Last year’s prize to President Obama was given essentially for rhetoric about nuclear disarmament, scrapping some old-fashioned nuclear monsters to pave the way for major US nuclear rearmament, even protesting possible UK cuts of the British Trident. At least it touched verbally on the reduction of standing armies, one of Nobel’s concerns.
This year they gave a human rights prize for domestic matters in what the USA sees as its major competitor, China, far removed from Nobel’s testament.
But does not promotion of civil and political human rights in general and democracy in particular promote peace among nations and states? Western political scientists have produced this thesis about ‘democratic peace,’ that democracies do not go to war with each other. The West believes that everything it has produces peace: Christianity, trade, western institutions, sports, languages like English. Combine it all, and we get ‘colonialism for peace.’ The eastern block in the West added that no socialist countries go to war with each other.
They all make the same logical mistake. Peace, like violence, like conflict, is a ‘relation’ and cannot be reduced to attributes of the parties. Thus, the four most belligerent countries measured by participation in wars divided by number of years of existence are the United States of America, Israel, the Ottoman Empire and the United Kingdom. Their democracy and human rights have not impeded enormous aggression.
Democracy in the sense of dialogue, of mutual exploration with no assumption that any party has a monopoly on being right or wrong, aiming at a rich, creative consensus rather than a majority opinion, is an excellent formula for nonviolence. The road to peace in the sense of reduced direct violence passes through the solution of conflicts by dialogue, but across the conflict borders, not inside each party only.
How about the economic and social human rights of the 1966 convention, not ratified by the USA, do they not lead to peace in the sense of less suffering due to structural violence inside states? Yes, but there is no evidence that rich states are more and poor states less aggressive internationally.
China has made giant steps forward in promoting economic rights, lifting 400 million from misery into lower middle class living between 1991 and 2004. They follow the east Asian development model of Japan, and the four ‘Asian Tigers’ South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore: first distribution and infrastructure under authoritarian conditions, then economic growth and ‘opening up.’
That is where civil and political human rights enter. China has long been in that phase as evidenced by 30 million travelling abroad annually, and returning. The prize to Liu Xiaobo comes 20 years too late, and even so has very little to do with international peace.
Agreement with the US
The same prize to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons for fighting occupation of their lands would have been meaningful. A prize to the mayors of Hiroshima for their peace conferences, point 3 by Nobel, would have been meaningful. But they would not have been in agreement with US and hence Norwegian foreign policy, the Nobel committee’s apparent main criterion for a prize.
I do not know what case the Chinese government has against Liu Xiaobo when they refer to him as a criminal. But I know the major court scandal in Norwegian history — arresting Arne Treholt accused of spying for the Soviet Union in 1984, sentenced in 1985 to 20 years of which he did 8 1/2 — having been the first whistle-blower: “he might have spied for peace.” Indeed he did: as Undersecretary for Ocean Affairs under the world renowned Jens Evensen, negotiating control over the Arctic waters during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, improving the relations between two states also beyond ocean affairs. His efforts resulted this year, 35 years later, in a good compromise for the contentious line of division.
A short time ago a big scandal was revealed: a Norwegian secret state police officer confessed that the evidence was faked. With no evidence whatsoever of any confidential material handed to the Soviets they had fabricated ‘evidence’ of Treholt having received cash by buying dollars, stuffing them into a suitcase, and taking a photo in the police office in Oslo. There is plenty of witness and technical evidence. The cooperation with the CIA was clear. On the Norwegian side not only police officers but today’s supreme court justice, then as judge, and the general attorneys for Norway and for Oslo either knew about it, or were incredibly naive, in view of Treholt’s steadfast denials.
Let us hope that any evidence against Liu Xiaobo is not fabricated, that attorneys and judges are not part of any plot. Let us hope that China is not labouring under Norwegian conditions, but is closer to the rule of law. And let us hope that Thorbjorn Jagland, a former prime minister and now head of the Nobel Prize committee, clearly fond of issuing certificates for bad behaviour to others, now dedicates himself fully to cleaning up his own party and country. And that the giant work by Evensen and Treholt for breaking the Cold War polarisation psychosis is duly appreciated.
(The writer is founder of ‘Transcend,’ a peace-development-environment network)