in the form of mediation, arbitration and the peaceful solution of disputes. Small countries, certainly including Norway, were to show the world the way from Great Power politics to a world based on law and norms.

Norwegian parliamentarians, particularly from Venstre, took a strong interest in the Inter-Parliamentary Union formed in 1889. After Switzerland, Norway was the first country to pledge an annual contribution, first for its general operations (1895), and then for its office in Bern (1897). Norway was to have hosted the Union’s conference in 1893, but because of the tense situation vis-à-vis Sweden the conference in Oslo was held only in 1899. These same liberal politicians were also highly sympathetic to the peace groups and societies that sprang up in many countries in the last decades of the 1800s, groups which starting in 1889 were internationally organized in the more or less annual Universal Peace Congress. The Permanent International Peace Bureau, founded in 1891 in Bern, became the international headquarters of this popular movement. (The movement long struggled with difficult finances, despite small fixed annual grants from Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway.) A third element in the peace work of this period was the more official movement, culminating in the Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907, called by Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, to the enormous surprise of the governments of most other major powers. (The tsar was never seriously considered for the Peace Prize.)

Those few members of the Nobel Committee who did not represent Venstre tended to be jurists who took a special interest in building peace through international law, a desire shared by Venstre. Thus, former conservative Prime Minister and law professor Francis Hagerup was a committee member from 1907 to 1920. He was also chairman of the Norwegian delegation to the second Hague Conference in 1907.

With this composition of the Nobel Committee in mind, the list of the Nobel Laureates for the years 1901 to 1914 comes as no big surprise. Of the 19 prizes awarded during this period, only two went to persons who did not represent the Inter-Parliamentary Union, popular peace groups or the international legal tradition. The first two elements may also be said to have reflected the point in Nobel’s will about the prize being awarded for “the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

The first prize in 1901 was awarded to Frédéric Passy (and Jean Henry Dunant). Passy was an obvious choice for the first prize since he had been one of the main founders of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and also the main organizer of the first Universal Peace Congress. He was himself the leader of the French peace movement. In his own person, he thus brought together the two branches of the international organized peace movement, the parliamentary one and the broader peace societies.

In 1902, the Peace Prize was awarded to Élie Ducommun, veteran peace advocate and the first honorary secretary of the International Peace Bureau, and to Charles Albert Gobat, first Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and who later became Secretary General of the International Peace Bureau. (In 1906-1908 Gobat coordinated both groups, further underlining the close relationship between them.) In 1903 the prize went to William Randal Cremer, the “first father” of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. In 1889, Bertha von Suttner had published her anti-war novel Lay Down Your Arms. After that, she was drawn into the international peace movement. She undoubtedly exercised considerable influence on Alfred Nobel, whom she had known since 1876, when he later decided to include the Peace Prize as one of the five prizes mentioned in his will. In 1905, she was awarded the Peace Prize, the first woman to receive such a distinction. Her supporters strongly felt that the prize had come too late, since she had had such an influence on Nobel. In 1907, the prize was awarded to Ernesto Teodoro Moneta, a key leader of the Italian peace movement. In 1908, the prize was divided between Fredrik Bajer, the foremost peace advocate in Scandinavia, combining work in the Inter-Parliamentary Union with being the first president of the International Peace Bureau, and Klas Pontus Arnoldson, founder of the Swedish Peace and Arbitration League. In 1910, the Permanent International Peace Bureau itself received the prize. In 1911, Alfred Hermann Fried, founder of the German Peace Society, leading peace publisher/educator and a close collaborator, shared it with Tobias Michael Carel Asser. In 1913, Henri La Fontaine was the first socialist to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He was head of the International Peace Bureau from 1907 until his death in 1943. He was also active in the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

International legal work for peace represented the third road to the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1904, the Institute of International Law, the first organization or institution to receive the Peace Prize, was honored for its efforts as an unofficial body to formulate the general principles of the science of international law. In 1907, Louis Renault, leading French international jurist and a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, shared the Peace Prize with Ernesto Teodoro Moneta. In 1909, the prize was shared between Paul Henri Benjamin Balluet, Baron d’Estournelles de Constant de Rebecque, who combined diplomatic work for Franco-German and Franco-British understanding with a distinguished career in international arbitration, and Auguste Marie François Beernaert, former Belgian Prime Minister, representative to the two Hague conferences, and a leading figure in the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Like d’Estournelles and Renault, Beernaert was also a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Thus, few if any of the Laureates summed up the different stands of the early peace movement in the way Beernaert did. The Laureate of 1911, Tobias Michael Carel Asser, was also a member of the Court of Arbitration as well as the initiator of the Conferences on International Private Law. When America’s Elihu Root received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1912, he had served both as U.S. Secretary of War and Secretary of State. But he was awarded the prize primarily for his strong interest in international arbitration and for his plan for a world court, which was finally established in 1920.

Jean Henry Dunant (1901) and Theodore Roosevelt (1906) are the two Laureates who clearly fall outside any of the categories mentioned so far. Dunant, who founded the International Red Cross in 1863, had been more or less forgotten until a campaign secured him several international prizes, including the first Nobel Peace Prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee thus established a broad definition of peace, arguing that even humanitarian work embodied “the fraternity between nations” that Nobel had referred to in his will. Roosevelt was the twenty-sixth president of the United States and the first in a long series of statesmen to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He received the prize for his successful mediation to end the Russo-Japanese war and for his interest in arbitration, having provided the Hague arbitration court with its very first case. Internationally, however, he was best known for a rather bellicose posture, which certainly included the use of force. It is known that both the secretary and the relevant adviser of the Nobel Committee at that time were highly critical of an award to Roosevelt. It is thus tempting to speculate that the American president was honored at least in part because Norway, as a new state on the international arena, “needed a large, friendly neighbor – even if he is far away,” as one Norwegian newspaper put it. Even if, or perhaps rather because, the prize to Roosevelt was controversial, it did in some ways constitute a breakthrough in international media interest in the Nobel Peace Prize.

