Science & Technology

How to Win a Nobel Peace Prize

Al Gore did it—you can too!


In the last decade, Al Gore has won the triple crown: an Oscar, a Nobel Peace Prize, and (this is disputed) Florida. Now, winning an Oscar is hard—you usually have to pretend to be handicapped, or speak with a semi-convincing English accent, or spend hours in an uncomfortable period costume. And Gore himself would have trouble telling you how to claim the Sunshine State. But the Nobel Prize is easy. The important thing to remember is that peace doesn't have much to do with it. One of the very first winners was Theodore Roosevelt, a man who described the Spanish-American War as "fun." The Peace Prize is more of a Humanitarian of the Year Award, with humanitarian defined loosely enough to include Yasser Arafat and Henry Kissinger.

Broadly speaking, there are three ways to get it:

1. Be a famous humanitarian. This is the obvious approach. It is also the hardest. The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Albert Schweitzer, who built hospitals in Africa; to Norman Borlaug, who developed high-yield strains of wheat; to Muhammed Yunus, who devised a new method of giving loans to low-income entrepreneurs; and to the Dalai Lama, who…actually, I'm not sure what the Dalai Lama does, but evidently it impresses a lot of people.

Does your achievement need to be related to peace? It can—as with, say, Linus Pauling, who capped off an impressive scientific career with a crusade against above-ground nuclear testing. But the peace angle isn't necessary. It isn't even strictly necessary that your accomplishments be as impressive in practice as they are in your intentions. (You'll note that Gore has not actually stopped global warming.) The best way to get credit in Oslo is to conduct your humanitarian pursuits while working with some vast global agency. Indeed, if you don't think you have the chops to, say, revolutionize Third World agriculture, you can always get a Peace Prize the next way:

2. Start an international organization. Or, if you can swing it, be an international organization. Over the years, the Nobel Peace Prize has gone to Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, the UN's International Labor Organization, and the Red Cross. Gore himself will share his prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The Peace Prize has also gone to Cordell Hull, who helped found the United Nations; to Dag Hammarskjöld, the former head of the United Nations; to Kofi Annan, another former head of the United Nations; and to a wide range of delegates to and officials within the United Nations. UNICEF won it once. The UN's refugee office won it twice. When Annan took the prize, he shared it with the entire United Nations. And before there was a United Nations, the Nobel committee promoted the League of Nations. (In 1919 it gave the prize to League founder Woodrow Wilson, whose previous contribution to peace was to plunge the United States into the most pointless major war in its history.) Before there was a League of Nations, the Nobel committee honored groups like the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Institute for International Law.

Now, some of those organizations do worthy things. But they don't have much to do with peace, unless you define peace as "international cooperation." Sometimes, as with Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders, that means a bottom-up movement of individuals collaborating across national lines. More often the award honors institutions of global governance, whether or not they're particularly pacific. One year it went to the UN's peacekeeping forces, which advance the cause of peace by shooting people.

You'll see a similar trend in the non-institutional figures who win the Peace Prize. Occasionally it goes to a Carl von Ossietzky, a Martin Luther King, an Andrei Sakharov, a Lech Walesa—that is, to a person nonviolently struggling against an oppressive state. But the award is as likely to go to a current or former government official: a George Marshall, a Willy Brandt, a Mikhail Gorbachev, a Jimmy Carter. Some of those statesmen aren't exactly pacifists, which leads us to the third and easiest way to win the Peace Prize:

3. Kill a lot of people, then stop. In 1973, the Nobel Peace Prize was shared by Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho. Kissinger's CV included the "secret" bombing of Cambodia and the "Christmas" bombing of North Vietnam; just a month before his prize was announced, he was complicit in the coup that installed a brutal dictatorship in Chile. So why did he win? Because he and Tho had reached a truce to end the Vietnam War. Tho wasn't a particularly peaceful man either, but at least he had the common courtesy to refuse the award.

More recently, the prize went to Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasser Arafat, a man whose career to that point had been spent arranging terrorist assaults on civilians. He shared the award with Israel's Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin; the three of them, like Kissinger and Tho, had negotiated an end to a war. In this case the peace agreement didn't hold, and both the state of Israel and various Palestinian groups went on to produce many more corpses. So don't worry if you develop a taste for blood during the initial stage of your Peace Prize campaign: You're free to resume killing once Mr. Nobel's money is safely in your hands.

By this method, the prize could conceivably go next year to Dick Cheney, the Janjaweed, or anyone else in a position to bring a war to a temporary stop. That someone could be you!

My advice to anyone who wants to follow in the footsteps of Linus Pauling and the Dalai Lama is to fuse approaches two and three. Start an NGO devoted to murder and mayhem—something on the SPECTRE/Al Qaeda/Medellin Cartel model—and then agree to a truce. In theory, you could accomplish this in an afternoon, but to make a splash big enough to impress the Nobel judges it's probably best to bargain with something larger than the Nashville Police Department's hostage negotiations unit. Choose your target wisely.

Either that, or make a movie.

Jesse Walker is reason's managing editor.