It is obvious that the Nobel peace prize is a major aspect of international politics. It can be used to set the political discourse, to drive an agenda, to bring awareness, to influence or enforce certain policies or political positions.

My question is why? Why do people care so much about the Nobel peace prize? What is the point of it?

It is not as if the award is bestowed by a supreme collection of human excellence: it is awarded by only a couple of random Norwegian politicians.

I mean, if I created my own award, called the dudududududu super mega peace price award, and I dished it out every year, nobody would care, and rightly so. And yet, people do seemingly care about the opinions of 4 politicians from Norway. Why?

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    The dudududududu super mega peace price award isn’t a hundred years old, and I assume it won’t come with $ 1 million or so.
    – chirlu
    Sep 20, 2017 at 13:24
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    @jamesqf Because life is complex, and labels help simplify it. Prizes are just another kind of label, more formal and restrictive than most. A film winning the Best Film Oscar does not ensure that you will enjoy it, but gives you an indication that you will probably find it of better quality than, say, Sharknado. Without those labels the only way for you to decide which film is worth seeing would be seeing all of them yourself, and few people have so much time available.
    – SJuan76
    Sep 20, 2017 at 20:26
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    And, since the Nobel prize is regarded as important by lots of people, it becomes important because it will influence the opinion of lots of people about the issues related to it.
    – SJuan76
    Sep 20, 2017 at 20:30
  • @SJuan76, well said, that is the true mystery of politics. It's not what is right, or best, it's what is popular. Sep 21, 2017 at 13:19

3 Answers 3


There are several reasons for the importance of the Nobel Peace Prize:

  • Tradition: The Nobel Prize has been awarded since 1901. It was the first international prize of its kind, so by default has become the most well-known.
  • Prestige by association with the scientific Nobel prizes, which generally do recognise towering human achievement.
  • Past recipients: A winner of the Prize becomes a member of a group which includes Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, and Martin Luther King Jr., so again acquires some prestige by association.
  • Status of awarding committee: While the committee members themselves are not especially notable, they may be considered as representatives of Norway, a country with few international enemies which is well known for its commitment to democracy and human rights.
  • Money: The Prize comes with an award of about US$1.5 million.

However, the question overstates the significance of the Prize:

  • Many recipients of the Prize have not been widely respected as campaigners for peace. Tom Lehrer famously observed that satire died in 1973 when the Prize was awarded to Henry Kissinger, who was much better known for waging war.
  • Not all recipients of the Prize have been ultimately successful. Rabin, Arafat, and Peres were awarded the Prize in 1994 for their efforts towards peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but today that goal remains elusive.
  • Some awards have had little effect of any kind on international politics. An example is the European Union (2012). While the EU may or may not be a deserving winner, it's hard to argue that the Prize has made it any more powerful or successful on the world stage, or that the Prize was a significant factor in the Brexit vote of 2016.
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    The literature and scientific awards are themselves occasionally controversial. Usually when the award is considered "political".
    – origimbo
    Sep 20, 2017 at 16:48
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    Did Tom Leher make the same comment when the award was given to Arafat?
    – RonJohn
    Sep 21, 2017 at 0:10
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    @RonJohn And repeating a (then) 21 years old joke? I don't know much of the man, not being american, but I'd expect more of a comic than repeating 20 years old jokes all the time... Also, if political satire was already dead, it wasn't going to resurrect.
    – Rekesoft
    Sep 21, 2017 at 9:33
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    @Mehrdad He is not the only one. A great deal of reasonable people does not know why either.
    – luchonacho
    Sep 21, 2017 at 15:33

Dr. Krebs, a professor at the University of Michigan, published an analysis of Nobel Peace Prize winners in Political Science Quarterly. Dr. Krebs is a realist (a position which focuses on "hard power" such as military and economic force) and is skeptical of the influence of the Peace Prize.

His conclusion is that the Peace Prize legitimizes the causes that the winner supports. For example, in 1989 the Peace Prize was awarded to the Dalai Lama. This prestigious international award helped legitimize the cause of Tibetan independence. Somewhat paradoxically, the increased attention sometimes results in opposite result than what is hoped. In this case, China was pushed to impose martial law on Tibet and execute more than 2,000 people.

The shortest explanation is that the prize:

  • Can increase awareness of particular issues
  • Can legitimize causes or movements
  • Can threaten the rivals of those cause or movements
  • I think this answers another question, which is "what are some consequences of the prize". This is not sufficient to say "people care about the prize because it legitimises causes people are interested on". I mean, what people? Clearly the Chinese are not interested in the Tibet cause to be legitimised.
    – luchonacho
    Sep 21, 2017 at 15:38
  • @luchonacho - That's a reasonable criticism. To me, it wouldn't be enough to answer "why do people say they care about the Peace Prize". This answers the question (IMO) because it focuses on the actual causal mechanisms of why they care (legitimacy, threat). Sep 21, 2017 at 15:43
  • Isn't that somewhat circular reasoning? The reason it focuses on the causes is because people care about it.
    – Barmar
    Sep 21, 2017 at 16:38
  • @Barmar - it is not circular because it does not conclude that people do or do not care about the Nobel Prize. It explores some case studies where people seemed to care or not care, then explores the differences between those cases. That's a far more robust research design. Sep 21, 2017 at 17:04
  • The question is about why people care about the prize in general, not why they care about some of them but not others.
    – Barmar
    Sep 21, 2017 at 17:05

For the scientific Nobel prizes, it seems that people who are not in the center of public attention yet move into it after obtaining the prize. Thus, they may sway some political decisions. However, for the Nobel peace prize, it looks different. Most (all?) winners were already famous and the prize did not significantly change their political influence. How the prize is assigned is also questionable, as Obama’s nomination showed.

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    How does this answer the question? If there's no significant change, or the award is questionable, why do we care so much about the winners?
    – Barmar
    Sep 21, 2017 at 16:39
  • @Barmer Sometimes, to set a political statement.
    – user16984
    Apr 5, 2018 at 8:12

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