But promising initiatives and peace processes sometimes flicker out, frustrating the committee’s optimistic intentions. Other laureates go on to surpass the deeds that won them the Peace Prize.
As the committee prepares to announce the winner of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 6, a look at some Nobel Peace Prize laureates who fell short, some who were undoubted successes and others who landed somewhere in between:
1994: Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat
The Oslo peace accords of 1993 — brokered in part by Norwegian diplomats in the city that’s home to the Peace Prize — looked to have laid the groundwork for solving one of the planet’s most intractable disputes: peace in the Mideast. Israel’s Prime Minister Rabin, its Foreign Minister Peres and Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Arafat jointly won the 1994 prize after agreeing to build a peace framework. But many at the time saw Arafat as an unapologetic terrorist and, within months, Rabin had been slain by a Jewish Israeli fanatic. The accords gradually crumbled and almost 25 years later, Mideast peace looks further away than ever.
1973: Henry Kissinger
Then-U.S. Secretary of State Kissinger was supposed to share the prize with North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho for the Paris-brokered cease-fire in the Vietnam War. Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee might have known they were on shaky ground when Tho became the first and only person to refuse the Peace Prize. Kissinger didn’t turn up to claim his and continues to be a figure negatively associated with the Vietnam War, which would rage on for another three years. Two Nobel committee members resigned in protest at his award.
1919: Woodrow Wilson
After the First World War spilled a generation of blood in Europe, U.S. President Wilson cajoled the other big powers into creating The League of Nations. The idea was that whenever trouble flared, the international community could solve the crisis before it erupted into another global war. In practice, the U.S. itself never ratified entering the League, more than half of its founding nations dropped out and within 20 years the world faced a global war again.
NOBEL SUCCESS STORIES
1993: Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk
The joint prize to black apartheid hero Mandela and white regime leader de Klerk, satisfied the Peace Prize Committee’s favored tactic of honoring figureheads from both sides of a political divide. The panel awarded the pair for their «work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the groundwork for a new democratic South Africa.» The statement is as powerful as it is lasting and their prize remains an enduring symbol of racial reconciliation.
1964: Martin Luther King Jr.
In his acceptance address for the 1964 Nobel Peace prize, King said it’s «better to suffer in dignity than to accept segregation in humiliation.» A year after delivering his famous «I have a dream» speech, the American civil rights leader dedicated his Nobel prize to the activists who he called the «real heroes of the freedom struggle» to outlaw racial discrimination in the United States.
1990: Mikhail Gorbachev
Some people in Russia and elsewhere might grumble today that by allowing the Soviet Union to collapse, its last leader Gorbachev handed global hegemony to the United States. But by pledging not to interfere in the internal affairs of nearby states, Gorbachev handed millions of Eastern Europeans the right to national self-determination. The most potent symbol of his pledge was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which signaled the end of the Cold War.
NOBEL MIXED BAG
1991: Aung San Suu Kyi
An inspirational figurehead for peace and democracy while she was a political prisoner for years under Myanmar’s ruling military junta, Suu Kyi has become less admired since becoming the country’s de facto leader. The 1991 prize winner is still admired for defying the generals, but has drawn criticism from fellow laureates, Malala Yousafzai and Desmond Tutu, for her perceived indifference to Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing of its Rohingya minority.
2012: The European Union
Awarded for 60 years of advancing «peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights,» the 2012 prize could not have come at a less auspicious time for the European Union. Several of its members’ economies were staggering under a debt crisis, its shared euro currency was at risk and anti-EU populism was brewing. In 2017, with its own members fiercely at odds over immigration and national rights and Britain poised to leave the bloc altogether, the EU is struggling to redefine its mission.
2009: Barack Obama
Receiving the award after serving less than nine months as U.S. president, Obama was cited «for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.» While Obama, America’s first black president, won wide praise and approval in Europe, by the end of his eight years in office, U.S.-Russia relations were at a post-Cold War low and the United States was fighting in both Afghanistan and Syria.