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Ronald R. Krebs discusses the history, politics, and effects of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize. While the Prize seeks to change the world through its conferral, Krebs argues the award only occasionally draws attention to ignored problems. He claims that the award has sometimes produced unexpected and unwanted outcomes, which have become more common in recent years as the Peace Prize has increasingly been awarded to promote domestic liberalization.
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The False Promise of the Nobel
Peace Prize
Politicization is nothing new to the various Nobel prizes, the most
distinguished of international awards. This is true even to some extent of those
in the sciences, and it is obviously true of the award in literature. However, the
Peace Prize is the most politicized of the awards, and it, more directly than the
others, seeks to change the world through its very conferral. Recognizing those
who have already succeeded in changing the worldthat is, the criterion of
accomplishment that guides the rest of the Nobel prizesis secondary for
the Peace Prize, as the Nobel Committee reminded us in 2009 in bestowing
the award on President Barack Obama.
Many naturally doubt that any award could have much impact even at the
margins, let alone on enduring patterns, of international politics. Indeed, the
award was early in its history, and more occasionally since, given to pacifists,
and neither interstate nor intrastate conflict has been eliminated.
The Nobel
Committee itself has been careful to damp down extravagant expectations,
usually arguing that the award works in more-subtle ways to advance the win-
nersʼcauses: by raising the profile of organizations and problems, by morally
and politically bolstering the forces for peaceful conflict resolution, and by at-
tracting international attention to repression and perhaps ultimately facilitat-
ing pressure for liberalization.
Neither the skeptics nor the believers, however, are entirely correct. The
consequences of the Nobel Peace Prize for the winners and their causes vary:
sometimes, as skeptics expect, the Prize has little impact; occasionally, but
RONALD R. KREBS is associate professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. He is
most recently the author of Fighting for Rights: Military Service and the Politics of Citizenship and has
published on a wide range of topics in international relations in leading scholarly and popular outlets.
But conflict seems in general to be decliningthough pacifists may not be able to take too much
credit. See the Human Security Report Project, accessed at, 12 October 2009.
Geir Lundestad, Reflections on the Nobel Peace Prize,December 1999, accessed at http://, 8 July 2009.
Political Science Quarterly Volume 124 Number 4 200910 593
more rarely than its advocates hope, it draws attention to ignored problems;
but, sometimes, the award has also produced unexpected and unwanted
outcomesundermining organizational competence and sparking repressive
state action. Such rarely recognized perverse consequences have become more
common in recent years, since the SovietU.S. détente and especially since
the end of the Cold War, as the Peace Prize has increasingly been given to
promote domestic liberalization. It is precisely in this prominent category of
cases that the good intentions of the Prize Committee have gone awry. In
the short-to-medium run, the Peace Prize has more often brought the heavy
hand of the state down on dissidents and has impeded, rather than promoted,
conflict-free liberalization. If the Nobel Committee wishes to foster peaceful
conflict resolutiona goal it has not been shy about endorsingit should be
more cognizant of the awardʼs unintended consequences.
This article is heavily empirical, with clear normative implications, but it
also has relevance to theoretical debates that animate international relations
scholarship. Its argument and findings part ways with both a rigid realism as
well as conventional institutionalism, falling into and furthering the family of
approaches that, bridging between these two schools, has elsewhere been
termed realist institutionalist.
Whereas realists generally see international
institutions as epiphenomenal, as reflections of power politics,
this article
claims, in line with institutionalist logic and findings, that the Nobel Peace
Prize, which might be seen as a kind of international institution, can have an
independent causal impact on state behavior.
However, whereas so-called
neoliberals focus on how international institutions promote cooperation,
article shows that the bestowal of the Prize can, contrary to neoliberal expec-
tations, exacerbate conflict and prompt intensified state repression, generating
dynamics and consequences that are the opposite of the Nobel Committeeʼs
purpose. The article thus also reflects realist proclivities: typical of the realistʼs
pessimistic worldview, it is skeptical that human efforts to effect progressive
change in global politics work in straightforward ways to yield such outcomes,
and it is sensitive to the possibility and reality of unintended consequences in
complex political systems.
As Lisa Martin and Beth Simmons argued over a
On realist institutionalism,see Ronald R. Krebs, Perverse Institutionalism: NATO and the
Greco-Turkish Conflict,International Organization 53 (Spring 1999): 343377. See also Victor D.
Cha, Abandonment, Entrapment and Neoclassical Realism in Asia: The U.S., Japan and Korea,
International Studies Quarterly 44 (June 2000): 261291.
John J. Mearsheimer, The False Promise of International Institutions,International Security
19 (Winter 1994): 549.
On this central axis of debate among IR theorists, see Robert Jervis, Realism, Neoliberalism,
and Cooperation: Understanding the Debate,International Security 24 (Summer 1999): 4263.
For the seminal work, see Robert O. Keohane, After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the
World Political Economy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984).
On pessimism and the realist worldview, see Robert Gilpin, The Richness of the Realist Tradition,
in Robert O. Keohane, ed., Neorealism and Its Critics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986),
304. On unintended consequences and realism, see Kenneth N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics
decade ago, the chief issue should no longer be whether international institu-
tions matter, but how they matter.
This article contends, in line with realist
institutionalistscholarship, that those institutions may matterby doing
harm as well as good. Exploring the impact of the Nobel Peace Prize on its
recipientsʼcauses is an important question in and of itself, but it also provides
a window onto these theoretical disputes.
The rest of this article proceeds in four substantive parts. First, I review
historical trends among the awardʼs winners, arguing that this inherently po-
liticized award has become increasingly aspirationaland has applied an in-
creasingly broad definition of peace. Second, I explore three categories of
aspirationalpeace prizes and offer contending hypotheses regarding their
effects on the winnerʼs cause; in this section, I also develop the theoretical logic
of my argument about the awardʼs potentially perverse consequences. Third,
I examine and use computerized content analysis to cast doubt on the hypoth-
esis that the Nobel Peace Prize benefits causes by drawing global media atten-
tion to them. Fourth, I show that when the award is given to advance domestic
political change, it can have unexpected and counterproductive consequences;
this section traces the awardʼs surprising effects in three such cases since 1989.
The Peace Prize was first awarded in 1901, five years after Alfred Nobelʼs
death. In contrast to the broad definition of peace that came to inform the
award and the aspirational air that came to characterize its conferees, Nobelʼs
will defined peace narrowly and focused on candidatesʼaccomplishments; it
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 and promotion of peace congresses.
But the will
set the Peace Prize apart from the start with its inherently politicized character;
its winners would be identified by a committee appointed by NorwayʼsPar-
liament, whereas Swedish institutions defined by substantive expertise (the
Swedish Academy of Sciences, the distinguished Swedish medical school
known as the Caroline Institute, and Swedenʼs leading literary institute, the
Swedish Academy) had the responsibility for selecting the awardees in physics,
medicine, chemistry, and literature.
The Nobel Peace Prize Committee initially remained true to Alfred Nobelʼs
charge. Of the 19 prizes awarded between 1901 and 1914, almost all went to in-
dividuals who had made major contributions to the Inter-Parliamentary Union,
(Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1979), 7377; and especially Robert Jervis, System Effects: Complex-
ity in Political and Social Life (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997).
Lisa Martin and Beth Simmons, Theories and Empirical Studies of International Institutions,
International Organization 52 (Summer 1998): 742743.
Accessed at, 8 July 2009.
popular peace organizations, or the international legal tradition; Theodore
Roosevelt, as a sitting head of state and a realist to boot, was a notable excep-
tion, though his award, bestowed for his role in mediating the Russo-Japanese
War, was consistent with the Prizeʼs early focus on interstate peace (see Ap-
Between 1901 and 1945, over three-quarters of the prizes (33 of 43)
went to those who promoted interstate peace and disarmament: pacifists; in-
ternational lawyers, who saw law as the path to peace; leaders who played cru-
cial roles in the League of Nations. The rest of the awards went to individuals
and especially organizations dedicated to humanitarian causes or to statesmen
who sought to promote specific peace processes and resolve boundary dis-
putes. Only one award (1935) criticized and sought to effect change in a stateʼs
internal and repressive politics, as the Committee honored Carl von Ossietzky,
the journalist who served as a symbol of opposition to the Nazi regime.
Since the Second World War, however, the Peace Prize Committee has im-
plicitly adopted a definition of peace far removed from its original mandate.
Of the 21 prizes awarded between 1946 and 1970, just 6 (30 percent) went to
those promoting interstate peace and disarmament; that number declined be-
tween 1971 and 2009, to merely 12 of 49 prizes (24.5 percent). An increasing
number of awards (16 of 49 since 1971) sought to encourage ongoing peace
processesin line with a traditional understanding of peacebut they often
intervened in processes that had borne little fruit or had a long road ahead,
from Vietnam to Korea to Indonesia to Northern Ireland to the Middle East.
At the same time, the awards increasingly equated peace with human well-being,
paralleling the contemporaneous stretching of security(marked as other
in the Appendix).
Thus the microlender Grameen Bank and its founder
Muhammad Yunus were acknowledged in 2006 for their pioneering work pro-
moting development. Thus Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Cli-
mate Change were honored in 2007 for raising awareness of the problem of
global warming. While one might construct plausible causal chains leading from
microcredit to development to peace, or from climate change to localized re-
source scarcity to conflict, the Peace Prize Committee rarely justified the awards
in these terms that would link it to a more traditional definition of peace.
Even more striking has been the Peace Prizeʼs growing focus since the Sec-
ond World War on domestic political arrangements. Between 1946 and 1970,
Geir Lundestad, The Nobel Peace Prize,in Agneta Wallin Levinovitz and Nils Ringertz,
eds., The Nobel Prize: The First 100 Years (London: Imperial College Press, 2001), 165168; Burton
Feldman, The Nobel Prize: A History of Genius, Controversy, and Prestige (New York: Arcade Pub-
lishing, 2000), 295301.
Douglas Bulloch, For Whom Nobel Tolls? An Interpretive Account of the Migration of the
Concept of Peace as Perceived Through the Solemn Eyes of Norwegian Lawmakers,Millennium
36 (May 2008): 575595; Lundestad, Nobel Peace Prize,184185.
Roland Paris, Human Security: Paradigm Shift or Hot Air?International Security 26 (Fall
2001): 87102.
the Prize was awarded twice (9.5 percent of the time) to domestic dissidents, to
encourage change in South African and U.S. internal politics (1960 and 1964
respectively). Between 1971 and 2009, the Prize was given 10 times (20.4 per-
cent) for this purpose. This has been slightly more true since the end of the
Cold War, as over 22 percent of the awards have gone to that end (see Appen-
dix). Here, the links to interstate conflict, and arguably to intrastate conflict
too, are even more tenuous. In recent years, the Peace Prize Committee has
cast opprobrium on, among others, Myanmar and Iran for their disregard of
individual liberties and democratic institutions. Aung San Suu Kyi and Shirin
Ebadi might be admired for their courage, but their awards do not recognize
substantial contributions to interstate or intrastate peace.
Finally, the awards have also become increasingly aspirational”—con-
ferred on individuals and organizations that have made relatively little prog-
ress toward their stated goals.
The early years of the Peace Prize were similar
in this respect, as one might expect, given the heavy representation of pacifists
among the recipients; 80 percent of the awards given out before 1919 marked
aspiration more than accomplishment. But the balance shifted after the Second
World War, as nearly three-quarters of the awards during the Cold War (1946
1988) honored recipientsʼtangible accomplishments. With the end of the Cold
War, the Committee again began to reward aspiration disproportionately, with
78 percent of the recipients so classified (see Appendix).
In a sense, of course, each of the prizes was bestowed for accomplishment: the prize-winners
have normally achieved positions of renown and prominence in their chosen arena. But individuals
may well enjoy prestige out of all proportion to their effortsʼconcrete effects. Thus, I distinguish
between awards that have honored individuals whose past actions have led relatively directly to tan-
gible easing of human suffering or the cessation of violence (accomplishment) and those awards
that have honored individuals whose causes, at the time of the award, remain far from having been
achieved (aspiration). I have drawn on the official Nobel Peace Prize Committee announcement to
identify the reasons the award was bestowed. The former category (accomplishment) includes the
negotiators of completed peace agreements (for example, 1906, 1973, 2008), humanitarian organiza-
tions (for example, 1944, 1954, 1999), scientists and financiers whose initiatives have advanced global
well-being or human security (for example, 1962, 1970, 2006), and others. The latter category (as-
piration) includes peace activists, nuclear disarmament advocates, and environmentalistswhose
causes, while arguably admirable, had inarguably made little headway at the time of the award
but also key figures in ongoing conflicts (for example, 1993, 1998, 2000) and human rights and de-
mocracy activists in authoritarian regimes (for example, 1984, 1989, 2003), among others. There are,
of course, cases that are difficult to classify, such as prizes given to honor individuals for their role in
founding organizations like the League of Nations and the United Nations. When these prizes were
given at the outset of the organizationsʼexistence, and not after many years of operation, I coded
them as aspirational; at the time of the award, the organization had not yet demonstrated its value
or staying power. These cases stand in contrast to the many awards given to humanitarian organiza-
tions and human rights groups after decades of consistent operation and concrete achievement.