1914-1918: The First World War and the Red Cross

The First World War signified the collapse of the peaceful world which so many of the peace activists honored by the Nobel Peace Prize had worked so hard to establish. During the war, the number of nominations for the prize diminished somewhat, although a substantial number was still put forward. During the difficult war years, the Nobel Committee in neutral Norway decided to award no prize, except the one in 1917 to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The ICRC had been established in 1863 as a Swiss committee; the preceding year, the Convention for the Amelioration of the Conditions of the Wounded in Armies in the Field (the Geneva Convention) had been signed. During the First World War, the ICRC undertook the tremendous task of trying to protect the rights of the many prisoners of war on all sides, including their right to establish contacts with their families.

1919-1939: The League of Nations and the work for peace

In the 1920s, Venstre’s domination of the Nobel Committee continued even after the death of Jørgen Løvland and despite the choice of Conservative law professor Fredrik Stang (1922-1941) as the new chairman of the committee and the inclusion of Labor party historian Halvdan Koht in 1919. Old-timers Hans Jakob Horst and Bernhard Hanssen served on the committee from 1901 to 1931 and from 1913 to 1939, respectively. They were joined by Johan Ludwig Mowinckel (1925-1936) who meanwhile served as both Norway’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister during three separate periods. In the 1930s, the membership of the committee became more mixed, but the Venstre members now maintained the balance between more conservative and social democratic members. Still, during the period from 1919 to 1939, the growing political tension within the committee and the presence of certain stubborn individuals, resulted in as many as nine “irregular” years, when either no prize was awarded or it was awarded one year late, compared to only one such year in the period from 1901 to 1913.

After the First World War, Norway became a member of the League of Nations. This break with the past was smaller than it might seem. In the Storting, 20 members, largely Social Democrats, voted against membership. Even most of the 100 who voted in favor came to insist on the right to withdraw from the sanctions regime of the League in case of war. Norway basically still perceived itself as a neutral state. The old ideals of mediation, arbitration, and the establishment of international legal norms definitely survived, only slightly tempered by the experiences of the war and the membership in the League. Yet at the same time, some states and some statesmen were definitely regarded as better than others. Most Norwegian foreign policy leaders felt closest to Great Britain and the United States, despite significant fishery disputes with the former and the geographical distance and isolationism of the latter.

At least eight of the 21 Laureates in the period from 1919 to 1939 had a clear connection with the League of Nations. For the Nobel Committee the League came to represent the enhancement of the Inter-Parliamentary Union tradition from before 1914. In 1919, the Peace Prize was awarded to the President of the United States, Thomas Woodrow Wilson for his crucial role in establishing the League. Wilson had been nominated by many, including Venstre Prime Minister Gunnar Knudsen. In a certain sense the prize to Wilson was obvious; what still made it controversial, also among committee members, was that the League was part of the Versailles Treaty, which was regarded as diverging from the president’s own ideal of “peace without victory.” The prize in 1920 to Léon Victor Auguste Bourgeois, a prominent French politician and peace activist, showed the continuity between the pre-1914 peace movement and the League. Bourgeois had participated in both the Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907; in 1918-1919 he pushed for what became the League to such an extent that he was frequently called its “spiritual father.”

Swedish Social Democratic leader Karl Hjalmar Branting had also done long service for peace, but was particularly honored in 1921 with the Peace Prize for his work in the League of Nations. His fellow Laureate, Norway’s Christian Lous Lange, the first secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, had been the secretary-general of the Inter-Parliamentary Union since 1909 and had done important work in keeping the Union alive even during the war. After the war he was active in the League until his death in 1938. In 1922, the Norwegian Nobel Committee honored another Norwegian, Fridtjof Nansen, for his humanitarian work in Russia, which was done outside the League, but even more importantly for his work on behalf of the League to repatriate a great number of prisoners of war. From 1921, he was the League’s High Commissioner for Refugees. The refugee problem proved rather intractable. The Nansen International Office for Refugees was authorized by the League in 1930 and was closed only in 1938. For its work, it received that year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1934, British Labour leader Arthur Henderson received the Peace Prize for his work for the League, particularly its efforts in disarmament. No single individual was more closely identified with the League from its beginning to its end than Viscount Cecil of Chelwood who was honored with the prize in 1937. Only Koht’s threat of resignation from the committee prevented the Peace Prize from being awarded directly to the League of Nations. In 1924, the committee even discussed awarding the prize to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

In the years 1919-1939, the Nobel Committee also continued to honor the less official workers for peace. Since the peace societies of the pre-1914 period had lost most of their importance, this category of Laureates was now considerably more mixed than it had been in the earlier period. The clearest connection to the past was found in the shared prize for 1927 to Ludwig Quidde and Ferdinand Buisson. Buisson had joined his first peace society as early as 1867 and he had also been active in the Inter-Parliamentary Union, while the younger Quidde had joined the German Peace Society in 1892. In 1927, they were honored for their contributions to Franco-German popular reconciliation. In 1930, Lars Olof Nathan Söderblom was the first church leader to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to involve the churches not only in work for ecumenical unity, but also for world peace. In 1931, Jane Addams was honored for her social reform work, but even more for establishing in 1919, and then leading the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Sharing the prize with Jane Addams was Nicholas Murray Butler, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, promoter of the Briand-Kellogg pact and leader of the more establishment-oriented part of the American peace movement. Sir Norman Angell, who received the Peace Prize for 1933, had written his famous book The Great Illusion as early as 1910. In the book he argued that war did not pay, not that it was impossible as it was frequently understood to have stated. In the inter-war years, he was a strong supporter of the League of Nations as well as an influential publicist/educator for peace in general.

