Peace, not a peace prize
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.
Following news reports that the Norwegian Nobel Committee will announce this year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate on Oct. 5, various debates are taking place in Korean society.
The point of the debates is, of course, whether President Moon Jae-in, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump will receive the prize for their contribution to creating a peaceful environment on the Korean Peninsula. All three can be the laureates, or there could be two winners or one. Of course, maybe none of them will get it.
The committee closed the recommendation process in February, but the list of 331 candidates is still a secret. Speculation is running high. The Independent said in March that Trump may win the prize if he resolves the North Korean nuclear issue, a can kicked down the road by predecessor Barrack Obama. The BBC said Moon may win the prize if he successfully arranges another North-U.S. summit and eases the dangers of a nuclear war on the peninsula.
After the April 27 inter-Korean summit in Panmunjom, a British gambling company speculated that Moon and Kim are the top candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize. The two leaders together crossed the military demarcation line in the Joint Security Area of Panmunjom and made a strong impression on a watching world. The second possible candidates were Trump and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. But eighteen U.S. congressmen in May recommended Trump as a candidate for the 2019 Peace Prize, so he may not receive it this year.
Since 1901, the annual prize of 9 million Swedish krona ($1 million) has been given to an individual or organization for contributions to humanity and world peace. Since the first prize was given to Jean Henry Dunant, who founded the Red Cross, the winners have been many whose reputations are understandable such as Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev and Nelson Mandela.
Obama also found himself at the center of controversy for receiving the prize by simply declaring the goal of a nuclear-free world three months after his inauguration in 2009. He managed to save face later by declaring the ending of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and closing a nuclear deal with Iran.
In South Korea, the prize is a hot potato. After President Kim Dae-jung won the prize in 2000 after the historic first inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang, a former National Intelligence Service agent raised suspicions since 2003 that the intelligence agency conducted a secret operation during the Kim administration for him.
After Moon took office last year, a reform panel of the National Intelligence Service disclosed that the spy agency conducted an operation during the Lee Myung-bak presidency to have Kim’s prize withdrawn.
The country’s main intelligence agency is frequently involved in operations over the prize, making it a potent political and social issue in Korea. In March, a civic group planned to launch a group to push for Moon’s reception of the prize, but canceled the plan shortly after a petition to oppose it was sent to the Blue House.
As the announcement nears, cyber space is heating up with discussions. Concerns are actually high that the prize will create schisms in the South rather than prompting peace on the peninsula. Winning the prize is a great accomplishment, but it does not guarantee peace immediately. In 1994, three leaders of Israel and Palestine jointly won the prize for their contribution to the signing of the Oslo Accords, but peace in the Middle East has yet to come. Two years after Kim won the prize, the second nuclear crisis in the North started and the North’s nuclear program actually sped up.
For the Korean Peninsula, which has been in a state of armistice for 65 years, peace is more desperately needed than a peace prize. Although the Nobel Peace Prize is political, denuclearization is something real. After the foreign media increasingly named Moon as a top candidate, he maintained a calm attitude. After his first inter-Korean summit, the widow of former president Kim, Lee Hee-ho, sent him a message reading, “You’ve done a great job. You deserve a Nobel Peace Prize.” Moon reportedly replied, “Trump should receive the prize. We just want peace.”
This year, three inter-Korean summits took place, and in June, the first ever North-U.S. summit took place. But denuclearization, which will guarantee true peace, has yet to come. Although there are agreements and declarations, substantial progress toward denuclearization has not even begun. The prospects will become clearer after another North-U.S. summit takes place and November elections are held in the United States.
Now is not the time to get excited over the prospect of winning the Nobel Peace Prize, but the time to meticulously craft a denuclearization strategy that can actually work. Of course, there is no reason to say no to the prize, but it would be more desirable to win the prize after wrapping up denuclearization itself.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 1, Page 28