While one might challenge individual codings, the trend line is unmistakable and robust. This is,
moreover, not a controversial claim. See similarly, Lundestad, Nobel Peace Prize; Feldman, Nobel
Prize, chap. 8.
The more aspirational the Prize, the more clearly the Committee has tried to
use it for political effect. Francis Sejersted, the chairman of the Norwegian
Nobel Committee in the 1990s, was open about this: The Prize is not only
for past achievement. The Committee also takes the possible positive effects
of its choices into account [because] Nobel wanted the Prize to have political
effects. Awarding a Peace Prize is, to put it bluntly, a political act.
One might
cite many examples from the awardʼs history, but the Committee has been par-
ticularly explicit since 2001 about its political message. That year, as the United
States geared up to invade Afghanistan and amidst early talk of U.S. action
against Iraqall outside the aegis of the United Nations (UN)the Committee
conferred the award jointly on the UN and its Secretary General, Kofi Annan,
to proclaim that the only negotiable route to global peace and cooperation
goes by way of the United Nations.
The following year, in bestowing the Prize
on former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, the Committee could hardly have been
more clear: In a situation currently marked by threats of the use of power,
Carter has stood by the principles that conflicts must as far as possible be re-
solved through mediation and international cooperation based on international
law, respect for human rights, and economic development.
In 2003, the Com-
mittee, honoring the Iranian feminist and reformer Shirin Ebadi, pointedly noted
that at a time when Islam is being demonized in many quarters of the western
world, it was the Norwegian Nobel Committeeʼs wish to underline how impor-
tant and how valuable it is to foster dialogue between peoples and between civ-
The New York Times observed that the Prize sent a message to the
[George W.] Bush administration that internal change, brought about by local
advocates, is preferable to invasion.
The Nobel Committeeʼsmostrecent
award, in 2009, to President Obama, was immediately widely interpreted on both
the left and the right as a censure of the style and substance of the previous ad-
ministrationʼs foreign policy and as an embrace of Obamaʼs less confrontational
approach and more multilateral inclinations.
If the Nobel Peace Prize is intended to have political effects, one should in-
quire: what kinds of effects might it produce? Through what causal mecha-
Francis Sejersted, The Nobel Peace Prize: From Peace Negotiations to Human Rights,ac-
cessed at, 8 July 2009.
Press Release, 12 October 2001, accessed at
2001/press.html, 8 July 2009.
Press Release, 11 October 2002, accessed at
2002/press.html, 8 July 2009.
Presentation Speech, 10 December 2003, accessed at
laureates/2003/presentation-speech.html, 8 July 2009.
Ethan Bronner, The Nobel Peace Prize Always Comes With a Message. But is it Heard?The
New York Times, 17 October 2003.
nisms? And does it actually produce the desired effects? Naturally the Prize
has not directly brought about international peace, and even the Prizeʼs advo-
cates do not make so extravagant a claim. When the Peace Prize is given to
individuals or organizations for past accomplishment, the Prizeʼs effects on
future performance are particularly difficult to gauge. Then the recipient nor-
mally has a well-established track record and funding base, and further suc-
cesses cannot be attributed persuasively to the award. Alternatively, the
individual is hailed for her role in facilitating or negotiating a relatively stable
peace, and the Prize Committee thereby hopes to further stabilize the peace
arrangement, encourage others to follow suit and pursue peaceful conflict res-
olution, and promote a normative climate in which negotiated solutions are
valued. That the Prize furthers the first of these aims cannot be demonstrated,
because continued peace can be ascribed to the conditions that gave rise to the
settlement, and the Prizeʼs contributions to the other two goals are necessarily
highly indirect, if not elusive.
When the Peace Prize is given to individuals and organizations whose ac-
complishments are not substantial but whose aspirations are great, its effects
if there are anymight be more easily ascertained. Here the Prizeʼs advocates
plausibly suggest that the Prize helps set the international agenda, draws atten-
tion to forgotten or marginalized causes, and thereby imparts a new impetus to
stalled efforts. Geir Lundestad, the distinguished historian who has served as
Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, observes that many are the
Peace Prize Laureates who have reported how previously closed doors were
suddenly opened to them after they had received the Prize.
Accounts of
specific cases have attributed precisely such an impact to the Prize. Students
of the Tibetan struggle have claimed that the Dalai Lamaʼs Prize was a tre-
mendous blow to the Chinese governmentʼs pridethat gave the Tibet issue
greater international exposure, inspired Tibetan activism, and further isolated
China; the award, they suggest, opened the White Houseʼs door to the Dalai
Lama in April 1991 and led the U.S. Congress to recognize Tibet as an occu-
pied country.
This was, moreover, explicitly the hope of Czech President
Vaclav Havel in nominating the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Aspirational Peace Prizes have, in the last four decades, been given pri-
marily in three circumstances. Of the 28 awards between 1971 and 2009 coded
as aspirational in the Appendix, 6 honored contributions to general peace
and disarmament, 9 aimed to advance incipient peace processes in specific
Lundestad, Reflections.
Pierre-Antoine Donnet, Tibet: Survival in Question, trans. Tica Broch (London: Zed Books,
1994), 202203; Warren W. Smith, Jr., Tibetan Nation: A History of Tibetan Nationalism and Sino-
Tibetan Relations (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996), 622. See also A. Tom Grunfeld, The Making
of Modern Tibet (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1996), 236.
Burma Hits at Nobel Prize Winner,Agence France Presse, 15 October 1991.
intrastate and interstate conflicts, and 9 sought to promote domestic change
in favor of human rights and democracy. I analyze each category in turn.
First, the Nobel Committee has tried to promote disarmament by bestow-
ing the award on individuals and organizations who have made arms control,
and ultimately the banning of classes of weapons, their lifeʼs work. In many
such cases, the award has done little to advance public awareness, which is al-
ready substantial. That the nuclear arms race posed a threat to humanity was
hardly news in 1982, when the Committee honored Alva Myrdal and Alfonso
García Robles for their work in both regional and global nuclear disarmament
negotiations. That nuclear proliferation remained of concern was hardly a rev-
elation in 2005, when the Committee honored Mohammed El Baradei and
the International Atomic Energy Agency; seven years before, both India and
Pakistan had made their nuclear weapons capabilities clear, and just two years
earlier, the world discovered that Pakistanʼs chief nuclear engineer, Abdul
Qadeer Khan, had been running a global nuclear technology and weapons
bazaar. In cases involving less-well-known classes of weapons, the Peace Prize
might conceivably play an agenda-setting function, and the International Cam-
paign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), winner of the 1997 award, is a case in point.
Yet the Prize proved a mixed blessing for the Campaign. On the one hand,
funding for mine action”—mine clearance, mine risk education, and mine
survivor assistancesaw a massive jump in 1998, followed by two more years
of double-digit percentage increases; whereas global spending had averaged
merely $64.75 million per year between 1992 and 1995, it reached $189 million
in 1998 and $309 million in 2002.
Yet, while the Nobel Committee might
plausibly claim credit for drawing resources to the Campaign, the Prize also
sparked divisive in-fighting over the sudden prominence of coordinator Jody
Williams and over how to spend the Prize funds.
The unusual case of the
ICBL aside, these awards cannot in general be expected to exert much impact.
Second, the Nobel Committee has sought to advance ongoing peace pro-
cesses, bestowing the award on the principals either before real progress had
been made (Kim Dae Jung and his sunshine policy,2000, for example) or
immediately after agreements were signed but with much still to do (Oscar
Arias Sánchez and the Esquipulas Accord, 1987, for example). The Committee
has often been self-conscious and even defensive about these awards, for in-
stance acknowledging in 1994, when it honored the Palestinian leader Yasir
Arafat, Israelʼs Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and Israelʼs Foreign Minister
Shimon Peres for the Oslo Accords, that it has been said that the Nobel
Committee ought to have waited.But the Committee justified the award by
For data, see Landmine Monitor Report 2003, accessed at,
16 March 2009.
Antimine Activists at War with Each Other,Globe and Mail, 10 February 1998; Caryle Murphy,
The Nobel Prize Fight: Claims of Jealousy and Betrayal,The Washington Post, 22 March 1998.
affirming its capacity to spur further progress toward Mideast peace: It is the
Committeeʼs hope that the award will serve as an encouragement to all the
Israelis and Palestinians who are endeavoring to establish a lasting peace in
the region.
If the Prize draws worldwide attention and resources to the conflict, then
the Committeeʼs ambition may not be misplaced. But, even if the Committee is
right, these seemingly positive developments can also call forth spoilerswho
may undermine fragile processes.
The Nobel Committeeʼs presumption is
that transparency strengthens peace processes, and that is true in the long
run, as mass publics on both sides must support any negotiated agreement.
But that may not be true in the short run, when processes are brittle and when
trust is scarce. In those early stages, secrecy may be an advantage. Indeed, had
Israeli and Palestinian leaders tried to negotiate the Oslo Accords in the
publicʼs full glare, the Accords might never have been signed, as spoilers like
Hamas would have arisen even earlier; it is not accidental that the early stages,
completed in secret, were successful, while the subsequent, more-public nego-
tiations have been more troubled. The third option is the null hypothesis
that the Prize has no impact on ongoing peace processes, either for ill, because
active peace processes have already moved spoilers, wherever such actors
are present, to action, or for good, because the Prizeʼs agenda-setting function
is weak.
Third, the Nobel Committee has increasingly sought, through its awards, to
highlight political repression and human rights violations, in the hope that the
brighter media light will lead authoritarian governments to behave better and
even take painful steps toward democracy. This goal motivated the Committee
to honor activist luminaries such as Andrei Sakharov, Desmond Tutu, the
Dalai Lama, and Aung San Suu Kyi. But the Nobel Committee thereby has
implicitly presumed that regimes from the Leonid Brezhnev-era USSR to
apartheid-era South Africa to Deng Xiaopingʼs Peopleʼs Republic of China
(PRC) to junta-ruled Myanmar are so sensitive to their international reputations
as goodor responsiblestates that they would sacrifice their most-cherished
values to maintain or cultivate their reputations. This is possible, but implau-
sible. The more-likely alternative is that while the prize winners themselves,
given their prominence, might be relatively spared, regimes will clamp down
harshly on local dissidents to demonstrate their resolve and to prevent local
and international activists from taking heart. To the extent that the Nobel
Prize is successful in drawing worldwide attention to their plight, it may render
an insecure regime even more anxious and thus more brutal and dangerous;
regimes desperate to hold on to power are more sensitive to threats to their
Peace Prize Press Release, 14 October 1994, accessed at
peace/laureates/1994/press.html, 8 July 2009.
On spoilers,see Stephen John Stedman, Spoiler Problems in Peace Processes,International
Security 22 (Fall 1997): 553.
rule than to the good opinion of the international community. Moreover, inso-
far as local activists believe that the Nobel Peace Prize confers moral authority,
that the world has thereby given its imprimatur to their cause, and that the
international community has thereby signaled that it will protect them, they may
ramp up their demands or at least intensify their protest activitiesintensifying
the regimeʼs fears of encirclement and its sense of vulnerability, boosting the
regimeʼs desperation, and calling forth still greater repression. Ironically, if
the Nobel Committeeʼs aspirations are fulfilledif the Prize emboldens local
actors, if it boosts global media coverage of regime repression, and if it pres-
sures authoritarian regimesit may produce effects precisely the opposite of
those it intends, with moral victories substituting for actual ones. This article
contends that this tragic chain of events, in which the Nobel Committeeʼs noble
intentions at least temporarily set back the cause of democracy and human
rights, is not only plausible, but relatively common in this important subset
of cases. In fact, Sejersted, the Nobel Committee chairman, has acknowledged
that in some cases the prize has in fact provoked conflict in the short term.
His admission is revealing, but it may understate the awardʼs human cost.
The experience of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement is an analogous cau-
tionary tale. Many have hailed the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision
in Brown v. Board of Education with increasing media coverage and public
awareness of racism, inspiring the Civil Rights Movement, and driving a deci-
sive nail into the coffin of segregation. But Gerald Rosenberg has persuasively
argued that court decisions on civil rights, notably Brown, had little sustained
impact on the press or mass and elite opinion. Brown not only produced little,
if any, positive change, but there is some evidence that it hardened resistance
to civil rights among both [Southern] elites and the white public. By stiffen-
ing resistance and raising fears before the activist phase of the civil rights
movement was in place, Brown may actually have delayed the achievement of
civil rights.
Brown mobilized opponents of civil rights more than it boosted
the capacity of its defenders. The same may be true of the Nobel Peace Prize,
as (an exaggerated) fear of its political consequences drives states to act with-
out offering sufficient compensating advantages.
Realists, skeptical of the Nobel Committeeʼs optimism, would view this
more-pessimistic argument as equally misguided; they would argue that the
award itself has little impact on regime behavior, for good or ill. But, even
though (as I show below) the Peace Prize has typically had little impact on
media coverage except in the short term, state leaders have taken the Prize
seriouslycontrary to realist expectations. Whether the Prize actually sets the
international agenda, authoritarian leaders often act as if it does; they fear that
it draws attention to, raises the prominence of, and boosts the moral authority
Sejersted, Nobel Peace Prize.