The most clear-cut representative in this period of the legal tradition to limit or even end war was the former American Secretary of State, Frank Billings Kellogg. He was awarded the 1929 Peace Prize for the Kellogg-Briand pact, whose signatories agreed to settle all conflicts by peaceful means and renounced war as an instrument of national policy.

While Theodore Roosevelt and, to a lesser extent, Elihu Root, were the only prominent international politicians to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in the years before 1914, at least five prominent politicians in addition to Kellogg were to be so honored between 1919 and 1939. In 1926 alone, the Nobel Committee actually awarded the reserved prize for 1925 to Vice President Charles Gates Dawes of the United States and Foreign Secretary Sir Austen Chamberlain of Great Britain and the 1926 prize to Foreign Minister Aristide Briand of France and Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann of Germany. Dawes was responsible for the Dawes Plan for German reparations which was seen as having provided the economic underpinning of the Locarno Pact of 1925, under which Germany accepted its western borders as final. The four prizes reflected recognition of the changed international political climate, particularly between Germany and France, which Locarno helped bring about. It was probably also an effort by the committee to strengthen Norway’s relations with the four international powers that mattered most for its interests. In 1936, the prize was awarded to Argentine Foreign Minister Carlos Saavedra Lamas for his mediation of an end to the Chaco War between Paraguay and Bolivia. Lamas also played a significant role in the League of Nations.

The most controversial award of the inter-war period was undoubtedly the one for 1935 to Carl von Ossietzky, the anti-militarist German journalist held by the Nazis in a concentration camp who had become an important international symbol for the struggle against Germany’s rearmament. The prospect of a prize to Ossietzky led to the withdrawal from the committee of both Koht, at that time Norway’s Foreign Minister, and Mowinckel, who served several times as Prime Minister. This was done to establish a separation between Norway as a state and the Norwegian Nobel Committee. At least Koht was also skeptical of the choice of Ossietzky as a Laureate. This was the first such withdrawal in the committee’s history. The Storting then decided that no government minister could serve on the committee while in office. Hitler’s reaction to the award was strong. He issued an order under which no German could receive any of the Nobel Prizes. (This affected two Chemistry Laureates, Richard Kuhn in 1938 and Adolf Friedrich Johann Butenandt in 1939 and Medicine Laureate Gerhard Domagk in 1939.) Ossietzky was not permitted to go to Oslo to receive the prize; he was transferred to a private sanatorium, but died 17 months later. The prize to Ossietzky illustrated how controversy could be combined with prestige for the prize, although this became much clearer over time than it was in 1936.

1940-1945: The Second World War and another prize to the Red Cross

On April 9, 1940, Germany attacked Norway and two months later the entire country was occupied. The Norwegian government fled to London. Committee meetings were actually held during the first years of the war, but from 1943 with the committee members scattered, no further meetings were held. The early meetings focused on non-prize business. By underlining the Swedish nature of the Nobel Foundation, the Nobel Committee in Oslo escaped a German takeover of its Institute building.

No Peace Prize had been awarded for 1939 since the war had broken out well before the prize was normally announced. Later, during the war virtually no nominations came in. When the committee was able to meet again after the war, it decided to give the Peace Prize for 1944 to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the same Laureate as in 1917, with much the same reasoning. In the darkest hour the ICRC had “held aloft the fundamental conceptions of the solidarity of the human race.” In so doing it had promoted the “fraternity between nations” which Nobel had referred to in his will.

1945-1966: The Cold War and the United Nations

In 1945, Norway joined the United Nations with considerable enthusiasm. There was little of the division and hesitancy that had characterized Norway’s policy toward the League of Nations. The German attack on Norway had destroyed most of the earlier confidence in neutrality; so when the Cold War began and Norway felt it had to make a choice between East and West it definitely chose the West, first in the form of the Marshall Plan and then NATO. Norway became quite a loyal member of NATO, but remnants of the more traditional attitudes could be found in the policy of no foreign troops and no atomic weapons on Norwegian soil, in its negative attitude toward European and even Nordic integration and in a lingering skepticism toward Great Power politics and arms build-ups. The idealist component in Norwegian foreign policy now moved away from arbitration and mediation and more toward arms control and disarmament, aid to poor countries, and, increasingly, questions of human rights, certainly including those in Allied countries.

From 1945 to 1965 the Labor party dominated Norwegian politics. From 1949 to 1965 it also held a majority on the Nobel Committee, but the three Labor members rarely behaved as a group, since two were strongly Western-oriented (Martin Tranmæl and Aase Lionæs) and one was more neutral (Gustav Natvig Pedersen). The chairman of the committee from 1942, in effect from 1945 to 1966, Gunnar Jahn, was a stubborn Venstre politician; the Conservative leader C.J. Hambro was equally stubborn and had strong links back to the inter-war years. From 1949 to 1964 membership on the committee remained entirely unchanged. Again, tension within the committee was one strong factor behind the large number of years with no prize or postponed prizes (eight) during this period.

Of the 20 prizes awarded in this period, nine were in some way or other related to the United Nations, thus reflecting both the strong Norwegian support for the organization as such and the continuation of the long committee line going back to the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the League of Nations. Long-time U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull was given the 1945 award primarily for his, and America’s, strong leadership in the creation of the UN. In 1949 Lord John Boyd Orr of Brechin was honored as the founding director-general of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, the first scientist to win the Peace Prize, not for his scientific discoveries as such, but for the way in which they were employed to “promote cooperation between nations.” In 1950 the prize went to Ralph Bunche, the principal secretary of the UN Palestine Commission, for his mediation of the 1949 armistice between the warring parties. Bunche was also the first black person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. More loosely connected to the UN, in 1951 veteran French and international labor leader Léon Jouhaux was the recipient of the Peace Prize. He had helped found the International Labor Organization in 1919 and had been active in the League of Nations. After the war he was a French delegate to the UN General Assembly. In 1954 the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, established in 1951, was honored, thereby underlining the long-standing interest of the Norwegian Nobel Committee in the question of refugees.

