How is the Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize Determined?

Peace is said to be the ultimate challenge of our time, and one of humanity’s most important values. Unfortunately we struggle for peace because of racial discrimination, and the imbalance between the rich and poor, among many other things. This makes peace and the Nobel Peace Prize all the more important. The Nobel Peace Prize recognizes people who have tried to make peace throughout the past year and encourages them to continue making peace. Researching all the amazing people who have changed the world for the better made me wonder how the judges of the prize determine who has made the most peace. How do you measure what makes one person’s good deeds greater than another’s?  That is why I choose to do my topic on how the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is determined.

Before starting my research on how the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is determined, I first researched more about the Nobel prize so I could have a deeper understanding of how it works. Most of my information on this came from the Nobel Prizes site and the book “Peace I Say” by Jay Nordlinger. discovered that the Committee of the Nobel Prize Judges is an independent body and is elected by the sorting, which is a legislative body composed of 169 member elected by the Norwegian people. The committee is responsible for the selection of eligible candidates and is composed of Norwegians. That is a custom but not a rule and anyone can be elected. A member is elected for a 6 year term but can be reelected as many times as possible. Each member can appoint their own chairman and deputy chairman.  As far as I can tell, the only rule for who can be a committee member is that no member of the government can serve on a committee. Another custom is that no member of the sorting can serve on the committee. Members can split the prize between as many as three people as well as give it to an individual or a organization. The prize can even be split between two people who have nothing to do with each other! I also found out that the prize does not have to be given every year, but it does have to be given every five years.

After researching about the Nobel Prize, I wanted to see who can be nominated and if there are any rules about being nominated for the prize. I found out that whoever is nominated has to be nominated for the work he or she have done during the preceding year, not any past work. Also the prize can not be given to anyone posthumously (after they have died), unless it has been decided before the person died. However, in 1961 Dag Hammarskjöld was the only person to win the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously but that was under specific circumstances and will never be done again. There are strict rules about who can nominate people and if you want to nominate someone you have to fall into one of these categories. You can nominate someone if you are a member of the International Court of Justice or the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, a member of the Institut De Droit International, a past winner of a Nobel Prize, on the board of directors for an organization that has won the prize, a former advisor of the Nobel Committee, a present or past committee member, a member of a national assembly or government, a university chancellor, or a university professor of Social Science, History, Philosophy, Law, and Theology. If you fit into one of those categories you will be sent a formal invitation to place your nomination.  Anybody can campaign to be nominated, but you can not nominate yourself. However, if you campaign you are not likely to win. The deadline for nomination is February 1st.

Now that we have all the logistics of the prize worked out, I can go back to my original question: How Is The Winner Of The Nobel Peace Prize Determined? The most obvious answer is whomever has made the most peace. But what is peace? What is considered “making peace”? The definition from the American Heritage College Dictionary is “the absence of war and other hostilities or an agreement to end hostilities”. In that dictionary it was also defined as freedom from quarrels and disagreements, harmonious relations, public security and order, inner contentment and serenity.  The Oxford Living Dictionary defined it differently. They defined it as a mental or emotional calm and freedom from disturbance. The most common definition of peace is the absence of dissension, violence, or war. The is also the definition of of the Greek word for peace, irene. However the original stem for peace is from the latin word pax wich means freedom from civil disorder. Other words for peace include haiwa, paix, shalom, pace, par, irene, aloha, pax, peace, frieden, and so many more; and like there are many words, there are many meanings for peace. In some cultures peace is used as a greeting, farewell, or request for silence, like aloha in hawaii. To the Chinese, peace is a feeling of contentment and is not connected to a peaceful society. To Israelis, peace is a state of friendliness and wellness. Emperor Augustus of Rome said, “Rome will grow richer only through peace.” which to the Romans meant absence of war and lasted 207 years. Cicero defines peace as freedom or tranquility which can only happen without war. Franklin Roosevelt believed that peace, like charity, begins at home. Peace can also be viewed as concord, harmony, tranquility, serenity, and a state of justice or goodness.