Gerald N. Rosenberg, The Hollow Hope: Can Courts Bring About Social Change? (Chicago, IL:
University of Chicago Press, 1991), 155156.
of dissidents. And they have consequently sought to undermine dissidentsʼcan-
didacies. When the Soviet government learned in 1973 that the well-known
physicist and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov had been nominated and
that an international campaign had taken shape to promote his candidacy, it
ordered the KGB (the Soviet secret police) to launch a futile action to prevent
him from being named; a month after the award was announced, the KGB
authorized an extensive covert campaign of character assassination against
Sakharov and his wife, Elena Bonner. Three years later, after the show trial
of a less-prominent dissident physicist who had founded the Moscow Helsinki
Watch Group, Yuri Orlov, the KGBʼs main fearwas that Orlov would win
the Prize, and the KGB gave the highest priority to an active measures cam-
paign, personally overseen by [KGB head Yuri] Andropov himself, designed to
discredit Orlov and ensure that his candidacy failed.
Similarly, the Guatemalan
government furiously lobbied the world to prevent Rigoberta Menchú from
getting the 1992 Nobel Peace Prizeeven submitting the name of a ruling-
class philanthropist (unknown outside of Guatemala City) as an alternative.
Realists would expect regimes to ignore the award or at most to pooh-pooh
it as international do-gooder blather or a reflection of power politics. Yet re-
gimes have reacted as if the award mattered. They have responded with anger,
not indifferent laughter. They have responded with organized campaigns to
delegitimize the award and the recipient, not mild derision. The nature and mag-
nitude of their response have been at odds with realist expectations. When the
Dalai Lama won in 1989 in a clear rebuke to China after the Tiananmen crack-
down, the PRC did not slough it off: the Foreign Ministry expressed indigna-
tionat the Nobel Committee for its open support to the Dalai Lama and the
Tibetan separatists in their activities to undermine the national unity and split
Chinaand for this gross interference in Chinaʼs internal affairs.
Nor did
Iranian conservatives pay little heed after the liberal-minded activist Shirin
Ebadi won the award in 2003. A leading conservative newspaper pointedly
editorialized that the goal of this prize is to embarrass Muslims and, especially,
the Iranian people.
That regimes take the Nobel Peace Prize so seriously, and
view it (wrongly) as so dangerous to their hold on power, strikes a blow at the
realist view and adds to the pessimistic hypothesisʼsurface plausibility.
Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and
the Secret History of the KGB (New York: Basic Books, 1999), 322324, 329330.
Susanne Jonas, Of Centaurs and Doves: Guatemalaʼs Peace Process (Boulder, CO: Westview,
2000), 3.
China Deplores Peace Award to Dalai Lama,The New York Times, 8 October 1989.
The official Iranian reaction was muted, as a reformer, Mohammad Khatami, was president. But
influential conservatives, in the press and the religious establishment, condemned the award as a
disgrace.See Bronner, Nobel Peace Prize; Robin Gedye, Some Iranian Clerics, Catholics Object
to Winner,Daily Telegraph, 11 October 2003; Associated Press, Gathering Storm Over Iranianʼs
Peace Prize,Mercury, 13 October 2003.
Journalists, scholars, and activists often credit the Nobel Peace Prize with at-
tracting media attention to stalled peace processes and deplorable human
rights situations, generating pressure for change. If the Peace Prize has a pos-
itive effect, this is its most likely route. But these observations are based on
impressionistic evidence. If this claim has validity, one would expect to see sys-
tematically greater coverage of the recipient and of the recipientʼs conflict/
cause in the global mediabecause the Prize had made reporters, editors,
and publishers newly aware of a long-ignored problem; because the Prize
had boosted the publicʼs demand for information on the problem or conflict,
to which newspapers and other media were responding; or because the Prize
had prompted state leaders or international organizations to take the problem
more seriously, and the media subsequently covered their interventions. Re-
gardless of the mechanism, the expectation is that the organization, individual,
or cause would receive increased coverage in mainstream, prominent global
media outlets and that such coverage would persist for some substantial period
beyond the awardʼs announcement.
With the proliferation of electronic media, one can easily test this proposi-
tion. One might examine all aspirationalcases since 1971, but that would stack
the decks against the Prizeʼs impact; some cases were already the subject of
media scrutiny, and the media might have been saturated before the award.
Therefore, I focus on cases of less well-known Laureates and their causes”—
that is, cases in which Prize advocates expect the Prize to have a substantial
impact on media coverage.
These should be easyor most likelycases
for the media impact hypothesis. If the effect is small or non-existent in even
these cases, one might conclude that the Prize does not have the effect often
ascribed to it. The ready availability of data since the late 1980s warrants start-
ing the analysis then. It is also justifiable on methodological grounds to focus
on awards since 1989; one might expect that superpower concerns would
dominate media coverage during the Cold War, reducing the Prizeʼs impact,
and thus post-1989 cases are also most likelyfor the media impact hy-
pothesis. These criteriaafter 1989, aspirational, not already the subject of
broad media coverageleave eight cases (and 10 Nobel Laureates) worthy
of examination.
These eight cases, however, reveal little evidence that the Nobel Peace
Prize consistently boosts international media coverage beyond the short run.
Lundestad, Reflections.
The analysis therefore includes two cases that Lundestad (Reflections) specifically says the
Prize moved higher on the international agenda: Myanmar and East Timor. The excluded post-
1989 aspirational cases are South Africaʼs transition from apartheid (1993), the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict (1994), the troubles in Northern Ireland (1998), the conflict on the Korean peninsula
(2000), the United Nations (2001), nuclear disarmament (2005), and President Barack Obama (2009).
Moreover, in those cases in which global media sources do devote more re-
sources after the award, it appears to be for the reasons that pessimists, not
Prize advocates, would expect. Figure 1 displays the number of times the Dalai
Lamaʼs name appeared in headlines in the LexisNexis database of major
world newspapersbetween October 1988 and December 1990. The an-
nouncement of the award in October 1989 produced a large spike in articles
focused on the Dalai Lama and a smaller spike in December when the presen-
tation ceremony was held. Excluding the three months of OctoberDecember
1989, the Dalai Lama received somewhat higher overall coverage in the
12 months beginning in January 1990 (38 articles) than in the year that pre-
ceded the award (27 articles), but the pattern was not consistent with the
conventional wisdom, which would have expected the Prize to have initiated
dependably higher coverage of the Dalai Lama in the months immediately af-
ter the award. In fact, as Figure 2 indicates, media coverage picked up only in
the spring and summer of 1990 as a product of a Chinese crackdownin line
with the pessimistic hypothesis. Coverage of Tibet in general was in fact higher
before the award, thanks to intensified government repression in March 1989:
there were 142 articles with Tibet in the headline between October 1988 and
September 1989, and 63 articles in 1990. In short, the Nobel Committeeʼs
hopethat the Prize would bring greater worldwide media attention to Tibet
in particular (and perhaps to Chinese human rights abuses more generally)
is not supported by the data.
In contrast, awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Burmese opposition leader
Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991 does appear to have led to greater worldwide media
Coverage of Dalai Lama
Major World Newspapers
Source: LexisNexis Academic.
attention to her country. This is not readily apparent from Figure 3, which was
calculated using the same method as above for Myanmar/Burma. However, in
the three years preceding the award, global media coverage averaged 13 ar-
ticles per month; in the three years after the award, beginning January 1992,
global media coverage averaged 17.61 articles per month. The disparity is even
greater in the year immediately before and immediately after the award
8.83 versus 17.33 articles. These differences are reproduced, or are even greater,
when one calculates median, as opposed to mean, monthly coverage. How-
ever, Prize advocates should not take heart: as I discuss in greater detail below,
in the Prizeʼs wake, the ruling junta showed even less tolerance than usual for
political dissent, and increased media attention failed to moderate the regimeʼs
repressive behavior.
The Myanmar case was less typical, however, than that of Tibet. I cannot,
due to space constraints, present all the other cases in equivalent detail. But
the results follow the same pattern. Neither Rigoberta Menchú nor the
Guatemalan Civil War (1992) received substantially greater sustained cover-
age after the award.
The plight of East Timor (1996) was covered with
Coverage of Tibet
Major World Newspapers
Source: LexisNexis Academic.
This conclusion, based on systematic examination of global media, runs counter to accounts that
credit the award with drawing international attention to the stalled peace negotiations and govern-
ment abuses in Guatemala. See Kay B. Warren, Indigenous Movements and their Critics: Pan-Maya
Activism in Guatemala (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998), 53; Daniel Wilkinson, Silence
on the Mountain: Stories of Terror, Betrayal, and Forgetting in Guatemala (Durham, NC: Duke Univer-
sity Press, 2004), 30.
equal intensity (or lack thereof) in the year before the award and in the year
after: respectively, 11 articles per month versus around 10 articles per month.
The impressive coverage during the award period (OctoberDecember 1996)
27 articles per monthwaned quickly. The following year (1997) the Com-
mittee sought to draw attention to the cause of the International Campaign
to Ban Landmines, but the effects were either small or nonexistent. By one
measure (references to landminesin the text of articles in major world news-
papers), there were substantially more references in the year before the award
(238.1 per month) than in the year after (172.1). By another measure (refer-
ences to landminein headlines alone), the later period saw a slight increase
over the earlier (14.1 vs. 12.5 articles per month). Not only is this difference
small in absolute terms, but it shrinks to insignificance when one takes into ac-
count long-term agenda-setting trends: the landmines issue had been steadily
gaining coveragewith monthly averages rising from 6 to 8.92 to 12.5 articles
in the three years preceding the award.
In 2003 and 2004, the Nobel Committee honored two individuals with ex-
tremely low world press profiles, and the award unquestionably helped them,
as individuals, gain attention from the media. Shirin Ebadi appeared in the
headline and lead paragraphs of merely three articles of major world news-
papers in the three years preceding her award, but nearly 400 times in the
three years thereafter. For Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmentalist and
political figure, the corresponding figures are 8 and 216. But whether their
causes profited is less clear. Maathai was associated with sustainable develop-
ment and especially deforestation, causes whose profile rose along with the
global environmentalist movement. Global media had thus devoted increasing
Coverage of Myanmar/Burma
Major World Newspapers
Source: LexisNexis Academic.
attention to problems of deforestation, but there was no marked increase in
the wake of her award. Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change were honored in 2007 for raising public awareness of global warming.
While media coverage of climate change, and specifically rising global tem-
peratures, rose after 2007, one cannot with confidence credit the Peace Prize;
media attention to climate change had been steadily rising for years. As a lead-
ing liberal voice in Iran, Ebadi is linked to political and social reform agendas
as well as human rights. Figure 4 demonstrates clearly, based on references to
Iran and reform in the headlines and lead paragraphs of major world news-
papers between 1997 and 2007, that Ebadiʼs increased personal prominence
did not translate into systematically greater coverage of the impediments to,
demand for, or prospects for reform in Iran.
In conclusion, with the possible exception of Myanmar (1991), the Nobel
Peace Prize cannot be credited with drawing global media attention to recipi-
entsʼcauses. When recipients are largely unknown, the award can be a personal
boon, but such cases are rare. Moreover, even in these instances, there is little
evidence that the award redounds to the benefit of their causes, which the Nobel
Committee wishes to further. So much for the Prize advocatesʼhopes.
The conferral of the Nobel Peace Prize does, however, appear to have an im-
pact in certain circumstances more in line with the previously articulated ex-
pectations of pessimists. Of the nine aspirational cases since 1971 aiming at
domestic change (see Appendix), six produced the opposite effect of that
desired; the other three seem to have had no effect; and in no case does the
Coverage of Iran and Reform
Major World Newspapers
Source: LexisNexis Academic.
Prize appear to have played a substantial role in bringing about the changes
favored and envisioned by the Nobel Committee. The Committee has the best
of intentions in promoting responsive regimes and the protection of human
rights, but the consequences can be perverse.
Space constraints preclude adequate tracing of all these stories, and thus
I focus on the post-Cold War cases, in which one might have expected the
warming international environment to be most conducive to effective interna-
tional pressurethat is, a best-case scenario for the Peace Prize. Few, for in-
stance, would be surprised to learn that the award to Sakharov in 1975 sparked
a vigorous crackdown by the authorities on Soviet dissidents; the Prize helped
temporarily protect Sakharov himself, but even he would eventually be exiled
to Gorky after his outspoken opposition to the war in Afghanistan.
