Nobel sentiment

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 October, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 October, 2002, 12:00am

The shadowy body of Norwegians that each year selects a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is no stranger to controversy. Previous winners have included chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation Yasser Arafat, then US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and Northern Ireland Protestant leader David Trimble.

This year, the panel has made headlines again, not so much for its choice - the worthy former US president Jimmy Carter - but for the sentiment behind that choice.

Nobel chairman Gunnar Berge forwent the usual niceties as he laid into the incumbent US President George W. Bush a day after Washington took a step closer to waging war on Iraq. The award, he said, 'should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current administration has taken' and 'a kick in the leg to all that follow the same line'.

The citation itself drew reference to a world scene 'marked by threats of the use of power', and praised Mr Carter as a leader 'who has stood by the principles that conflicts must as far as possible be resolved through mediation and international co-operation'. Those principles underpin Mr Carter's recent broader advocacy of human rights, which has encompassed areas such as economic development and aid. He has crossed ideological boundaries too, toiling from Africa to Cuba and this year East Timor.

Mr Carter has at times struggled for attention and respect in his own country. Many prominent Republicans openly belittle the former Democratic president's efforts in office. Too often the decorated World War II submarine captain is wrongly dismissed as a weak man who lack courage.

Mr Berge may not win any diplomatic prizes himself, but the stand of his committee is to be praised.

The remarks that accompanied the award to Mr Carter serve as a timely reminder that Mr Bush's 'with us or against us' rhetoric has at times appeared to stifle much-needed debate while building resentment rather than fostering goodwill.

The protests at the remarks from a Republican-dominated Washington will be loud. But they will miss the point.