Page last updated at 14:39 GMT, Friday, 9 October 2009 15:39 UK

Head-to-head: Obama's Nobel prize

The prestigious Nobel peace prize has been given to US President Barack Obama for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples".

But the decision by the Nobel Committee is controversial as Mr Obama has been in office less than a year and his policy of engagement is just a few months old.

Here, Dr Robin Niblett sets out why he believes the timing for this award is wrong, while Dr Bates Gill argues why it is the right decision.


I think it is great to recognise the remarkable policy of international engagement that Barack Obama has undertaken in the last nine months. He has opened numerous diplomatic avenues simultaneously, many of which show promise.

But there are problems with the decision to award him the Nobel Peace Prize now.

US President Barack Obama
There was widespread surprise at the Nobel Committee's decision

Engagement doesn't necessarily mean success, and I think the Obama administration knows this. America may still be the most powerful nation in the world, but its power is increasingly challenged and, in any case, does not always translate into influence. There are no guarantees that his good diplomatic policies will pay off.

Given this reality, awarding President Obama this prestigious prize now is not helpful. First, it further raises international expectations at a very delicate time in Obama's presidency - expectations that may not be fulfilled.

Second, it will be more grist to the mill for his critics back home. The Nobel Peace Prize speaks to the existence of a global community and international values.

If the polls are to be believed, increasing numbers in America want to know that President Obama's first priority at this difficult period in American history is to protect and further US interests. Receiving the prize right now will make his opponents even more cynical about his policies, and make many of his supporters more anxious.

Finally, I would not agree that giving him the award is going to support his diplomacy. To believe so smacks of hubris. The nations with which Obama is engaging will act on the basis of their self-interest, adapting their policies in response to a mixture of US engagement and pressure.

In fact, President Obama may need to set aside engagement and get tough in the future with some of the same nations with which the US is now engaging.

It might have been better, therefore, to consider awarding Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize at a time when it could underscore the vital importance of major powers pursuing policies of engagement, however difficult the process and however unpredictable the outcomes.


This is one of those rare events when a person has been awarded a prize for what might be, rather than what has already been achieved.

But we see the award in a positive way - clearly its intention is to honour and recognise what it is hoped can be achieved with this new president.

The potential for the US to assume greater responsibility and moral leadership is higher than it has been for some years

Barack Obama came into office claiming to take a different route to countries deemed hostile to the US, such as Iran, North Korea and Burma.

And in recent months we have seen some very interesting and overall positive movement in all of these places.

We had the outcomes from talks in Geneva with Iran last week, unprecedented dialogue with Burma has opened and there are some flickers of positive movement coming out of North Korea.

Probably the most important thing President Obama has done in regards to trying to establish global security is on the issue of nuclear disarmament.

He has come out more forcibly than any other US president in office in his calls for a world free from nuclear weapons.

Presidents in the past have talked about it, but rarely stated it as succinctly and powerfully as this president has - it's quite unprecedented.

The unanimous new UN Security Council resolution on nuclear disarmament last week, and US negotiations with the Russians on the reduction of nuclear weapons are very important steps forward.

The potential for the US to assume greater responsibility and moral leadership is higher than it has been for some years.

I think the Nobel Committee recognised this change and its potential - and that's what the prize was awarded for.

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