Of the
five such cases since 1989, three produced unexpected negative effects, de-
scribed below. The other two are exceptional. The 1993 award, bestowed on
Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk, did not have disruptive effects because,
while it sought to encourage democratic change, that change was already well
underway, and it was transpiring, after years of confrontation, through a nego-
tiated solution. But this was a singular case: in contrast to nearly all other do-
mestic change cases, in which the Peace Prize honored the opponents of
repression and implicitly or explicitly criticized the powers that beatacktaken
with regard to South Africa as well, with predictably disappointing results, in
1960 and 1984the Prize Committee in 1993 hailed the South African gov-
ernment for its initiative, encouraging it along its liberalizing path rather than
taking it to task for its misdeeds. The Prize thus worked with state power,
rather than against it. The previous yearʼs award, to Rigoberta Menchú, was
also unusual, in that it came amidst an ongoing civil war. Levels of violence
were already high in Guatemala, and the conflict had ebbed and waned several
times. It is difficult to attribute any increase in state violence to the award, nor
did the Guatemalan government seem to grow any more intransigent than it
already was. Overall, the award seems to have had little impact on the stalled
negotiations, which resumed only a year later, after a UN special representa-
tive came on the scene; Menchú and the Nobel Prize were, from the perspec-
tive of the peace process, irrelevant.
To be clear, the claim here is not that the Nobel Peace Prize was the pri-
mary or fundamental reason that these states repressed activism on behalf of
democracy and human rights. After all, in these cases, the Prize was given pre-
cisely to draw attention to ongoing or recently intensified repression in author-
itarian regimes and to pressure those regimes for change. Moreover, as I make
Andrew and Mitrokhin, Sword and the Shield, 322336; Richard Lourie, Sakharov: A Biography
(Hanover, NH: Brandeis University Press, 2002), 276277.
Susanne Jonas, Democratization Through Peace: The Difficult Case of Guatemala,Journal of
Interamerican Studies and World Affairs 42 (Winter 2000): 938, at 12; David Holiday, Guatemalaʼs
Long Road to Peace,Current History 96 (February 1997): 6874.
clear in the brief case studies that follow, an upsurge of activism and repression
often preceded, and motivated, the award. Finally, as I discuss below, other
factors, in addition to the Prize, often contributed to the authoritarian regimeʼs
sense of encirclement and anxiety. But, within the necessary space constraints,
I do seek at least to clear room for the possibility, and to suggest that it is plau-
sible, that the Nobel Peace Prize not only failed to produce greater tolerance
of dissent, but exacerbated the regimeʼs perceived vulnerability and boosted its
incentives to stifle dissent in the short to medium run. In the long run, the in-
creased repression that follows the award might contribute to liberalization,
and indeed one could argue that this was the case in South Africa after Desmond
Tutu was honored in 1984. But such processes are highly contingent; China,
Iran, and Myanmarthe three cases explored belowhave not, in the years
since the award, experienced much political liberalization. Moreover, this
complex causal chain does not reflect how the Nobel Committee envisions
the award exerting a progressive impact. Because the Prize advocatesʼcatalog
of effects focuses on the short to medium run, so too does this article, fully
aware that the repression prompted by the award may nevertheless be part
of the winding, long-run, and always uncertain path to liberalism.
1989: 14
Dalai Lama
One might reasonably argue that the Peace Prize awarded in 1989 to Tibetʼs
supreme religious leader and national symbol made little difference to the
Tibetan cause. Chinaʼs response to Tibetan demands for self-rule has varied over
time, but it took a hard-line turn in 1988 after Tibetan activism intensified. The
authorities imposed martial law in Lhasa in March 1989, after bloody clashes
between protesters and police, and although it was formally lifted in May 1990,
that was a cosmetic exercise,as the authorities retained and continued to
employ these repressive tools.
Tibetans were highly mobilized immediately
before and immediately after the award, and Chinese policy was repressive
before and after as well. The Peace Prize would, at first blush, seem to have
had little impact. Yet such an account presumes that the path of politics is lin-
ear, that the Tibetans and the Chinese government would, independent of the
Peace Prize, have proceeded along the same way regardless. It misses the con-
tingency of political process, and it fails to grasp how the Nobel Prize altered
the politics on both sides.
In one sense, the award was successful. It sought to give emotional succor
to the Tibetan people and to democracy activists across China, and to pressure
the Chinese government for change. After the Tiananmen Square massacre of
June 1989, the Committee used the Peace Prize to send a message of interna-
Human Rights Watch, Merciless Repression: Human Rights in Tibet (New York: Human Rights
Watch, 1990); Jonathan Mirsky, Chinese Chase U.S. Loans by Lifting Martial Law in Tibet,Globe
and Mail, 3 May 1990.
tional displeasure to the Chinese government.
In awarding the Prize to the
Dalai Lama, it emphasized his philosophy of peaceand his steadfast
opposition to violence, no matter how worthy the cause, in pointed contrast
to the Chinese authoritiesʼrepression; in Tibet, as in other parts of the world,
it is becoming increasingly obvious that problems cannot be solved by the use
of brutal military power to crush peaceful demonstrations.That the interna-
tional community had sided with the Tibetan struggle against the Chinese
indeed seems to have buoyed the spirits of Tibetans and revital-
ized their flagging campaign. Tibetans everywhere considered this a major
victory”—confirmation of the justice of their cause and a sign of the worldʼs
support. Tibetans in Lhasa reacted to the announcement with pride, and
some took to the streets in celebration.
A representative of the Dalai Lama
declared the award the best thing that has happened to Tibetans in 40 years.
That fall and especially the following winter and spring, political unrest spread
across Tibet.
Tibetans calculated that with the world focused upon them,
thanks to the Prize, the Chinese authorities would prove more lenient. They
were wrong.
The Chinese undertook a vicious crackdown in late fall 1989. A week after
the Nobel Committeeʼs announcement, the authorities forbade even such tra-
ditional, non-violent forms of celebration as burning incense and throwing
tsampa (flour) into the air. Public religious observances were also banned.
Political imprisonment, according to Human Rights Watch, abounded in the
period after the award.
On the first anniversary of the imposition of martial
law, in March 1990, China held a military parade in Lhasa that was intended,
by one account, to make clear what would follow even the most peaceful
demonstration against their presence.Tibetans reported that the parade
Sheila Rule, How, and Why, the Dalai Lama Won the Peace Prize,The New York Times,13Oc-
tober 1989.
Press Release, 5 October 1989, accessed at
press.html, 8 July 2009; Presentation Speech, accessed at
laureates/1989/presentation-speech.html, 8 July 2009.
Human Rights Watch, Merciless Repression, 27; Melvyn C. Goldstein, The Snow Lion and the
Dragon: China, Tibet, and the Dalai Lama (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 91. See also
Tsering Shakya, The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947 (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1999), 431.
Philip Colley, Support for Tibet Grows in China,Guardian, 4 January 1990.
Unrest Spreads in Tibet,Guardian, 6 April 1990.
New Crackdown Follows Celebrations in Lhasa,The Washington Post, 21 December 1989; Hu-
man Rights Committee of LAWASIA and Tibet Information Network, Defying the Dragon: China and
Human Rights in Tibet (London: Tibet Information Network, 1991), 30; Ronald David Schwartz, Circle
of Protest: Political Ritual in the Tibetan Uprising, 198792 (New York: Columbia University Press,
1994), 173; Robert Barnett, Symbols and Protest: The Iconography of Demonstrations in Tibet,
19871990in Robert Barnett, ed., Resistance and Reform in Tibet (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1994), 250251.
Human Rights Watch, Merciless Repression,3437.
marked the authoritiesʼbiggest show of forcesince political unrest had com-
menced two and a half years before.
The last six months of martial lawfrom
November 1989 to April 1990reportedly marked the period of most-intense
Chinese repression, with as many as 2,000 Tibetans executed, countless more
imprisoned and tortured, houses razed, and monasteries violated. Human
Rights Watch/Asia Watch reported in May 1990 that the incidence of serious
torture is at least as bad as it has been for years, and in some cases, it seems
While the intensified repression in Tibet cannot be divorced from the
larger context of the Tiananmen protest and crackdownindeed, the Nobel
Prize was awarded to the Dalai Lama within that contextthe patterns in
Tibet were distinctive, part of a history that preceded Tiananmen and the de-
mocracy movement and proceeded at least somewhat independently of them.
Repression in Tibet came not immediately after Tiananmen, but, hardly coin-
cidentally, laterwith the Dalai Lama winning the Peace Prize and with the
international community seeming to legitimize Tibetan independence claims.
In fact, beginning in November 1989, government cadres charged with coun-
tering Tibetan splittism,especially in monasteries and nunneries, were spe-
cifically told, in addition to their other duties, to condemn and campaign
against the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Dalai Lama.
As one
scholar concludes, the Prize, marking the culmination of a string of interna-
tional successes by the Dalai Lama, signaled that momentum appeared to
have shifted to the Dalai Lama [and] Beijing reacted predictably to the
threat this shift in momentum posed by moving to a more hard-line, integra-
tionist policy.
If the Nobel Committee was sending a message, so too was the
Chinese government.
Awarding the Peace Prize to the 14
Dalai Lama was gratifying to Tibetan
nationalists living abroad, and it may even have been welcomed by nationalists
within Tibet. But it did little to make an autonomous, let alone an indepen-
dent, Tibet a reality or to make the Chinese authorities more open to Tibetan
demandsjust the opposite. Instead, the government, eager to prove that it
could not be bullied by the international community and that it had resolve
in reserves, battened down the hatches, refused concessions, and ramped up
repression. That the award might have this effect was anticipated by at least
some contemporary observers,
and the reaction may have been reinforced by
Chinese cultural norms highly sensitive to loss of face.
Eyewitness: Chinese Show of Force Chills Tibet,Guardian, 9 March 1990.
Peter Ellingsen, Crackdown Reported in Tibet,Sydney Morning Herald, 23 May 1990; Lena
H. Sun, Human-Rights Abuses Said to Mount in Tibet,The Washington Post, 29 May 1990.
Ronald D. Schwartz, The Anti-Splittist Campaign and Tibetan Political Consciousness,in
Barnett, ed., Resistance and Reform, 217.
Goldstein, Snow Lion and the Dragon, 91. See also Shakya, Dragon in the Land of Snows,431433.
Jonathan Mirsky, Giving Peace Prize to Dalai Lama may Tighten Chinaʼs Screws on Tibet,
Globe and Mail, 9 October 1989.
The Nobel Peace Prize did not, of course, produce this unwelcome back-
lash in isolation from other instances of international pressurenotably U.S.
congressional resolutionsand domestic discontent in Tibet and elsewhere
in China. As international interferencein Chinaʼsdomestic affairsgrew
and as civil society became more restive, the Chinese government reconsid-
ered the moderate stance it had adopted toward Tibet in the first half of the
decade, and it clamped down on the dissent it had permitted (in relative terms)
to flourish. But the Prize did mark the symbolic culmination of the Dalai
Lamaʼs efforts to win international support for the Tibetan cause and to per-
suade the world of Chinese aggression against his country. In the mid-1980s
he began to travel more frequently abroad, with an expressly political agenda,
to establish allied groups across the world, especially but not exclusively in the
United States, to recruit foreign parliamentarians to the Tibetan cause, and to
build global popular support for Tibet.
The Dalai Lama proved a skilled pol-
itician, outmaneuvering the Chinese in Western forums; he was successful be-
yond all expectations, and the Peace Prize was perhaps his greatest tactical
success. But, despite the Dalai Lamaʼs tactical accomplishments, the strategy
was misguided, and Tibet today is no closer to autonomy than it was 30 years
ago. As one historian concludes, the Dalai Lama miscalculated.His efforts did
not prod Beijing toward further compromisebut only strengthened the hand
of hard-liners.
The Peace Prize seems, perhaps even more than Tiananmen,
to have been the proverbial straw that broke the camelʼs, or perhaps the tigerʼs,
back. Chinaʼs reaction to the Prize was its new approach in microcosm: the Prize
spurred China not to adopt a more liberal policy toward Tibetan nationalism,
but rather to tighten the screws.
1991: Aung San Suu Kyi
Observers of Myanmar rightly give the Nobel Peace Prize credit for fixing the
worldʼs attention on the plight of the democratic opposition, embodied in the
figure of Aung San Suu Kyi.
But this, I will argue, represents only the positive
side of the ledger. As in China, the Peace Prize brought substantial costs as
well for the very cause it sought to promote.
One might argue that in Myanmar, as in China, the Nobel Prize was more a
response to, than a cause of, state repression, and indeed the human rights sit-
uation had long been dire in Burma/Myanmar and, in the months before the
Nobel Committeeʼs announcement, it was reportedly deteriorating,
Goldstein, Snow Lion and the Dragon,7578; Grunfeld, Making of Modern Tibet, 230232, 236
238; Shakya, Dragon in the Land of Snows, 412416; Smith, Jr., Tibetan Nation, chap. 15.
Grunfeld, Making of Modern Tibet, 233, and generally 233235.
David I. Steinberg, Burma, The State of Myanmar (Washington, DC: Georgetown University
Press, 2001), 90.
Louise Williams, Junta Tightens Grip on Power,Sydney Morning Herald, 28 March 1991.
contributing to the Committeeʼs choice. But the decision to honor Aung San
Suu Kyi intensified the regimeʼs fear of encirclement, activated its sensitivity to
foreign interference in Myanmarʼs affairs, and increased its reason and in-
centives to lash out. Just before the Prize was awarded, Myanmarʼs military
rulersthe State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC)purged
the civil service, firing 15,000 civil servants. The move marked the final stage
of the SLORCʼs steady reassertion of control over Myanmarʼs institutions and
but it was also a symptom,according to a well-informed Yangon
resident,”“of [the regimeʼs] anxiety,specifically its nervousnessat the pros-
pect of Suu Kyi winning the Prize. Later that fall, Amnesty International
charged the SLORC with having intensified its efforts to crush the countryʼs
nonviolent opposition.