The Peace Prize in 1957 to Canada’s Lester Bowles Pearson was given primarily for his role in trying to end the Suez conflict and to solve the Middle East question through the United Nations. As Foreign Minister of Canada he had become one of the leading UN statesmen of his period. In 1961, the prize was awarded to the second Secretary General of the UN, Dag Hammarskjöld, for strengthening the organization. Hammarskjöld is the only person to have received the prize posthumously, a few months after his death in a plane crash in the Congo; the Nobel statutes were later changed to make a posthumous prize virtually impossible. (In 1965 and 1966 a majority of the committee clearly favored giving the prize to the third Secretary General, U Thant, and even to the first, Norway’s Trygve Lie, but chairman Jahn more or less vetoed this.) The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), established by the UN General Assembly in 1946, was awarded the Peace Prize in 1965.

Most of the politicians who were given prizes related to the UN combined their UN work with a clear Western orientation in the Cold War. This went for Hull, Bunche, Jouhaux, and Pearson and, to a lesser extent, also Hammarskjöld. In this period no Communist politician was ever seriously considered for the prize. (Soviet diplomat and feminist Alexandra Kollontay was discussed in 1946-1947, but quickly rejected.) A whole series of Indians – Gandhi and Nehru, but also other politicians, philosophers and scholars – were considered, but all were found wanting in one way or another. Still the committee was reluctant to give the prize to politicians who were seen as too exclusively Western in their orientation. The only exception was George Catlett Marshall, Peace Laureate of 1953. Marshall’s name was of course closely linked with the famous Marshall Plan, but the Cold War nature of his work was played down by the committee in favor of his role during the Second World War and his humanitarian work in general.

During this period too, the Norwegian Nobel Committee continued to honor individuals and organizations that had worked to strengthen the ethical underpinnings of peace. At least four of the awards fall under this category: the 1946 joint awards to Emily Greene Balch, co-founder and long-time leader of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the acknowledged dean of the American peace movement, and to John Raleigh Mott, long-time executive of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and world ecumenical leader working for peace on the basis of the Bible. Thus, Balch followed closely in the footsteps of Jane Addams and Mott somewhat less closely than in those of Nathan Söderblom. In 1947 the prize went to two arms of the Quaker movement, the Friends Service Council in Britain and the American Friends Service Committee, for their work for social justice and peace, certainly including their relief work during and after the Second World War.

The humanitarian category of Peace Prize Laureates was well established through the prizes to Dunant, the two to the ICRC, to Nansen and to the Nansen Office. In this period it could be argued that at least in part, the prizes to Mott and to the Quakers and certainly the prize to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees fell in this category. Another clear-cut example was the prize for 1952 to Albert Schweitzer, the well-known medical missionary in Gabon who had started his work there as early as 1913. Schweitzer’s ethical philosophy rested on the concept of “reverence for life.” In the same category was the prize in 1958 to Georges Pire, Dominican priest and theologian, honored for his work on behalf of European refugees and even more for the spirit that animated his work. On the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Red Cross, the 1963 prize was divided between the Swiss International Committee of the Red Cross and the international League of Red Cross Societies, representing the two major arms of the Red Cross movement.

Neither was the disarmament category a new one. Possibly the prizes to Suttner and Arnoldson (who had favored an appeal stating, among other things, that “I want all armed forces to be abolished”) and certainly to Henderson and Ossietzky could be seen as falling in this category. The continuity with the past was most clearly seen in the award in 1959 to Philip J. Noel-Baker. Noel-Baker had helped found both the League of Nations and the United Nations. His special interest was still disarmament and he had participated in the League’s Conference on Disarmament in 1932. With the introduction of nuclear weapons, his work for disarmament became even more insistent. The biggest surprise in this category was the prize for 1962, awarded in 1963, to Linus Carl Pauling. Pauling had won the Nobel Chemistry Prize in 1954, but he then became increasingly preoccupied with the hazards of the nuclear arms race. He worked hard to bring about a test-ban treaty and the respect accorded him was strengthened by the signing of the partial test-ban treaty of 1963. Still, in many American circles Pauling was considered to harbor pro-Communist sympathies. The Western-oriented majority of the Norwegian Nobel Committee was actually against giving him the prize. What secured him the prize was chairman Jahn’s threat to resign from the committee unless Pauling got it. Jahn, too, had become increasingly preoccupied with the danger of nuclear weapons.

One important category of Peace Prize Laureates was fully established in this period – those who worked for human rights. Some of the earlier Laureates had touched upon elements of human rights, although they had been primarily honored for other contributions. This went for Buisson, founder of the French League of the Rights of Man, Ossietzky, honored also for his right to speak out on the armament question, and Jouhaux, champion of economic and social rights. The first definite human rights prize was probably still the one for 1960 to Albert John Lutuli. The Zulu chief had been elected president-general of the African National Congress in 1952 and held this position until his death in 1967. He was thus in the very forefront of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, a struggle which was receiving added international attention after the Sharpville massacre of March 1960. In a period when the ANC was about to change its tactics, Lutuli stood explicitly for non-violence. The Peace Prize to Lutuli is also often seen as signaling a change in the selection of Laureates in a more global direction. (More about this shortly.) In 1964 American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. received the Peace Prize for his non-violent struggle against segregation, the American version of apartheid.

