Saturday, October 13, 2012

Again with the Nobel gauntlet

Gauntlets cast on the ground before England's King Richard II
The European Union is the latest to have a gauntlet cast in its path.
Yesterday's announcement in Oslo that the EU had won the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize included these words:
'The union and its forerunners have for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.
'... Over a seventy-year period, Germany and France had fought three wars. Today war between Germany and France is unthinkable. This shows how, through well-aimed efforts and by building up mutual confidence, historical enemies can become close partners.
'... The division between East and West has to a large extent been brought to an end; democracy has been strengthened; many ethnically-based national conflicts have been settled.'
These rosy paragraphs call to mind a release 3 years ago, when the same committee bestowed the same prize on President Barack Obama, citing "his extraordinary efforts," in his initial 9 months in office, "to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." I wrote then that the award was deserved, and listed the administration's sundry efforts to mend diplomatic fences. Yet there's no question that the prize threw a gauntlet Obama's way – a challenge to stay the path of peace. In a fascinating article published in this month's Vanity Fair, Michael Lewis quoted Obama's reaction to the prize:
"'It’s one of the most shocking things that has happened in all of this. And I immediately anticipated that it would cause me problems.'"
(credit Susan Walsh/AP photo)
The president, who had been making ready to send more troops to Afghanistan, responded by tossing the glove back at the Europe-based committee. In the Nobel Lecture delivered when he accepted the prize (right), Obama drew on just war theory, declaring:
'We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.' 
Dilemma likewise is present with yesterday's award.
Europe's recession has spurred harsh measures in some eurozone countries, like Ireland, and stiff opposition in others, like Greece. Tensions have given rise to slurs one would have hoped never again to hear: a German colleague's 2011 reference to others of the EU's 27 countries by a certain acronym – PIGS – still grates. Even within countries, there is unrest, as a recent New York Times story illustrated. And as Le Monde pointed out yesterday, it's to be noted that the country that plays host to this Nobel committee, Norway, has chosen not to join the European Union.
To its credit, the yesterday's Nobel release acknowledged this. "The EU is currently undergoing grave economic difficulties and considerable social unrest," the statement said. It expressed hope that by this award the committee could train "focus on what it sees as the EU's most important result: the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights."
It is for Europe now to decide what to do with its gauntlet.

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