Student leaders were rounded up in the days and
weeks after the Prize announcement; opposition and ethnic political party
leaders were detained and asked to provide their opinionon the awarding
of the Peace Prize to Suu Kyi. Also that fall, the remaining leadership of the
countryʼs second-largest opposition party fled to Thailand, declaring that, as a
result of the regimeʼs persecution, the status of all political parties has been
Offering concessions was the last thing on the SLORCʼs mind
as it faced a world bullying our country, threatening our country.
It instead
focused on harassing and punishing Suu Kyiʼs aides and on trying to discredit
Suu Kyi by alleging that she was an agent of imperialist powers, by launching
sexist broadsides against the very prospect of female leadership, and by play-
ing the race card against her children.
When students protested that fall, all
institutions of higher education were shuttered, to reopen only three years later.
By helping to boost her name and her aura,a Western diplomat observed,
the Peace Prize made Aung San Suu Kyi a target; the SLORC could no longer
ignore her.
The Prize may also have undermined military moderates, who,
desirous of improving Myanmarʼs international standing, sought a more tolerant
approach toward Suu Kyi and her fellow democracy activists.
Michael W. Charney, A History of Modern Burma (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2009), 177.
William Branigin, Myanmar Said to Purge Civil Service; Opposition Leaderʼs Candidacy for
Nobel Focuses International Ire,The Washington Post, 14 October 1991; Branigin, Myanmar Steps
Up Repression, Says Amnesty,The Washington Post, 10 December 1991.
Myanmar: No Law at AllʼHuman Rights Violations Under Military Rule (New York: Amnesty
International USA, 1992), 9.
David E. Sanger, Burmese Military Increases Attacks on Detained Opposition Leader,The
New York Times, 29 December 1991.
Branigin, Myanmar Said to Purge Civil Service; Charney, Modern Burma, 176.
Burmese Universities are Closed as Military Acts to Block Protests,The New York Times,13De-
cember 1991.
Sanger, Burmese Military Increases Attacks.
Andrew Selth, The Armed Forces and Military Rule in Burma,in Robert I. Rotberg, ed., Burma:
Prospects for a Democratic Future (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1998), 99.
As part of its postNobel Prize ramped-up repression, Myanmarʼs military
government initiated that winter an all-out military assault against pro-democratic
rebels and the ethnic insurgents, notably the Karen, with which they were al-
lied. This was reportedly the most intense assault in more than 40 years on the
Karen, and for the first time, the military prosecuted the campaign on all re-
gional fronts at once, producing a transnational refugee crisis. By the end of
March, the military had scored impressive victories, including the capture of a
key strategic mountain from which it could freely lob mortars and artillery into
the rebel capital, though these advances fell short of the militaryʼs promise to
capture the rebelsʼheadquarters.
The campaign signaled the always-anxious
regimeʼs heightened anxiety in the wake of the Prize, but it also revealed the
militaryʼs increased capability, thanks to an infusion of Chinese weapons. (A
complementary explanation is that the SLORC saw these military operations
as diversionary, hoping thereby to focus the populationʼs attention on matters
other than democracy.) The regimeʼssuccessmagnified because the pro-
democracy movement had tarnished itself by engaging in an internal witch
hunt in which it used torture to extract confessions from alleged government
spiesmay have reduced its anxiety to the point that it could allow some cos-
metic concessions, such as releasing a few hundred less-prominent political
prisoners, allowing Suu Kyiʼs family to visit her without preconditions, opening
a dialogue with the now-weakened opposition, and (by fall) lifting martial law;
however, these actions and promises,one analyst noted, add[ed] up to
nothing more than the appearance of change.
In sum, the Nobel Peace Prize did bring greater attention to Myanmar and
coalesce Western pressure, but the result was to weaken, not strengthen, pro-
democracy forces: SLORC repression grew, and the pro-democracy movement
cracked. The events of 19911992 bore out an observation common among
Burmese: the military regime has been only marginally responsive to pressure,
whether domestic or international in origin, and such pressure often has proved
As one balanced critic of the Westʼs policy of censure,
Because of the intensity of the militaryʼs efforts, one analyst characterized the campaign as a
clear defeat,but it is not clear that the military saw it that way. See Josef Silverstein, Burma in
an International Perspective,Asian Survey 32 (October 1992): 951963, at 959. See, generally, Larry
Jagan, Offensive Targets Burmaʼs Ethnic Rebels,Toronto Star, 16 February 1992; William Branigin,
Burmese Recount Tales of Terror at Hands of Troops,The Washington Post, 16 February 1992;
Barbara Crosette, Thousands of Burmese Said to Flee Drive by Army,The New York Times,
5 March 1992; Philip Shenon, Military Operations to Stop,The New York Times, 29 April 1992.
Others attributed these liberalizing moves to the militaryʼs inability to overrun the Karen head-
quarters before the monsoon season. Generally, on the liberalization, see David I. Steinberg, Myanmar
in 1992: Plus Ça Change ...?Asian Survey 33 (February 1993): 175183, esp. 176178; Silverstein,
Burma in an International Perspective; and Robert D. McFadden, Burmese Rulers Releasing a
Dozen Political Prisoners,The New York Times, 26 April 1992.
Sheryl WuDunn, Dissent by Burmese Only Brings More Repression,The New York Times,
25 November 1990.
sanctions, and isolation notes, the SLORC/SPDC [State Peace and Develop-
ment Council, as the SLORC was renamed in 1997] has generally appeared
more concerned about domestic stability than international respectability,
and the Western approach has reinforced the sense of siege prevalent among
the countryʼs nationalistic military leaderswithout substantially undercutting
the stateʼs capacity for repression.
Not only did the Prize bolster regime hard-liners, but it also mobilized pro-
democratic forces in Myanmar, giving the regime greater excuse to crack down
and thus deepening the tragedy. Many accounts emphasize that the award gave
hope to beleaguered democracy activists. One Yangon resident told journal-
ists, This is the best news we have had for a long time. It must make a differ-
ence. Not even the Burmese military can ignore the message conveyed by the
Nobel Prize.
On the very day the Prize was awarded to Suu Kyi in absentia,
students rallied against the SLORC in the largest anti-government demonstra-
tion since 1988, when the regime had squashed the pro-democracy movement.
Dozens of her supporters were arrested for hanging congratulatory notices,
and perhaps 900 were ultimately arrested that month.
Computerized content analysis of global media also suggests that protest
activity in Myanmar was more intense in fall 1991 and that government repres-
sion was especially severe toward the end of 1991 and especially in 1992. The
IDEA database lists no protest demonstrationsin 19891990 or 19921993,
but it lists two such events in 1991, both in mid-October, after the award had
been announced. This source lists more arrests and detentions in 1992, espe-
cially January and February, than in surrounding years. It cites also three times
as many military raids in 1992, especially in the mid-spring; that year also saw
four major military mobilizations, three in January.
The World Handbook of
Political Indicators IV records twice as many government violent actionsin
1992 as in surrounding years and nearly twice as many government forceful
actions.More clearly targeted domestically are events that the database cat-
egorizes as civil direct,”“civil violent,and civil forcefulactions, and these
also reveal heightened activity in 1992.
One should not rely too heavily on
Morten B. Pedersen, Promoting Human Rights in Burma: A Critique of Western Sanctions Policy
(Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), quote at 219, generally 221233. See also Andrew Selth,
BurmaʼsSaffron Revolutionʼand the Limits of International Influence,Australian Journal of In-
ternational Affairs 62 (September 2008): 281297.
Neil Kelly and Tony Samstag, Nobel Peace Prize Gives Burma Hope,The Times, 15 October
1991. See also Steinberg, Burma, 91.
Students Protest Burmaʼs Junta,Toronto Star, 10 December 1991; Raymond Whitaker, Suu
Kyiʼs Supporters Arrestedʼin Burma,Independent, 10 December 1991; David E. Sanger, Burmese
Dissidents Say 900 were Arrested in Crackdown,The New York Times, 19 December 1991.
Integrated Data for Event Analysis, available at Data compiled by Aaron
Rapport, August 2007.
In the case of the World Handbook, these data are especially preliminary, according to its editors
in an April 2002 memo. Data compiled by Aaron Rapport, August 2007.
such data, since media access to Myanmar is highly restricted and coverage is
necessarily spotty.
But it is suggestive. Some have argued that, more broadly,
Western policy has sustained false hopes and an unrealistically hard line
among the Burmese opposition and that the Nobel Peace Prize in particular
may have reduced Suu Kyiʼs room for maneuver, compelling her to hew pub-
licly to an uncompromising stance.
Some observers acknowledged that one could not expect the Burmese
military, with its xenophobic instincts and skill at repression, suddenly to col-
lapse or to feel very much shame,but they hoped that the Prize might suffi-
ciently embarrass Myanmarʼs neighbors that they would bring their leverage to
In November 1991, perhaps because of the attention the Prize had
drawn, Myanmarʼs neighbors stopped opposing a UN resolution rebuking
the SLORCa resolution they had blocked a year beforeand even China
and Cuba, which normally opposed any measure criticizing a countryʼs human
rights situation, voted for the resolution, which explicitly noted the Prize.
However, this was hardly the norm. Myanmarʼs neighbors, with the notable
exception of the Philippines, generally offered little criticism and instead con-
tinued to try to integrate the country into regional institutions. Members of the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) persisted in their approach
of constructive engagement,and they continued to conduct lucrative trade
in raw materials and arms with Myanmar.
Human rights groups singled out
ASEAN member states for their lack of cooperation in bringing pressure on
the SLORC.
For Myanmarʼs neighbors, Nobel Peace Prize or not, it was busi-
ness as usual. European countries gradually followed suit, so that by 1995,
Myanmar had won the battle for global acceptance,and even the U.S. com-
mitment to isolating the regime was wearing thin.
Another concern is that the data reflect actual events less than they do global media interest,
which increased after the Peace Prize. However, while coverage of Burma was greater from January
1992as much as 30 percent moreit seems unlikely that this can account for the even larger in-
creases in reported events, at times on the order of 200300 percent.
Pedersen, Promoting Human Rights, 232233, 250.
Steven Erlanger, The Power of the Peace Prize May be Lost on Myanmar,The New York Times,
20 October 1991.
Paul Lewis, U.N. Rebukes Burma Military for Refusing to Yield Power,The New York Times,
30 November 1991.
John Bray, Burma: The Politics of Constructive Engagement (London: Royal Institute of Inter-
national Affairs, 1995), chap. 5.
Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, BurmaThe International Response to Continuing Hu-
man Rights Violations, 10 February 1992. More generally, see J. Mohan Malik, BurmaʼsRolein
Regional Security,in Robert I. Rotberg, ed., Burma: Prospects for a Democratic Future (Washington,
DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1998), 121123; Steinberg, Burma, 237240.
Barbara Bradley, U.S. Slowly Loses Fight to Isolate Regime Over Rights Abuses,Christian
Science Monitor, 4 January 1995.
2003: Shirin Ebadi
In awarding the Peace Prize to Shirin Ebadi of Iran, the Nobel Committee
declared its hope that the Prize will be an inspiration for all those who strug-
gle for human rights and democracy in her country, in the Moslem world, and
in all countries where the fight for human rights needs inspiration and sup-
While not all Iranians were enamored of the mullahs and while some
were attracted to the West, liberal reformers like Ebadi were lonely voices in
Iranian society, lacking grassroots support.
The Nobel Committee sought
through the prestigious award to bolster Ebadi and like-minded activists in
Iran and across the Muslim world; to attract local support to their cause; to
draw international media attention; and thereby to compel illiberal regimes
to tolerate liberal oases in their midst. We have already seen that the award
did not draw more international media attention to the fate of reform in Iran
but that it did boost the profile of Ebadi, relatively unknown before October
2003. In the West, Ebadi came to serve as a major, if not the preeminent, sym-
bol of the struggle for liberalism in Iran and of the regimeʼs insecurity and its
repressive tendencies.
However, the Nobel Prize offered Ebadi and her fellow reformers scant
protection. Not only did they make little headway, but their political position
slipped as they tried to weather a relentless conservative assault. Ebadi herself
lamented in 2005 that nothing has changed in Iran. Those who were in power
are still in power.
Reformers had confronted substantial obstacles before 2003;
conservatives, led by Iranʼs supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,
had, especially since the election of the reformist Mohammed Khatami as pres-
ident in 1997, employed the repressive tools of the state, as well as nonstate
forces (vigilantes), to beat back the reform challenge.
But the 2003 Peace
Prize offered conservatives a new opening to intervene into Iranʼs constrained
yet still vaguely democratic politics. In January 2004just three months after
the Peace Prize announcementthe powerful Guardian Council disqualified
some 3,600 reformist candidates for Parliament nationwide, including 80 in-
cumbents, and as many as 900 of 1,700 candidates in Tehran alone. This was
hardly more of the same: the number of disqualifications in 2004 was more
than triple that of 2000, marking an aggressive reassertion of authority by
Press Release, 10 October 2003, accessed at
2003/press.html, 8 July 2009.