1967-1989: The Cold War and the globalization of the prize

In the mid-1960s the membership of the Norwegian Nobel Committee changed. The Labor party lost its majority in 1965, and Jahn retired at the end of 1966. Labor held the chairmanship under Nils Langhelle (1967), Aase Lionæs (1968-1978), the first woman leader, and John Sanness (1979-1981). Lionæs had become a member of the committee as early as 1949; she was in fact the only woman on the committee until 1979. She was also the only one of the pre-1965 members continuing on the committee. Lionæs had tried to secure the Peace Prize for Eleanor Roosevelt, but failed; in general she did not particularly push female candidates. The non-Socialist majority held the chairmanship under conservative Bernt Ingvaldsen (1967) and Egil Aarvik (1983-1990) of the Christian People’s Party, but it too rarely acted in unison. So, as in the earlier period, personal views were more important than party loyalties. In this period there were only three irregular prizes.

After 1965 political power fluctuated between Labor and non-socialist governments, but differences between the major parties were small on most foreign policy questions, with the primary exception of the very divisive issue of Norwegian membership in the European Community. In the Middle East, traditionally strong sympathies for Israel were increasingly balanced by a growing understanding of the Palestinian/Arab cause. Support for the UN remained very strong; the same was the case with backing for NATO, although the Vietnam war was to accelerate a more critical attitude to the United States, particularly among youth and the increasingly important women groups. Impatience with the limited results achieved in arms control and disarmament, particularly on the nuclear side, was growing. On the Norwegian Nobel Committee this impatience was reflected in Chairman Aarvik’s personal views. Norway’s interest in human rights in most corners of the world was clearly also rising.

In this period four prizes were awarded to UN-related activities. In 1968, during the UN International Rights Year, and exactly twenty years after the approval by the UN General Assembly of the Declaration of Human Rights, René Cassin received the Peace Prize. Cassin was generally considered the father of the declaration, but had also served as vice-president and then as president of the European Court of Human Rights. (He had also been a French delegate to the League of Nations.) In 1969 the International Labour Organization (ILO) was honored. ILO was established in 1919 and it was the only organization associated with the League of Nations to outlive it; as a specialized agency of the UN, its work rested on the principle that peace had to be based on social justice. In 1981, on its thirtieth anniversary, the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees received its second Peace Prize. Norway as a country had long made the largest per capita contribution of any country to this UN office. In 1988 the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces were honored. There was a strong feeling that as the Cold War was coming to an end, the UN ought to become more important and that this would be reflected in a new role for peacekeeping. In addition, the 1982 Peace Prize to Sweden’s Alva Myrdal and Mexico’s Alfonso García Robles could be considered at least in part a UN prize, since much of their disarmament work had been done in various UN negotiations.

Again no Communist politician was awarded the Peace Prize. Instead the human rights prizes to the Soviet dissident, and one-time creator of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov in 1975, to Polish labor leader Lech Walesa in 1983, and to the 14th Dalai Lama in Tibet, Tenzin Gyatso, in 1989, the year of the Tiananmen Square massacre, were severely criticized by the Communist leadership in the three countries involved. Again the neutralist movement as such went unrecognized. On the Western side, German Chancellor Willy Brandt received the prize in 1971 for his Ostpolitik, an effort to bring East and West Germany, as well as Eastern and Western Europe, closer together. Brandt had spent the years from 1933 to 1945 in exile in Norway and Sweden, had excellent connections with Norwegian politicians and spoke perfect Norwegian. In 1974 former Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato received the Peace Prize for his renunciation of the nuclear option for Japan and his efforts to further regional reconciliation. Sato was the first Asian to accept the Peace Prize, to the surprise of many in that part of the world, including even in Japan, who saw him as a rather conventional politician.

In 1973 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to US National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and North Vietnamese leader and negotiator Le Duc Tho for the 1973 Paris agreement intended to bring about a cease-fire in the Vietnam war and a withdrawal of the American forces. This award is definitely the most controversial one in the history of the Nobel Peace Prize. Le Duc Tho declined the Peace Prize, the only person to have done so, since there was still no peace agreement. Kissinger did not come to Oslo to receive the prize in person and soon indicated he wanted to return it, but was told the statutes did not permit this; two of the committee members resigned after it had become known that there had been disagreement and that they had in fact been against the award. (They supported Brazilian archbishop Helder Camara, who received a Norwegian people’s prize instead.) Public reaction to the prize, both in Norway and internationally, was largely negative.

The 1973 controversy may have influenced the Storting to establish a new precedent under which the legislators themselves could no longer be members of the newly re-named Norwegian Nobel Committee. The members now tended to be either ex-politicians or persons not so explicitly connected with party politics. The most important reason behind the change, however, was a general desire to distinguish more clearly between the Storting itself and the non-parliamentary committees it appointed.

Regional crises represented nothing new in the Cold War. The Nobel Committee had previously awarded prizes to those who had worked to solve such crises, whether this be the crucial Franco-German conflict or the war between Paraguay and Bolivia. With the Cold War and the end of Western colonial rule over large parts of the world, such crises took on added prominence, also for the Nobel Committee. The situation in the Middle East was particularly difficult. In 1950 Ralph Bunche and in 1957 Lester Pearson had received the Peace Prize for their efforts there. In 1978, Egyptian President Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin were honored for the Camp David Agreement, which brought about a negotiated peace between Egypt and Israel. This agreement too, proved controversial. Only Begin came to Oslo to receive the award. A technicality prevented the American president, Jimmy Carter, from being the third Laureate; the committee actually wanted to include him, but he had not been nominated when the deadline expired on February 1 of that year.

