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Losing its lustre
Description: An anti-poverty campaigner and a bank in Bangladesh have won this year's Nobel Peace Prize. The purpose of the prize has become muddled. It may be better to withhold it next time
Date: 12 October 2006
Author:
Source: Economist.com
An anti-poverty campaigner and a bank in Bangladesh have won this year's Nobel Peace Prize. The purpose of the prize has become muddled.
It may be better to withhold it next time


BRAVERY is a characteristic shared by most winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. On Friday October 13th, the Norwegian part of the Nobel Institute (a Swedish body that dishes out the other coveted prizes, for science and literature) named the recipient of the 2006 peace award. An unofficial shortlist included a pair of Irish rock stars who have received a lot of attention for trying to promote development in Africa, a Finnish diplomat who works at the UN and who has lobbied for peace in Indonesia and a Vietnamese Buddhist. In fact the award was given to Muhammad Yunus and Grameen bank in Bangladesh, which promotes lending to the poorest, especially women.

But the Nobel committee could have made a braver, more difficult, choice by declaring that there would be no recipient at all. That might ruin a good party--each year the lucky winner (who also gets a cash prize of $1.3m or so) is honoured with a lavish award ceremony in Oslo, Norway's capital, given a commemorative medal, and attention is shone on his particular good cause. Some recent examples include a campaign to ban landmines; the promotion of peace in Northern Ireland; efforts to bring democracy to Myanmar (which used to be called Burma).

Withholding the prize for a year, or possibly five, might seem rather callous. But the institute would not be suggesting that the world has become sufficiently peaceful now. Some do argue that wars are generally in decline. Last year a think-tank in Canada released a "Human Security Report" which noted that 100-odd wars have expired since 1988. Their study found that wars and genocides have become less frequent since 1991, that the value of the international arms trade has slumped by a third (between 1990 and 2003), and that refugee numbers have roughly halved (between 1992 and 2003). Yet, despite all that, there are clearly enough problems today--Darfur, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, international terrorism--to keep the hardest-working peace promoters busy.

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