Assef Bayat, Making Islam Democratic: Social Movements and the Post-Islamist Turn (Stanford,
CA: Stanford University Press, 2007), 134; Ali M. Ansari, Continuous Regime Change From Within,
Washington Quarterly 26 (Fall 2003): 5367, at 63.
See, for instance, The Woman the Mullahs Fear,The New York Times, 2 January 2009.
Scott Peterson, How Iranʼs Reformers Lost Their Political Way,Christian Science Monitor,
1 July 2005.
See Bayat, Making Islam Democratic,115134; Human Rights Watch, World Report 2003: Human
Rights Developments in Iran, accessed at, 8 July 2009.
according to some, a conservative coup.With many urban
voters disengaged from politics and with key reformers urging a boycott,
conservatives scored a large victory in the February elections; the next year,
with reformers still sidelined, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president.
Over the course of 2004, the once-robust reform movement virtually
evaporated: newspapers and magazines were shut down; student activists
were jailed or at least harassed. Human Rights Watch reported that respect
for basic human rights in Iran, especially freedom of expression and opinion,
while never strong, had deteriorated; torture and solitary confinement were
used routinelyto punish dissidents, independent websites were blocked. So-
called parallel institutions”—paramilitary groups, plainclothes intelligence
agents, secret prisons—“became increasingly open in crushing student protests,
detaining activists, writers, and journalists and threatening pro-democracy
speakers and audiences at public events.
One cannot discount the possibility
that the regime might have pursued this path in 2004 regardless of the Nobel
Committeeʼs decision in fall 2003; although Khatamiʼs election had put conser-
vatives on the defensive, they swiftly regrouped, and Khatamiʼs presidency was
generally marked by the consolidation of conservativesʼgains and by the
enfeebling of the opposition.
Further, the U.S. victory in Iraq in spring
2003, in which the coalition of the willinghad easily defeated the strongest
Arab national army; the reported U.S. dismissal of Iranʼs sweeping diplomatic
overtures shortly thereafter in May; and the presence of huge numbers of U.S.
troops on Iranʼs doorstepall these left the Iranian regime feeling deeply
insecure in the latter half of 2003. By one account, in the wake of the Iraq
war, in their 24-year reign, the clerics had seldom felt so threatened and vul-
At the very least, it gave them political cover to crack down at home,
so as to counter foreign interference in Iranʼs affairs. By awarding the Prize to a
leading reformer on the heels of the Iraq war and of Iranʼs rejected grand bar-
gainwith the United States, the Nobel Committee only added to the conser-
vativesʼfears of encirclement and bolstered their disinclination to give ground
Karl Vick, Iranian Reformers Protest Move Barring Many from Reelection,The New York
Times, 12 January 2004.
Robin Wright, Keeping Faith in Reform, and Islam, in Iran,The Washington Post, 15 Decem-
ber 2004; Human Rights Watch, World Report 2005: Human Rights Overview, Iran, 2004, accessed at, 8 July 2009.
Ali Gheissari and Vali Nasr, Democracy in Iran: History and the Quest for Liberty (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2006), 136145; Fakhreddin Azimi, The Quest for Democracy in Iran: A
Century of Struggle Against Authoritarian Rule (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008),
380399; and Elliot Hen-Tov, Understanding Iranʼs New Authoritarianism,Washington Quarterly
30 (Winter 20062007): 163179, esp. 164169. For a more generous assessment of the reformistsʼ
achievements and of Khatamiʼs leadership, see Ervand Abrahamian, A History of Modern Iran
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 186191.
Trita Parsi, The Price of Not Talking to Iran,World Policy Journal 23 (Winter 20062007):
1117, at 13. Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for urging me to emphasize this context.
to the domestic opposition. There is some evidence that hard-liners under-
stood the Prize precisely in this light, as an attempt to interfere with the up-
coming parliamentary elections.
It is at least plausible that the Nobel Peace
Prize awarded to Shirin Ebadi contributed to, perhaps even sparked, and at
least facilitated the crackdown of 2004.
Not only might the Prize have prompted the regime to silence its critics, but
the critics seem to have silenced themselves. Amnesty International claims that
the 2003 award contributed to the growth and increasing self-confidence of civil
society,but it provides no evidence to substantiate this assertion.
In fact, con-
servative efforts to delegitimize the award as a tool of Western interference
succeeded in putting reformers on the defensive.
Immediately after the award
announcement, a close aide to Khatami told Reuters that Ebadiʼs winning the
Prize was very good news for every Iranian,but state-run media made little
mention of the award, and Khatami himself subsequently dismissed the Peace
Prize as not very importantcompared to its counterparts in science and lit-
Khatami thereby undercut a fellow reformer, though it is unclear
whether this is because Ebadi represented a secularist break with his vision of
Iran as still an Islamic republic,
or because, ever the cautious politician, he rec-
ognized that any effort to use her prize to further the cause of reform would
leave him vulnerable to conservative attack and thus politically hamstrung.
This has generally been the fate in Iran of criticism originating abroad: nation-
alist conservatives use it to bludgeon their reformist opponents, and reformers
feel compelled to join their opponents in distancing themselves from the West.
The Nobel Committee, like U.S. democracy promotionefforts in Iran,
has adopted the view that pressure on the regime and moral as well as financial
support for liberal Iranian civil society is the most effective way to promote
Mahmood Monshipouri, The Road to Globalization Runs Through Womenʼs Struggle: Iran
and the Impact of the Nobel Peace Prize,World Affairs 167 (Summer 2004): 314, at 7.
Amnesty International Report 2005, Iran.
For examples of conservative reaction, see Parinoosh Arami and Parisa Hafezi, No Official
Fanfare for Nobel Win in Iran,New Zealand Herald, 11 October 2003; Gathering Storm over
Iranianʼs Peace Prize,Mercury, 13 October 2003.
Arami and Hafezi, No Official Fanfare;Troubled Backdrop for Iranianʼs Nobel Award,The
Financial Times, 11 October 2003; Dan de Luce, Iranʼs President Derides Woman Lawyerʼs Nobel as
Unimportant,Guardian, 15 October 2003.
For this view, see Ali Gheissari and Vali Nasr, Iranʼs Democracy Debate,Middle East Policy
11 (Summer 2004): 94106, at 103104.
For this interpretation of Khatamiʼs presidency on the whole, see Jahangir Amuzegar, Khatami:
A Folk Hero in Search of Relevance,Middle East Policy 11 (Summer 2004): 7593.
For more examples, see Bahman Baktiari and Haleh Vaziri, Iran: Doubting Reform,Current
History 102 (January 2003): 3639; Jahangir Amuzegar, Iranʼs Crumbling Revolution,Foreign Af-
fairs 82 (January/February 2003): 4457. There is little evidence to support the International Crisis
Groupʼs optimism in this regard: see the ICGʼsIran: Discontent and Disarray,Middle East Briefing
No. 11, 15 October 2003, 2, accessed at
africa/iran_discontent_disarray.pdf, 12 October 2009.
change. The aims are well-meaning, but the strategy is misguided. As a Teheran
University political scientist explained, The more pressure the reformists feel
especially if the pressure is coming from outsidethe greater the negative im-
pact on their capacity to mobilize, especially in domestic politics.
they are already very weak, insecure regimes, like Iranʼs, are more likely to
stand firm than to bend, let alone break. Iranʼs relative isolation from the in-
ternational community and its oil wealth have insulated hard-liners from much
international and domestic pressure,
but the example of Myanmar suggests
that even a poor regime normally has the capabilities to impose its will at home.
Since 2003, Iranʼs domestic milieu has become even more repressive, and in-
creased overt U.S. support for reform, epitomized by the establishment of an
Iran democracy fund, bears at least some of the blame. By 2007, the regime
had undertaken one of its most ferocious crackdowns on dissent in years”—
detaining as many as 150,000 for wearing un-Islamic clothing in the spring, ar-
resting womenʼs rights advocates and student protesters, banning news stories
on all sensitive topics, closing and forcing underground liberal civil society or-
ganizations, and, according to one critic, fostering an atmosphere of absolute
terror.It is revealing that the Westʼs ideological allies in Iran, activists like
Shirin Ebadi, are among the U.S. democracy fundʼs most vociferous critics.
Only the most pollyannaish would expect the Nobel Peace Prize to markedly
and directly promote peace, democracy, and human rights. Yet, the award de-
mands a scholarly analysispartly because it is always accompanied by a me-
dia frenzy that presumes the awardʼs significance, but more importantly
because both the recipients and their political opponents take the award very
seriously and factor it into their calculations.
This article presents evidence in
abundance that the realist dismissal of such prizes does not accord with the
behavior of opposition activists and regime leaders; realists may be right that
the Prize is the product of a blinkered liberal internationalism that fails to take
into account the realities of power politics, but they are wrong to think that these
prizes have no impact on the dynamics of international and especially domestic
politics. At the same time, however, this article has found little support for the
Prizeʼs advocatesʼchief hope: that the Prize substantially boosts international
media coverage of the recipient and his or her cause.
Karl Vick, Iranian Hard-Liners Block Reform Bill,The Washington Post, 4 June 2003.
Bayat, Making Islam Democratic, 133.
Neil MacFarquhar, Iran Cracks Down on Dissent,The New York Times, 24 June 2007; Negar
Azimi, Hard Realities of Soft Power,New York Times Magazine, 24 June 2007.
The sparse existing scholarly literature has rather different purposes than those of this article.
See Bulloch, For Whom Nobel Tolls?; Richard T. Kinnier, Jerry L. Kernes, Jessie Wetherbe Hayman,
Patricia N. Flynn, Elia Simon, and Laura A. Kilian, Values Most Extolled in Nobel Peace Prize
Speeches,Journal of Psychology 141 (November 2007): 581587.
More perplexingly, from the standpoint of both realists and Prize advocates,
in some circumstances, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize has a real effect
on politics but to the detriment of human rights and democracy: when awarded
to promote domestic change, as it has been more often in recent years, it in fact
mobilizes the forces opposed to change and impedes liberalization. At the same
time, it oftenas the Nobel Committee hopesboosts the spirits of liberal re-
formers. The result is to leave these reformers exposed, precisely at the moment
when leaders are feeling most vulnerable and thus most likely to apply the
stateʼs power to repressive ends. In short, in such cases, the Nobel Peace Prize
brings few benefits and substantial costs. The Nobel Committeeʼs intentions are
often noble, but the noblest of intentions can result in tragic consequences. That
outcomes often depart from actorsʼintentions is, of course, something that re-
alists have long observed about politics, and so this analysis marries a realistʼs
structural and pessimistic sensibility to a liberalʼs appreciation of process.
In most recently honoring President Obama, the Nobel Committee clearly
hoped to encourage his administration to further distance itself from the uni-
lateralist tendencies, confrontational bearing, dismissive rhetoric, and disen-
gaged posture of the George W. Bush years. Whether the Prize will have this
effect remains to be seen, but, as this articleʼs analysis might suggest, there is
reason for skepticism. Obama is hardly a vulnerable liberal activist in an authori-
tarian regime, but he must worry about how his Peace Prize will reverberate in
Americaʼs domestic politics. To those (more conservative) Americans less en-
thralled with Obama, the Peace Prize may be seen as a warning sign that Obama
perhaps shares the Nobel Committeeʼs international agenda (ultra-liberal, as they
see it) and perhaps cares more deeply about advancing the common interests
of the international community than about promoting the interests of the United
States. The Nobel Peace Prize may thus prove a political liability for Obama and
may compel him, in a political environment still deeply shaped by the legacy of
September 11, to take steps to counteract the impression that he is some inter-
nationalist peacenik. Rather than release his inner dove, the Nobel Peace Prize
may force him to brandish his public hawk. He may even feel required to part ways
with the international community just to bolster his credentials as a defender of
American interests.
If this comes to pass, the Nobel Peace Prize may once again
help produce a world at odds with the Committeeʼs intent and vision.
Insofar as the Nobel Peace Prize rewards accomplishment, it can be wel-
comed for its performative value, reproducing and thereby reaffirming liberal
ideals. But insofar as the Prize is bestowed for actorsʼaspirations and insofar as
it seeks to promote democratic political change, winners beware.*
This paragraph draws on Ronald Krebs, Winning the Prize, Losing the Peace,The Washington
Post, 11 October 2009.
* For helpful comments on earlier versions of this article, the author is grateful to David Edelstein,
Aaron Rapport, and the anonymous reviewers for PSQ. Thanks to Aaron Rapport for excellent re-
search, without which this article would not have been possible. For financial support of this research,
the author acknowledges the McKnight Foundation through the University of Minnesota.
