Obama rewarded for world view

Focus, Normal

Paul Reynolds

In awarding US president Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize, the Norwegian committee is honouring his intentions more than his achievements.
After all, he has been in the White House 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 United Nations, 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 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 UN security council resolution (1887) has added momentum to next year’s conference reviewing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which will focus attention.
Obama 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 expected but nuclear weapons will remain.
Climate change
Obama has changed the hostile approach adopted by 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.

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.

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.

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.
Afghanistan will remain 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. – BBC