Even though there are many definitions of peace, in these circumstances the one the matters most is how the founder of the prize, Alfred Nobel, defined it. Alfred Nobel started the prize in Stockholm in 1900’s. He started the prize to rid himself of the title, “The Merchant of Death” which was given to him because he got rich selling dynamite. The instructions for the prize were inclosed in his third and final will which he signed in a Swedish/Norwegian club in Paris, France. As expected, his family was opposed to him leaving the majority of his money to the prize and not to them. The people he asked to award the prize was also opposed and therefore the first prize was not awarded until five years after his death in 1901. In his will Alfred Nobel described the winner of the peace prize as “The person who shall have done the most or best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peaceful congress……….and have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind. ” Nobel’s definition also includes people who have worked to resolve conflict or create peace. It is also said that the person who receives the prize must be modest. Another very important line in the will is, “It is my express wish that when awarding the prize no consideration should be given to nationality but that the prize be awarded to the worthiest person whether or wether not they are Scandinavian.” One of the only rules in the will states that the entire remaining estate should be given to those who have made the most peace during the preceding year. This is a very controversial line because someone can easily say that someone won from their work in the preceding year but in reality it was because of past work.

Even though that is Alfred Nobel’s view it is not necessarily the views of the people who are currently in the committee. It is very hard to find why winners have been chosen because why a person was chosen over the other nominations along with the information and names of nominations are not supposed to be revealed until 50 years later. However, I did find information on why some organizations were chosen. For example, doctors without borders was chosen for the Nobel Peace because, “They help people in the most desperate situations whatever their race and whatever they may be to turn back to a dignified life.” The prize is awarded to a person or organization that has done the most to benefit humanity and promote the cause of peace. It is said that the winners of the peace prize go where need, suffering, and hopelessness is greatest – regardless of whether the catastrophes are human or natural in origin. I also think it is important to point out that the views of the Nobel Prize Committee are not and do not claim to be the views of the majority’s of the world’s population.

As I just said, the Nobel Peace Prize is not the view of the majority of the world population, which makes it a very controversial and politicized prize.  As the journalist Jay Nordlinger said, “Its selection process is bound up intimately with the parliamentary politics of Norway.” Even though that may be true, the Nobel Peace Prize has many benefits. The prize will raise awareness and previously closed doors will be opened for the recipient(s). With all the publicity and attention on political oppression and human rights violations there is a good chance that the government will work more towards helping people and changing what is wrong. The prize also helps the recipient further stabilize the peace they have been working towards.  The money given to the recipient(s) most likely will be used to continue their work and will benefit human kind even more. That is why the price is usually given before or in the middle of the peace process, when there is still much work to be done, so the Nobel Peace Prize can help them continue their work. One great thing that the prize does is highlight and recognize people with great aspirations, not necessarily great accomplishments. This way everyone who wins the prize is a good person at heart who will use the money and publicity for good and not to benefit themselves.

After researching how the judges are divided and how the judges/nominations decided who has made the most peace, I thought I should talk a little bit about the election process before I move on to interviews. February first is the deadline for nominations but the committee members can add more to the list, but only on that day. Finally in late February and early March the committee members work hard on coming up with a list of around 35 names. They then take a break to research and think before meeting again in April to narrow the previous list down to five to seven names. They then spend until early October trying to agree on the winner. In October the members do a majority vote without appeal. The winner is final and can not be changed. If a member strongly disagrees with a choice, they can resign before before October 27th when the winner is announced, but they must keep a dignified silence on their opinions.

I decided to interview two people on my topic to see what they thought about the Nobel Peace Prize and the process for awarding it. The first person that I interviewed was my friend Carly Cieslowski. I asked Carly how she thought the winner of the prize was determined and she said that she thought it was by the amount of people the person(s) help. Later, when I asked my brother Charles Billings, he said the opposite. He related it to one of the theories of Hobbes (the philosopher)  which is that it is about who affects the greatest good and it is not about how many people it helps. In other words, it is about who needs the help the most. He also said that it might be based on whether the person is a good, amiable person. I also asked my brother if he thought there should be any requirement for who can be nominated and he said no, as long as the person nominated is a good human being. The last question I asked my brother was what he thought makes a good deed great. He said that it changes the world for the better, which I completely agree with.

As Alfred Nobel said, “to declare someone a champion of peace is a bold act, to declare someone the greatest champion is an even bolder one.” However, I do not think that the Nobel Peace Prize itself is the bold one; I think the winners are. The winners of the Nobel Peace Prize are some of the bravest people in the world because they have the courage to stand up for what they believe in and fight for what is right. Ultimately, I think that the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is determined by whoever  is the most selfless person who will dedicate their entire life to helping people and making a brighter tomorrow.


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Billings, Charles interview 11-23-18

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Cieslowski, Carly interview 11-20-18

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The American Heritage College Dictionary, 3rd edition, 1997

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