Nobel Peace Prize Winners, 19012009
Accomplishment or
1901 Henry Dunant H Accomplishment
1901 Frédéric Passy P/D Aspiration
1902 Élie Ducommun P/D Aspiration
1902 Albert Gobat P/D Aspiration
1903 Randal Cremer P/D Aspiration
1904 Institute of International Law ORG-P/D Aspiration
1905 Bertha von Suttner P/D Aspiration
1906 Theodore Roosevelt PP Accomplishment
1907 Ernesto Teodoro Moneta P/D Aspiration
1907 Louis Renault P/D Aspiration
1908 Klas Pontus Arnoldson P/D Aspiration
1908 Fredrik Bajer P/D Aspiration
1909 Auguste Beernaert P/D Aspiration
1909 Paul Henri dʼEstournelles de Constant P/D Aspiration
1910 Permanent International Peace Bureau ORG-P/D Aspiration
1911 Tobias Asser P/D Aspiration
1911 Alfred Fried P/D Aspiration
1912 Elihu Root PP Accomplishment
1913 Henri La Fontaine P/D Aspiration
1917 International Committee of the Red Cross ORG-H Accomplishment
1919 Woodrow Wilson P/D Aspiration
1920 Léon Bourgeois P/D Aspiration
1921 Hjalmar Branting P/D Accomplishment
1921 Christian Lange P/D Aspiration
1922 Fridtjof Nansen H Accomplishment
1925 Sir Austen Chamberlain PP Accomplishment
1925 Charles G. Dawes PP Accomplishment
1926 Aristide Briand P/D Accomplishment
1926 Gustav Stresemann P/D Accomplishment
1927 Ludwig Quidde P/D Aspiration
1927 Ferdinand Buisson, P/D Aspiration
1929 Frank B. Kellogg P/D Aspiration
1930 Nathan Söderblom P/D Aspiration
1931 Jane Addams P/D Aspiration
1931 Nicholas Murray Butler P/D Aspiration
1933 Sir Norman Angell P/D Aspiration
1934 Arthur Henderson P/D Aspiration
1935 Carl von Ossietzky DC Aspiration
1936 Carlos Saavedra Lamas P/D Accomplishment
1937 Robert Cecil P/D Accomplishment
1938 Nansen International Office for Refugees ORG-H Accomplishment
1944 International Committee of the Red Cross ORG-H Accomplishment
1945 Cordell Hull P/D Aspiration
1946 Emily Greene Balch P/D Accomplishment
1946 John R. Mott P/D Accomplishment
1947 Friends Service Council, American
Friends Service Committee
ORG-H Accomplishment
1949 Lord Boyd Orr H Accomplishment
Appendix Continued
Accomplishment or
1950 Ralph Bunche PP Accomplishment
1951 Léon Jouhaux P/D Accomplishment
1952 Albert Schweitzer H Accomplishment
1953 George C. Marshall P/D Accomplishment
1954 Office of the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees
ORG-H Accomplishment
1957 Lester Bowles Pearson PP Accomplishment
1958 Georges Pire H Accomplishment
1959 Philip Noel-Baker P/D Aspiration
1960 Albert Lutuli DC Aspiration
1961 Dag Hammarskjöld PP Aspiration
1962 Linus Pauling P/D Aspiration
1963 International Committee of the Red Cross,
League of Red Cross Societies
ORG-H Accomplishment
1964 Martin Luther King Jr. DC Accomplishment
1965 United Nations Childrenʼs Fund ORG-H Accomplishment
1968 René Cassin H Accomplishment
1969 International Labour Organization ORG-H Accomplishment
1970 Norman Borlaug H Accomplishment
1971 Willy Brandt PP Accomplishment
1973 Henry Kissinger PP Accomplishment
1973 Le Duc Tho PP Accomplishment
1974 Seán MacBride H Accomplishment
1974 Eisaku Sato P/D; PP Accomplishment
1975 Andrei Sakharov P/D; H Aspiration
1976 Betty Williams DC Aspiration
1976 Mairead Corrigan DC Aspiration
1977 Amnesty International H Accomplishment
1978 Anwar al-Sadat PP Accomplishment
1978 Menachem Begin PP Accomplishment
1979 Mother Teresa H Accomplishment
1980 Adolfo Pérez Esquivel H Aspiration
1981 Office of the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees
ORG-H Accomplishment
1982 Alva Myrdal P/D Accomplishment
1982 Alfonso García Robles P/D Accomplishment
1983 Lech Walesa DC Accomplishment
1984 Desmond Tutu DC Aspiration
1985 International Physicians for the
Prevention of Nuclear War
P/D Aspiration
1986 Elie Wiesel O Accomplishment
1987 Oscar Arias Sánchez PP Aspiration
1988 United Nations Peacekeeping Forces ORG-P/D Accomplishment
1989 The 14th Dalai Lama DC Aspiration
1990 Mikhail Gorbachev P/D Accomplishment
1991 Aung San Suu Kyi DC Aspiration
1992 Rigoberta Menchú Tum DC Aspiration
1993 Nelson Mandela DC Aspiration
1993 F.W. de Klerk DC Aspiration
1994 Yasser Arafat PP Aspiration
1994 Shimon Peres PP Aspiration
Appendix Continued
Accomplishment or
1994 Yitzhak Rabin PP Aspiration
1995 Joseph Rotblat, Pugwash Conferences
on Science and World Affairs
P/D Accomplishment
1996 Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo PP Aspiration
1996 José Ramos-Horta PP Aspiration
1997 International Campaign to Ban Landmines,
Jody Williams
ORG-P/D Aspiration
1998 John Hume PP Aspiration
1998 David Trimble PP Aspiration
1999 Médecins Sans Frontières ORG-H Accomplishment
2000 Kim Dae-jung PP Aspiration
2001 United Nations, Kofi Annan ORG-P/D Aspiration
2002 Jimmy Carter PP Accomplishment
2003 Shirin Ebadi DC Aspiration
2004 Wangari Maathai O Aspiration
2005 International Atomic Energy Agency,
Mohamed ElBaradei
ORG-P/D Aspiration
2006 Muhammad Yunus, Grameen Bank O Accomplishment
2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change O Aspiration
2007 Al Gore O Aspiration
2008 Martti Ahtisaari PP Accomplishment
2009 Barack Obama P/D Aspiration
For various reasons, a prize was not given in every year. Those years are excluded from this list.
In years with multiple prize winners, winners are generally listed separately, except in those cases in which the
winners are inseparable (for example, leader and organization, multiple arms of same organization).
Assignment based on the Nobel Committeeʼs cited reason for the award. Categories of award: general peace/
disarmament (P/D); humanitarian (H); intervention in specific peace process (PP); domestic change (DC); orga-
nization (ORG); other (O).
... Par ailleurs, comme le souligne Ronald R. Krebs, «the Peace Prize is the most politicized of the awards, and it, more directly than the others, seeks to change the world through its very conferral» [27]. En effet, ce biais politique s'est accentué avec le temps. ...
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Dans son testament, Alfred Nobel indique les paramètres à utiliser pour distribuer son héritage (Sohlman 2008). Il établit très clairement que la valeur essentielle pour attribuer chacun des prix est la qualité de l’œuvre du candidat et qu’il doit constituer une récompense à ceux qui «ont rendu les plus grands services à l’humanité» (Sohlman 2008, p. 110). Jamais il n’y est question du genre du lauréat. Cependant, les femmes ayant reçu le prix Nobel dépassent à peine 5% du nombre total des primés de 1901 à 2016. Dans cette recherche, nous étudions comment la Fondation Nobel, sous une apparente posture équitable, ne contribue pas à la juste reconnaissance des femmes (Hedin 2014; Kerner et Casanova 1992; Laroche 2012; Lévy 2001). Du point de vue méthodologique, nous prenons en considération que tout prix possède une structure triangulaire qui implique l’institution qui le décerne, les lauréats et les perdants (Corngold 2016). Spécifiquement, à travers l’exploitation de l’information disponible sur le site officiel du prix Nobel, nous étudions la sous-représentation des femmes. Premièrement, nous nous penchons sur la constitution des comités responsables de l’attribution des récompenses. Deuxièmement, nous analysons en détail le pourcentage décerné aux lauréates, en nombre et en parts de prix. Nous soulignons, finalement, le fonctionnement du processus de nomination qui renforce le sexisme. Nous constatons ainsi que la Fondation ne suit pas toujours les valeurs qui ont animé Alfred Nobel dans son testament, dans la mesure où elle ne respecte pas nécessairement les principes épistémologiques, esthétiques et éthiques qui devraient prévaloir dans ses choix. En ce sens, la Fondation Nobel rate, année après année, la possibilité de faire ressortir la participation des femmes à l’avancement du savoir, à l’enrichissement de la culture et en tant que bâtisseuses de la paix. Elle envoie, plutôt, un message biaisé quant au rôle des femmes dans le monde.
... This attention can manifest in either progressive or regressive responses, but the presence of a powerful impact is unmistakable. [15] Nobel-scholar Roger Alford posits that Nobel Peace Prize laureates have actively helped to construct the norms of international law and relations that ultimately become universally accepted. This has held true for norms governing the waging of war, for acknowledgement of human rights, and formation of international organizations to address inter-state conflict. ...
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In 2014, a group of volunteers launched an initiative to use the Nobel Peace Prize award process to achieve such engagement. This group successfully secured the nomination of the International Space Station (ISS) partners for the Nobel Peace Prize. ISS has been a platform for international collaboration and research for more than fifteen years, but currently faces a public relations challenge. While fifteen nations are involved in the daily operation of ISS and sixty-nine nations have performed space-based research on the station, many people in both the public and private sectors do not understand the value that the station provides to society and the diplomatic achievement that it represents. This status quo calls for greater innovation in the methods used to communicate the value of ISS as a political model for future international projects on Earth and in space. ISS has brought together countries that were enemies in recent history - in particular Cold War rivals the United States and the Russian Federation. It has connected once-competing technologies into the most complex engineering artifact ever developed by humankind. Increasing awareness of the value of these achievements is a great challenge in an era that has witnessed tightening budgets and increasing scrutiny of future expenditures in space. It is therefore vital to generate and promote public interest and understanding of the ISS program to effectively communicate the critical role of international collaboration in future space endeavors. Copyright ©2014 by the International Astronautical Federation. All rights reserved.
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This opinion paper puts forward arguments that reflect on how science's most elite prize, the Nobel Prize may be, despite its grand stature, somewhat out of touch with the functionality of grassroots science. There is a disconnect between limited fields of study to which the prize is awarded and the interdisciplinary nature of complex research. This is the first weakness. The second limitation is the focus on a single individual, occasionally on two or three when the prize is divided, even though much research is frequently collaborative. This is particularly true in the biomedical and natural sciences, which tend to involve individuals with multiple skills, each or all of whom may be equally deserving of the Nobel Prize, given their collective participation. The Nobel Prize also tends to display poor cultural, linguistic and gender representation and/or bias. Finally, retractions of papers by select Nobel Prize laureates suggests that even these elite academics are not immune to the ills of science and academic publishing that affect all scientists in a complex global web.
Many studies have explored various aspects of peace, including what peace is, what peace should be, and how different factors influence the chances of achieving peace. Despite this wealth of information, the literature is quite silent about a process I term pacifization. Pacifization occurs when issues are framed and constructed as related to peace in order to justify policies. I suggest that recognizing and elaborating on pacifization allows us to explore how a framing of “peace” helps or hinders the chances of achieving peace. The aim of this paper is to sketch out the process through which pacifization occurs, to explain how and why such framings are used, and to distinguish among the main avenues in which issues can be pacifized. To these ends, I will rely on the extensive literature on securitization and adapt some of its notions to build the concept of pacifization.
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Trajectories are defined as constructs used in geopolitical discourses at all levels – formal, practical and popular. Each trajectory consists of a particular scaling of here, a particular scaling of there, and a particular causal hypothesis about how the two are linked. Norwegian discourses about the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize provide examples of trajectories. These discourses reveal certain assumptions about the motives and outcomes framed in terms of trajectories, as well as closely associated types of emotion and affect. By employing the concept of the trajectory, geographers can better understand geopolitical discourses, their construction of scale and causality, as well as their dependency on the in-between spaces of emotion and affect.
Nearly a quarter-century after the revolution, economic failure and a bankrupt ideology have discredited the Islamic Republic. Despite the attention paid to a clash between "reformers" and "conservatives" in the government, the real story in Iran is the growing discontent among the generation born after 1979. This "Third Force" will eventually topple the regime, and the United States should just watch and wait.