In Western Europe the situation in Northern Ireland represented the bloodiest ethnic-national conflict. The Peace Prize for 1976 was awarded to Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan for their efforts to end that conflict through a popular mobilization against violence. In Norway the Nobel Committee was strongly criticized for being late in recognizing the two women; they had in fact been given a Norwegian people’s peace prize before the Nobel one. In 1987 Oscar Arias Sánchez, Costa Rica’s president, was honored for his leadership in having the five presidents of Central America sign a peace agreement for the area. Both of these awards could be seen as the intervention of the Norwegian Nobel Committee in conflicts where progress toward peace had definitely been made, but conflicts had been far from resolved. The committee clearly hoped that the prize itself would provide an added impetus for peace. This effect was very limited in Northern Ireland, but more significant in Central America, although it still took years before all the many conflicts there were more or less resolved.

On the issue of arms control and disarmament, referred to as “the reduction of standing armies” in Nobel’s will, the Nobel Committee, by general Western standards, again proved relatively radical. This was seen in the 1982 Peace Prize to Alva Myrdal and Alfonso García Robles, but even more clearly in the 1985 prize to International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). The committee had been so impressed by the cooperation between Soviet and American physicians within the IPPNW that it explicitly invited founders Evgeny Chazov and Bernard Lown to receive the award on behalf of the organization. Conservatives in West Germany, Britain, and the United States particularly criticized the committee’s decision. (So did former committee chair Lionæs.)

In this, as in other periods, some humanitarians were also honored. Somewhat in the tradition of Boyd Orr, Norman Borlaug, an American of Norwegian descent, was selected in 1970 for his contributions to the “green revolution” that was having such an impact on food production particularly in Asia and in Latin America. In 1979 Mother Teresa received the prize. She came from a family of Catholic Albanians, but lived most of her life in Calcutta, working for the poorest of the poor through her order, the Missionaries of Charity.

Among the more general peace advocates in this period, several have already been mentioned: Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan, Alva Myrdal and the Dalai Lama. The best example was perhaps still the 1986 Laureate, Elie Wiesel. Wiesel was a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust and had become the leading interpreter of the relevance of this event for contemporary generations.

Human rights represented the fastest growing field of interest for the Norwegian Nobel Committee. The awards to the ILO and the Dalai Lama and, even more, to René Cassin, Andrei Sakharov and Lech Walesa have already been mentioned. In 1974, Seán MacBride shared the prize with Eisaku Sato. MacBride had a multi-faceted background, but was honored primarily for his strong interest in human rights: piloting the European Convention on Human Rights through the Council of Europe, helping found and then lead Amnesty International and serving as secretary-general of the International Commission of Jurists. In 1977 the prize was awarded to Amnesty International itself. Founded in 1961, it was an increasingly important organization aimed particularly at protecting the human rights of prisoners of conscience. In 1980 the Argentinian human rights activist Adolfo Peréz Esquivel was honored. Esquivel had founded non-violent human rights organizations to fight the military junta that was ruling his country. His message was also seen as relevant for much of the rest of Latin America. The apartheid regime in South Africa continued to preoccupy the Nobel Committee and the Norwegian public. In 1984 Bishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu was recognized for his non-violent struggle to bring apartheid to an end. The South African government strongly disliked the award, as it had Lutuli’s, but again it let the Laureate travel to Oslo to receive it.

It was only in this period that the Nobel Peace Prize became truly global in its approach. The first Peace Prize to a person not from Europe and North America had been the one to Lamas in 1936. The next one was Lutuli’s in 1960. Yet, even Lutuli’s prize did not really signal an unmistakable trend, since only from the 1970s onwards did the Nobel Committee regularly award Asians (Le Duc Tho, Eisaku Sato, the Dalai Lama, in a sense also Mother Teresa), Africans (Anwar Sadat, Desmond Tutu) and Latin Americans (Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Alfonso García Robles, Oscar Arias Sánchez). Thus, in the 1970s and 1980s there were as many Laureates from Africa, Asia, and Latin America combined as from North America and Western Europe combined. (In addition there were Andrei Sakharov and Lech Walesa from Eastern Europe and Menachem Begin from Israel.)

One may ask why it took the Norwegian Nobel Committee so long to recognize persons from these other continents. The answer has several elements. For centuries Europe and North America dominated the rest of the world. There were few other independent actors. Reflecting this, very few nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize were submitted by persons from Asia, Africa and Latin America. In addition, most Western politicians simply did not pay much attention to what was going on in these vast regions; some even considered those who lived there inferior. Such feelings certainly affected Norwegians too, probably also some of the members of the Nobel Committee.

Mohandas Gandhi was, however, nominated five times and he was put on the committee’s short list three times. In 1948 the committee awarded no prize; it indicated that it had found “no suitable living candidate”, a reference to Gandhi. It thus seems likely that he would have been awarded the prize if he had not been assassinated in January 1948. Still, the committee had had earlier opportunities to honor the man who, in hindsight, is generally seen as the leading spokesman of non-violence in the 20th century. Under the statutes then in force, Gandhi could have been awarded even the 1948 prize, as seen by the posthumous prize awarded to Hammarskjöld in 1961. Yet, a posthumous prize was an obvious complication. Gandhi had his supporters on the committee, but the majority felt that despite his own non-violence, violence had sometimes resulted from his actions, even before the bloody division between India and Pakistan; he was also perceived as too much of an Indian nationalist. Such feelings might have been affected by Norway’s traditionally very close relationship to Britain, by a rapidly growing skepticism to neutrality in the Cold War and even by a more general underestimation of individuals from “underdeveloped” parts of the world.

The reaction to apartheid in South Africa after the Sharpeville massacre was to modify such underestimation, but, as we have seen, this happened rather slowly. The decolonization process in Asia and Africa certainly also had an impact. All forms of racial stereotyping were banned from civilized public discourse. The growing emphasis on human rights furthered the globalization of the prize, as did the emphasis on finding a solution to regional crises in different parts of the world.

