Page last updated at 11:18 GMT, Friday, 9 October 2009 12:18 UK

Obama gets reward for world view

By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

President Obama with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Moscow, July 09
The US wants a new agreement with Russia to cut nuclear warheads

In awarding President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize, the Norwegian committee is honouring his intentions more than his achievements.

After all he has been in office only just over eight months and he will presumably hope to serve eight years, so it is very early in his term to get this award.

The committee does not make any secret of its approach. It states that he is being given the prize "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples."

This is of course an implied criticism of former US president George W Bush and the neo-conservatives, who were often accused of trying to change the world in their image.

The committee "attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons." But it also mentioned the UN, climate change and the "strengthening" of democracy and human rights.


The reference to democracy will be noted - perhaps wryly, perhaps with some resentment - by the neo-conservatives, as the spread of democracy, especially in the wider Middle East as they called it, (incorporating Afghanistan) was one of their rallying cries. The Norwegian committee was not impressed and it will probably be a case of vice versa.

The risk for President Obama is that he might not be able to live up to this billing.

It is therefore perhaps worth looking at some of the problems he faces, his intentions in dealing with them and the likelihood of success.

Nuclear weapons: The president has spoken of his wish to see a world without nuclear weapons. A new Security Council resolution (1887) has added momentum to next year's conference reviewing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, which will focus attention. He also wants the US Senate to ratify the test ban treaty.

But how far is the US really prepared to go? It hopes to get a new agreement with Russia in December to reduce deployed warheads to below the 2,200 already agreed. But having even hundreds of warheads is not living in a nuclear weapons-free world. And as long as others (Russia, China, Britain, France, India, Pakistan, Israel) have them, so will the US. Some progress is likely but nuclear weapons will remain.

Climate change: President Obama has changed the hostile approach adopted by President Bush. But much depends on the US Senate and Obama's intentions are conditional on congressional acceptance. Intention is there but realisation is problematic.

Human rights: The committee did not spell it out but the proposed closure of Guantanamo Bay and the end to torture by all US agencies must have been in its mind. Guantanamo is supposed to be closed by early next year. Likely to be achieved, though.

Iraq: The president has said that US combat operations in Iraq will stop by the end of August next year though US troops will remain there to train Iraqis and fight al-Qaeda. Intentions are therefore there but are not yet achieved, though might well be.

Iran: There is at least the start of a negotiation on Iran's nuclear work following Obama's "extended hand". But nobody can tell how far and fast this will go. The threat of conflict between Iran and Israel remains. Meanwhile, there are still no meaningful talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Afghanistan: The most difficult current problem for the president. He is facing demands for an increase in US forces there, which would mean more war, hardly encouraging for a peace prize winner. Remains in crisis.

All these problems illustrate the intentions of the president, but also how far he has to go.

The Nobel Peace Prize committee has taken a bold step.

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