Stephen John Stedman is Senior Research Scholar at the Center for International Security and Arms Control at Stanford University. This paper was commissioned by the Committee on International Conflict Resolution of the National Research Council. A different version will be published by the council. I would like to thank the following for their comments, criticisms, and suggestions: Howard Adelman, Cynthia Chataway, Juergen Dedring, Michael Doyle, Daniel Druckman, William Durch, Alexander L. George, Charles L. Glaser, Robert Jervis, Stephen Low, Michael O'Hanlon, Jerrold Post, Tonya Putnam, Donald Rothchild, Timothy D. Sisk, Janice Gross Stein, Paul Stern, and Saadia Touval. I would also like to thank the current and former policymakers and diplomats who spoke with me off the record about their peacemaking experiences. 1. Stephen John Stedman, Peacemaking in Civil Wars: International Mediation in Zimbabwe, 1974-1980 (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 1991), p. 231. For analysis of various risks, see pp. 14-16, 231-232. 2. Stephen John Stedman, "Negotiation and Mediation in Internal Conflicts," in Michael E. Brown, ed., The International Dimensions of Internal Conflict (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996), pp. 369-371. 3. Until now, the most widely cited figure for deaths in the Rwandan genocide is 800,000 from Gerard Prunier, The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995). In a forthcoming book on the subject, Howard Adelman estimates the figure to be over 1 million. 4. For example, in South Africa prior to 1990 there was no public agreement among the antagonists to peacefully resolve their conflict. Only after the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990 and after several public agreements were reached that committed the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African government to a process of negotiation can one speak of a South African peace process. Similarly, in the case of Cambodia, even though negotiations dragged on for several years, the Cambodian peace process began only after the parties formally committed themselves to the Paris Peace Accords. 5. Timothy D. Sisk, in Power Sharing and International Mediation in Ethnic Conflicts (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace [USIP], 1996), concludes that successful power sharing depends on "a core of moderate, integrated elites [that] has a deeply imbued sense of interdependence and shared or common destiny," p. 117. Most recommendations for power sharing in civil wars simply assume parties are willing to share power. 6. Barbara F. Walter, "The Resolution of Civil Wars: Why Negotiations Fail," Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1994, passim. 7. This is a paraphrase of a quotation from Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976), p. 66. 8. Richard K. Betts, "The Delusion of Impartial Intervention," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 73, No. 6 (November/December 1994), pp. 20-33. 9. Roy Licklider estimates that 81 percent of civil wars in the twentieth century that were fought over identity issues and ended through the victory of one side did not result in genocide. Roy Licklider, "The Consequences of Negotiated Settlements in Civil Wars, 1945-1993," American Political Science Review, Vol. 89, No. 3 (September 1995), pp. 681-690. 10. The appellation of "greedy" comes from Charles L. Glaser, but differs from his definition. Charles L. Glaser, "Political Consequences of Military Strategy: Expanding and Refining the Spiral and Deterrence Models," World Politics, Vol. 44, No. 4 (July 1992), pp. 497-538. Glaser uses "greedy" to refer to parties' motivation for aggressive behavior. In my use of the term, "greedy" does not imply that the spoiler acts out of greed, but rather that it expands its goals and is willing to incur high costs and risks to achieve them. 11. Using my definition, it is a tough call whether the Bosnian Serbs were a spoiler at that point. One could argue that the public peace process had achieved the commitment of the Bosnian and Bosnian Croat parties and therefore the Bosnian Serbs were spoilers. 12. Again, it is difficult to determine whether Aideed was a spoiler by my definition. One could argue that the Addis Ababa agreements between the various clan factions in Somalia constituted a formal peace process and therefore Aideed was a spoiler...
The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded on an annual basis since 1901. Since then there have been some years when no prize was awarded, usually during wartime, and other years where the award has proved controversial. Nevertheless, the award has always reflected something important about prevailing ideas concerning the concept of peace. This paper seeks to make sense of this history in order to explain some of the underlying discursive dynamics that make certain awards controversial, and others widely applauded. In particular some reflection is offered on the recent direction of the award towards wider social issues such as poverty and the environment. What this analysis reveals is the slow evolution of the Peace Prize from reflecting and legitimising notions of `peace as order' towards more entrepreneurial notions of `peace as justice'. The paper then moves on to briefly consider how the discourse of peace has subtly shifted in the aftermath of 9/11, and why — in the absence of universally accepted accounts of justice — peace is being recast in terms of legitimate frameworks of human security. In the light of this the paper argues for being positive about negative peace, and suggests that if the Norwegian Nobel Committee continues to reflect wider discourses of peace, it will reverse its recent trend of using the prize to highlight wider and wider questions of development and the environment. Lastly, the paper makes a brief case in favour of Interpol being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, both in recognition of its place at the centre of quotidian matters of legitimate international police and security cooperation, and as a means of establishing some conceptual benchmarks by which to disaggregate the police and security measures that states already agree on, from those they do not.
Robert Jervis is Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics at Columbia University and author most recently of System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997). I am grateful for comments by David Baldwin, Page Fortna, Robert Keohane, Jeffrey Legro, Helen Milner, Andrew Moravcsik, and Kenneth Waltz. 1. John J. Mearsheimer, "The False Promise of International Institutions," International Security, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Winter 1994/95), pp. 5-49; Robert O. Keohane and Lisa L. Martin, "The Promise of Institutional Theory," International Security, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Summer 1995), pp. 39-51; Mearsheimer "A Realist Reply," International Security, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Summer 1995), pp. 82-93. See also Martin and Beth Simmons, "Theories and Empirical Studies of International Institutions," International Organization, Vol. 52, No. 4 (Autumn 1998), pp. 729-758; and Keohane and Martin "Institutional Theory, Endogeneity, and Delegation," paper prepared for meeting on "Progress in International Relations Theory," January 15-16, 1999, Scottsdale, Arizona, which says that "institutional theory" is a more descriptive title than "neoliberal institutionalism." 2. My definition of the distinction between offensive and defensive realism can be found below, pp. 48-50. For other discussions, see Jack L. Snyder, Myths of Empire: Domestic Politics and International Ambition (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991); Fareed Zakaria, "Realism and Domestic Politics," International Security, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Summer 1992), pp. 177-198; Charles L. Glaser, "Realists as Optimists: Cooperation as Self-Help," International Security, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Winter 1994/95), pp. 50-90; Randall L. Schweller, "Neorealism's Status-Quo Bias: What Security Dilemma?" Security Studies, Vol. 5, No. 3 (Spring 1996), pp. 90-121; Stephen Brooks, "Dueling Realisms," International Organization, Vol. 51, No. 3 (Summer 1997), pp. 445-478; Eric J. Labs, "Beyond Victory: Offensive Realism and the Expansion of War Aims," Security Studies, Vol. 6, No. 4 (Summer 1997), pp. 1-49; and Andrew Kydd, "Sheep in Sheep's Clothing: Why Security Seekers Do Not Fight Each Other," Security Studies, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Autumn 1997), pp. 114-155. Glaser uses the term "contingent realism," which I think is more descriptive than "defensive realism," but I use the latter term because it has gained greater currency. 3. I use this term because I do not think realism and neoliberal institutionalism can be sharply defined. Indeed, they are better labeled schools of thought or approaches than theories. Although this vagueness contributes to confusion as scholars talk past one another, a precise definition would be necessary only if either of these approaches really were a tight theory. In that case, falsification of propositions derived from the theory would cast doubt on the entire enterprise. But, for better and for worse, neither of these approaches has the sort of integrity that would permit the use of that logic. For an attempt to formulate a rigorous, but I think excessively narrow, definition of realism, see Jeffrey W. Legro and Andrew Moravcsik, "Is Anybody Still a Realist?" International Security, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Fall 1999). See also Kenneth N. Waltz, "Realist Thought and Neorealist Theory," in Robert L. Rothstein, ed., The Evolution of Theory in International Relations (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1991), pp. 21-38; and the exchange between Colin Elman and Waltz in Security Studies, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Autumn 1996), pp. 7-61. 4. Keohane and Martin, "Institutional Theory, Endogeneity, and Delegation," p. 3; Robert O. Keohane, After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984), pp. 9, 29, 67; Robert O. Keohane, International Institutions and State Power (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1989), pp. 7-9. See also Glaser, "Realists as Optimists," p. 85; Randall L. Schweller and David Priess, "A Tale of Two Realisms: Expanding the Institutions Debate," Mershon International Studies Review, Vol. 41, Supplement 1 (May 1997), pp. 1-32; and Martin and Simmons, "Theories and Empirical Studies of International Institutions," pp. 739-740. In the statement quoted, Keohane and Martin refer to neorealism, not realism. For the purposes of this article, I do not need to distinguish between the two, as Waltz does very well in "Realist Thought and Neorealist Theory." 5. The realization...
International Security 26.2 (2001) 87-102 Human security is the latest in a long line of neologisms -- including common security, global security, cooperative security, and comprehensive security -- that encourage pol-icymakers and scholars to think about international security as something more than the military defense of state interests and territory. Although definitions of human security vary, most formulations emphasize the welfare of ordinary people. Among the most vocal promoters of human security are the governments of Canada and Norway, which have taken the lead in establishing a "human security network" of states and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that endorse the concept. The term has also begun to appear in academic works, and is the subject of new research projects at several major universities. Some commentators argue that human security represents a new paradigm for scholars and practitioners alike. Despite these claims, however, it remains unclear whether the concept of human security can serve as a practical guide for academic research or governmental policymaking. As Daniel Deudney has written in another context, "Not all neologisms are equally plausible or useful." Two problems, in particular, limit the usefulness of the human security concept for students and practitioners of international politics. First, the concept lacks a precise definition. Human security is like "sustainable development"--everyone is for it, but few people have a clear idea of what it means. Existing definitions of human security tend to be extraordinarily expansive and vague, encompassing everything from physical security to psychological well-being, which provides policymakers with little guidance in the prioritization of competing policy goals and academics little sense of what, exactly, is to be studied. Second, the most ardent backers of human security appear to have an interest in keeping the term expansive and vague. The idea of human security is the glue that holds together a jumbled coalition of "middle power" states, development agencies, and NGOs -- all of which seek to shift attention and resources away from conventional security issues and toward goals that have traditionally fallen under the rubric of international development. As a unifying concept for this coalition, human security is powerful precisely because it lacks precision and thereby encompasses the diverse perspectives and objectives of all the members of the coalition. The term, in short, appears to be slippery by design. Cultivated ambiguity renders human security an effective campaign slogan, but it also diminishes the concept's usefulness as a guide for academic research or policymaking. This is not to say that human security is merely "hot air" or empty rhetoric. The political coalition that now uses human security as a rallying cry has chalked up significant accomplishments, including the signing of an anti- personnel land mines convention and the imminent creation of an international criminal court. The alliance of some states and advocacy groups has altered the landscape of international politics since the end of the Cold War, as Richard Price and others have shown. But to say that human security has served as an effective rallying cry is different from claiming that the concept offers a useful framework for analysis, as some of its proponents maintain. Campaign slogans can be consequential without being well defined. The impact of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society rhetoric, for example, was arguably significant -- serving as a focal point for political supporters of his reformist social agenda -- but the exact meaning of the term "great society" was obscure. Similarly, one can support the political goals of the human security coalition while recognizing that the idea of human security itself is a muddle. This article proceeds as follows. First, I examine existing definitions of human security. Second, I explore the limits of human security as a practical guide for academic research and policymaking. Third, I examine recent efforts to narrow the definition of human security. Fourth, I consider ways in which the concept might, despite its limitations, make a contribution to the study of international relations and security. The first major statement concerning human security appeared in the 1994 Human Development Report, an annual publication of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). "The concept of security," the report argues, "has for too long been interpreted narrowly: as security of territory...
For decades, area specialists have argued that international relations (IR) theory cannot adequately explain security dynamics in East Asia as a result of cultures, histories, and traditions distinct from the West. A shining anomaly put forth in this regard is the relationship between Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK). Why have these two powers had such volatile relations, despite their élite ties, economic complementarities, and shared security adversaries throughout the Cold War and Post-Cold War eras? Area scholars point to historical antagonism as the primary explanatory variable; however, this at best explains only part of the picture (i.e., the friction but not the cooperation). Balance of threat theorists might explain Japan-Korea volatility as a function of changes in the level of external threat; however, variations in threats posed to the two powers do not correlate well with outcomes in bilateral interaction. Developing the concept of quasi-alliances (two states that remain non-allied but share a third power as a common ally), this article argues that Japanese and Korean perceptions of their common great power patron's security commitment (the United States) directly affects the level of political-military cooperation between the two quasi-allied states. Fears of U.S. abandonment determine when and under what conditions historical anger most affects the tenor of relations. The level of patron commitment is also a better determinant of alliance behavior than the level of external threat. Framing the relationship in this manner, I attempt to acknowledge area scholars' concerns about the critical role of history and culture, but consider history's salience in the context of equally critical but acultural security ties that underlie the two states' triangular relations with the United States. For alliance theory, this East Asian case shows how alignment choices are not a direct function of external threat but threats as refracted through perceptions of patron commitment. In security relationships with high degrees of asymmetrical dependence, patron promises matter more than adversarial threats because promises can mitigate threats, leading to behavior not predicted by balance of threat theory. Moreover, in extreme cases, promises (or lack thereof) can affect alliance behavior irrespective of variations in the objective level of external threat.
Since the Cold War ended, Western policymakers have sought to create security arrangements in Europe, as well as in other regions of the globe, that are based on international institutions. In doing so, they explicitly reject balance-of-power politics as an organizing concept for the post-Cold War world. During the 1992 presidential campaign, for example, President Clinton declared that, "in a world where freedom, not tyranny, is on the march, the cynical calculus of pure power politics simply does not compute. It is ill-suited to a new era." Before taking office, Anthony Lake, the president's national security adviser, criticized the Bush administration for viewing the world through a "classic balance of power prism," whereas he and Mr. Clinton took a "more 'neo- Wilsonian' view.