1990 – : Pluralist globalization

Around 1990 huge changes were taking place internationally. The Cold War came to an end, with the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989 and of the Soviet Union itself in 1991. Expectations were high for the new post-Cold War world, but it soon became obvious that an end to the Cold War did not signal the end of war and conflict. The arms race slowed down considerably, but it still continued in various parts of the world. Old conflicts lingered; many new ones arose. Human rights advanced greatly, with the emergence of new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe, in Latin America and Asia, and even in Africa, but almost half the world’s population still lived under some form of dictatorship. The composition of the Norwegian Nobel Committee underwent few dramatic changes in the 1990s. The committee majority again moved left of center in terms of Norwegian politics, with the Labor party having two representatives and the Socialist Left one. After Aarvik’s death in 1990, Labor’s Gidske Anderson served as chair of the committee for only half a year, until illness forced her to step down. The committee chairman from 1991 to 1999, Francis Sejersted, was a Conservative professor of history. In 2000 former Labor cabinet minister Gunnar Berge became the new chairman. From 1979 the committee regularly had two women members; from 2000 it even had a female majority. In the 1990s the prize was awarded on a regular basis every year.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee celebrated the end of the Cold War with the 1990 Peace Prize to Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, President of the Soviet Union, the person who, in the Committee’s opinion, had done more than any one else to bring the Cold War to an end. Encouraged by the end of the Cold War, the committee was also prepared to intervene even more frequently than before in regional conflicts around the world in the hope that the Nobel Peace Prize could not only award deeds done, but also provide an added incentive for peace. The prize in 1993 to Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk could be regarded as a success in that respect, although it came at a stage when most of the transition from apartheid to democracy had already been accomplished.

In 1994, the Peace Prize was awarded to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres for the Oslo Agreement, which brought about a mutual recognition and a framework for peace between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel. The three politicians had accomplished much, but they were still far from establishing a final peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The award resulted in one member leaving the committee, the leading spokesman in Norway for the Likud party in Israel. This was the third resignation in the history of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. In 1996, the prize was awarded to East Timorese leaders Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and José Ramos-Horta. The tragic situation in East Timor after the Indonesian invasion in 1975 had been almost forgotten internationally. Due to the effect of the Nobel Peace Prize and, even more, of the Indonesian economic and political collapse in 1997-1998, East Timor was able to start on the road toward independence. In 1998 the committee honored Northern Irish leaders John Hume and David Trimble. Through the Good Friday Agreement of that year, the major parties to that protracted conflict agreed on the principles for its resolution, although it might take years before the agreement is fully implemented. In 2000 the Peace Prize was awarded to South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, both for his “sunshine policy” of contacts and cooperation with North Korea and his long-standing commitment to human rights in South Korea and elsewhere.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee also further strengthened its somewhat radical profile within the field of arms control and disarmament. Two such prizes were awarded in the 1990s. The first one came in 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to Joseph Rotblat and the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. Rotblat had initially worked on the Manhattan Project, which created the bombs, but had left the project to take up a life-long struggle against nuclear weapons. He had helped create the Pugwash Conferences where since 1957, scientists from the United States, the Soviet Union and many other countries had met in an effort to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in international relations. The second prize came in 1997 when the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and its coordinator, Jody Williams, were honored for their work to ban and remove anti-personnel land mines and to support the victims of such mines.

In the 1990s the human rights tradition was extended by prizes to two women. In 1991 the Peace Prize was awarded to Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition against the Burmese military regime. Her party won an overwhelming victory in the 1990 election, but she was then confined to house arrest. While her cause now came to receive broad international support, the military regime continued in power. Somewhat more controversial was the 1992 award, on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America, to Rigoberta Menchú Tum, the Maya Indian campaigner for human, particularly indigenous, rights in Guatemala and the rest of Latin America. The humanitarian tradition was continued through the 1999 award to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) – or Doctors Without Borders – for its “pioneering humanitarian efforts on several continents.” The work of MSF clearly had a human rights dimension in addition to the humanitarian one. As already mentioned, the 2000 award to Kim Dae Jung also combined two traditional elements in the history of the Peace Prize.

The Nobel Peace Prize through 100 years: some conclusions

Thus, some lines of development can be distinguished in the almost 100 year history of the Nobel Peace Prize. First, although the Norwegian Nobel Committee never formally defined “peace,” in practice it came to interpret the term ever more broadly. This approach could have its pitfalls, but avoided the danger of locking the committee into fixed categories and gave the committee flexibility to adapt to new concerns. In the early years, the emphasis was definitely on the organized peace movement and the codification of international law, but even in the very first year of the Peace Prize the first humanitarian, and five years later, the first statesman were selected. Later the balance shifted away from the organized peace movement and international jurists, although some of them continued to be selected and the category came to include church leaders and even a Holocaust interpreter. Humanitarians became more numerous, and this category came to include scientists who worked to alleviate hunger. Disarmers became more numerous too, and this category came to include those who supported limited arms control and not necessarily full disarmament. Different kinds of statesmen were awarded the Peace Prize, some for addressing global concerns, others for helping to solve regional crises, still others for the general principles they espoused. The human rights category was added to the list and gradually became perhaps the most numerous one.

Second, from a slow start, the list of Laureates became increasingly global, so that by the 1970s all continents except Australia and Oceania were represented. In the nominations and correspondence to the committee, it is easy to see how a prize to one continent stimulated interest in the prize in this area. Third, although Bertha von Suttner was awarded the Peace Prize in 1905, particularly in the early decades few women were selected. In recent decades, this too has changed, although not as dramatically as the geographical distribution of the Laureates, so that by 2000 ten women have received the Nobel Peace Prize. Fourth, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has increasingly come to use the Peace Prize not only as a reward for achievements accomplished, but also as an incentive for the Laureates to achieve even more. This may be said to reflect the growing courage of the committee members or, perhaps more accurately, the increasing stature of the Nobel Peace Prize.

