WASHINGTON — When President Trump mused about brokering peace between North and South Korea during a recent campaign rally, the chants from his supporters rumbled through the Michigan sports complex: “Nobel. Nobel.”
For Mr. Trump, who has toggled with unsettling ease between volatile threats of “fire and fury” and impassioned calls for peace, the possibility of receiving a Nobel Peace Prize once seemed far-fetched. (The committee that awards the prize said this year that a nomination for him had been forgedtwice, by an unknown perpetrator whose motives remain a mystery.)
But the idea of his 2019 nomination, formally submitted by a group of 18 House Republicans and heartily endorsed by President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, has started to take root among his supporters over the past few weeks as his own potentially historic summit meeting with Kim Jong-un of North Korea looms.
“Everyone thinks so, but I would never say it,” Mr. Trump said with a laugh on Wednesday when asked if he deserved the prize. “The prize I want is victory for the world.”
Critics of the president and his often inflammatory rhetoric balk at the idea of Mr. Trump receiving one of the world’s most prestigious diplomatic awards. But some laureates and historians of the prize acknowledge that there are instances where such an honor was bestowed on contentious politicians in order to acknowledge and encourage efforts for peace.
“Part of the strength of the Nobel Peace Prize is that it is controversial,” said Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chairwoman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the prize after roughly eight months of deliberation over hundreds of nominations. “If it was a global consensus prize, it wouldn’t have the relevance and the authority that it actually has today.”
After the meeting between the North and South Korean leaders at the Demilitarized Zone dividing their nations, supporters are pushing for bestowing the often-controversial award on Mr. Trump, a starkly polarizing leader himself, for the role he has played in the talks. Several of them cite the Nobel Prize given to Mr. Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, less than a year into his term as a precedent for an American president receiving the award early in his tenure.
In a telephone interview from Oslo, Ms. Reiss-Andersen declined to comment on Mr. Trump’s nomination, citing the intense protocol of secrecy that prohibits the five committee members from discussing nominations or its process until at least 50 years after the awarding of a prize. But without singling out a specific recipient, she acknowledged several past laureates bear a mixed legacy of conflict and armistice — or have failed to live up to the heavy expectation of furthering peace the way the committee intended.
“You don’t negotiate the peace process with your friends — you initiate them with your enemies,” Ms. Reiss-Andersen said, noting the award given to Nelson Mandela and F. W. de Klerk for their work in ending the apartheid regime in South Africa. “Changing your position, and being willing to take a different position with the consequences that have happened — that is a contribution to peace.”
The committee has endured accusations of political favoritism, hypocrisy and egregious error over several of the 98 prizes it has awarded to 131 laureates since 1901. Two committee members resigned in protest after Henry A. Kissinger was awarded the prize in 1973, a decision that provoked global outrage over the Nixon administration’s bombing campaigns in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. His co-winner and Vietnamese counterpart, Foreign Minister Le Duc Tho, refused to accept the prize, the only person to do so in the award’s history.
More than 20 years later, another committee member resigned when Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, was included among the recipients for work on the Oslo Accords.
The prize has evolved in some cases as more of an acknowledgment of perseverance in the diplomatic battlefield, but criticism has remained over what is perceived in some cases to be a premature, even aspirational, award — the decision to name Mr. Obama a Nobel laureate for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples” less than nine months after his inauguration. (While Mr. Obama said at the time that he was not convinced that he deserved the award, the committee chairman at the time, Thorbjorn Jagland, later insisted that it remained one of the “proudest decisions” the committee had made.)
Some laureates argue that the international spotlight that followed their award offered an invaluable boost to their push for peace in their countries.
“In my case, the Nobel Peace Prize came like a gift from God,” President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia said in an interview. Colombians had rejected his peace deal with a group of leftist rebels in 2016 just five days before he was announced as the winner for his efforts.
“When the Nobel Prize was awarded, everyone got very encouraged and supported what I was doing to renegotiate the peace agreement,” he said, which eventually passed through the country’s congress. “It was at a very opportune moment.” (Mr. Santos declined to comment on Mr. Trump’s nomination, citing continuing diplomatic relations with a presidential peer and respect for the committee’s deliberations.)
For José Ramos-Horta, the former president of East Timor, who received the prize in 1996, a nomination for peace talks on the Korean Peninsula would also expose the precarious judgment of potentially recognizing all parties involved in the diplomacy. Even more controversial than Mr. Trump and Mr. Moon would be Mr. Kim of North Korea: a reclusive dictator thought to have ordered the executions of disloyal officials including his own uncle, but an undeniable factor in any peace initiative between the countries.
One of Mr. Moon’s predecessors, Kim Dae-jung, was awarded the 2000 prize in part for his work “for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular,” but his counterpart, Mr. Kim’s father, did not receive similar recognition.
“It could be an absolute scandal if President Kim Jong-un would get the Peace Prize,” said Mr. Ramos-Horta, who said he nominated Mr. Kim of South Korea for the award nearly two decades ago. “And it could be hugely controversial if President Trump would get the Nobel Peace Prize because of other policies, other actions, other statements.”
“But President Moon of South Korea, on his own, also wouldn’t succeed unless he gets North Korea, Kim Jong-un, to go along in the peace process,” he added. “In any peace process, it takes two to tango, sometimes more.”
Even in cases where the award was seen as premature or the recipient has not lived up to the standards of international peace, it cannot be revoked.
Another Nobel laureate, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, one of three laureates to receive the award while under arrest, has had other awards revoked because of her failure to even acknowledge the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar. The European Union will always hold the award for creating a “fraternity between nations,” even after Britain’s vote to leave the bloc and increased divisions over how to handle refugees.
“It would be impossible for us to take responsibility for how people act or behave themselves in years after they receive the award,” Ms. Reiss-Andersen said. “I believe the authority of the Peace Prize is so strong, that exactly because you are awarded the Peace Prize, you will always be under public scrutiny and have to answer to the public for your actions.”
And in the case of Mr. Obama, the Iran nuclear deal — a signature diplomatic initiative that is often cited as a fulfillment of the expectations set by his 2009 Peace Prize — is now in peril, jeopardized by Mr. Trump’s decision this week. It is possible, some said, that Mr. Trump’s order to withdraw the United States from the deal will counter the consideration of his diplomatic work on the Korean Peninsula.
“We hope that the prize can encourage peaceful development,” Ms. Reiss-Andersen said. “The prize itself cannot secure a peaceful development. That is up to the persons involved at the end of day.”
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