For many years, it functioned as a kind of gold watch for elder statesmen: the American Elihu Root (1912), Aristide Briand (1926) of France, Britain's stalwart League of Nations advocate Lord Robert Cecil (1937), the Canadian Lester Pearson (1957) . . . the prize customarily went to benevolent politicians--Woodrow Wilson (1919), Gustav Stresemann (1926), Cordell Hull (1945)--to well-intentioned people--Jane Addams (1931), Ralph Bunche (1950), Albert Schweitzer (1952)--and to humanitarian organizations--International Committee of the Red Cross (1944 and 1963), U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (1954 and 1981), Doctors Without Borders (1999).* * *
In the past few decades, however, the Nobel Peace Prize has developed a certain political edge . . . In some instances the committee has aimed its arrow at a proper target--Andrei Sakharov (1975), Lech Walesa (1983), the Dalai Lama (1989), Aung San Suu Kyi (1991)--but such lucky shots have grown increasingly rare.
In 1985, for example, the prize was awarded to International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, a coalition of American and Soviet "peace activists" highly critical of the Reagan administration but notably silent on the use, in the Soviet Union, of psychiatric hospitals to silence political dissidents. The 1987 award to Costa Rica's president Oscar Arias Sánchez was an evident endorsement of the now-forgotten Arias Plan to thwart U.S. efforts against Communist insurgencies in Central America. The 1992 prize to Guatemala's Rigoberta Menchú was not only recognition for "ethno-cultural reconciliation based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples"--in the delightful language of the committee--but reward for a reliable critic of the United States and author of a (as was later discovered) fictitious autobiography.
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Undoubtedly, the most egregious example was the award of the prize, in 1990, to Mikhail Gorbachev "for his leading role in the peace process which today characterizes important parts of the international community." It may be difficult to comprehend what, exactly, the committee was saying here, but the fact that 1990 was the first year in which it felt obliged to furnish a citation suggests that, even in Oslo, the exclusion of Ronald Reagan required an explanation.
. . . [W]hat is the promotion of peace, anyway? Is it the pronouncement of words and the striking of attitudes, or the action that guarantees freedom against tyranny? Secretary of State Marshall was awarded the prize for his eponymous plan which assisted the postwar European recovery. But a stronger case could be made for another Nobel Peace Prize for General Marshall as the "organizer of victory" against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.