No prize will be able to establish a “perfect” historical record, whatever that might be. Most observers will agree that the omission of Gandhi from the list of Nobel Laureates is a serious one, but it might be the only one of such a nature. There may well have been some Laureates that perhaps should not have received the prize, but still did. But there is not much of a consensus on which ones these Laureates are. Controversy is certainly no good judge in this respect. (These days, when even Mother Teresa is considered controversial by some, it may also be difficult to know what is controversial.) In historical hindsight, several of the more controversial prizes are now considered among the most successful ones (Ossietzky, Lutuli, Sakharov, the Dalai Lama, Gorbachev). On the other hand, the prize to Kissinger and Le Duc Tho shows that controversy is no guarantee of historical success. On the whole, however, after taking into consideration what a treacherous field “peace” is and also the record of the many other peace prizes, it can certainly be argued that the standing of the Nobel Peace Prize would not have been what it is if it had not been for its highly respectable record.

This essay has attempted to place the history of the prize within a Norwegian context. This is natural since the committee members through these 100 years have all been Norwegians. Until 1936 they sometimes included even prominent members of the Norwegian government; until the 1970s they were frequently members of the Storting. Later they were often ex-politicians, many of them having served in prominent positions. Some of the politicians honored, from Roosevelt to Arafat, Peres and Rabin, may well have served Norwegian state interests in the sense that their selection fitted well into government policy. On the more speculative side, the non-award to Gandhi may also have been influenced by Norway’s close relationship to Britain, and after the Second World War any award to the leading figures behind the movement toward European economic and political integration was clearly difficult in a country as divided on that issue as was Norway. (Brandt was only a partial exception.) On the other hand, some of the committee’s selections were clearly problematic from the point of view of the Norwegian government. The best illustrations of this were probably the awards to Ossietzky and the Dalai Lama.

In principle almost everyone would prefer a Nobel Committee with an international membership. In practice, however, an international committee would have faced serious problems. (What would such a committee have done during the Cold War?) The connections to Norwegian values, as well as to Norwegian politics, may be regarded as questionable for the prestige of the Peace Prize, but it may in fact have had its advantages. Thus, after the Second World War hardly any term has been and still is more popular in Norwegian foreign policy parlance than “bridge-building.” While an increasingly rich Northern state firmly attached to the West and with strong sympathies for Israel, Norway has been concerned with building bridges to the East, to the South, and increasingly to the Palestinians and other Arabs. It is a separate question how realistic such attitudes are as a basis for a country’s foreign policy, but as a basis for prize selections, a blend of idealism and realism may not be so bad.

The values that underpinned the Nobel Peace Prize were concretely defined by Norwegians, but they were part of a wider Scandinavian and Western context. They represented the Norwegian version of Western liberal internationalism. Thus, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has been a strong believer in international organizations, from the Inter-Parliamentary Union to the League of Nations and the United Nations. Organizations and rules had been employed to contain conflicts within Norway; they could also temper international strife. Small nations almost instinctively prefer international law to the might they do not possess, and they believe in the arbitration, mediation and peaceful solution of international disputes. In a similar way, the Nobel Committee believed in humanitarian assistance to the weak and the poor, in arms control and disarmament, and, more and more fervently, in human rights generally.

When we look at the nationalities of the Laureates, we also get an idea of where liberal internationalism has been most strongly represented (or has been perceived by the Norwegian Nobel Committee as being most strongly represented). Virtually all of the organizations honored had clear roots in this Western ideology. Although liberal internationalism was in many ways ideally suited for smaller powers, it also had many supporters in the Great Powers. On the individual side, nineteen of the Laureates have come from the United States, representing both leading politicians – two presidents, one vice-president, five secretaries of state – and those more distant from and skeptical to the centers of power (Addams, Balch, Pauling, King, Williams); twelve have come from Great Britain, again reflecting both traditions, Austen Chamberlain and Joseph Rotblat perhaps representing the extremes; eight have been French, four have been German. Five have been Swedish (Arnoldson, Branting, Söderblom, Hammarskjöld and Myrdal). Two have been Norwegian (Lange, Nansen).

Thus, perhaps, in compiling its record through these 100 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has actually been able to be both very Norwegian and quite international at the same time.


* Published as a chapter of the book: “The Nobel Prize: The First 100 Years”, Agneta Wallin Levinovitz and Nils Ringertz, eds., Imperial College Press and World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., 2001.

Geir Lundestad (1945-2023) was Director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo and Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee 1990-2014. He was born in Sulitjelma, a mining community in Northern Norway, in 1945. He received his MA (Cand. philol.) in history from the University of Oslo in 1970, PhD from the University of Tromsø in 1976.

Lundestad held positions at the University of Tromsø from 1974: Associate Professor of History, Professor of American Civilization 1979-88, Professor of History 1988-90. He has also been a research fellow at Harvard University (1978-79, 1983) and at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. (1988-89). While being the Director of the Nobel Institute, Lundestad was also Adjunct Professor of International History at the University of Oslo.

His main publications are: The American Non-Policy Towards Eastern Europe 1943-1947 (1975), America, Scandinavia and the Cold War 1945-1949 (1980), East, West, North, South. Major Developments in International Politics since 1945. (First Norwegian Edition in 1985, later revised, Fourth Edition 1999), ‘Empire’ by integration: the United States and European integration 1945-1997 (1998).

First published 15 March 2001

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