Nobel director regretted Obama peace prize

Emma Löfgren
Emma Löfgren - [email protected]
Nobel director regretted Obama peace prize
Nobel Institute director Geir Lundestad (right) with US President Barack Obama and then Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjørn Jagland in 2009. Photo: Photo: Jarl Rehn-Erichsen / Scanpix

A former director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute has admitted his regrets about the 2009 award of the Nobel Peace Prize to US President Barack Obama.


Geir Lundestad, who served as Director of the Nobel Institute for 25 years, wrote in a newly released memoir that although the five-strong Norwegian Nobel Committee had all agreed to give Obama the award, his record in office since receiving the prize had shown it to be a mistake. 

According to Lundestad, the argument which swayed the committee was that the prize would help him achieve his goals.

"In hindsight, we could say that the argument of giving Obama a helping hand was only partially correct," he wrote, according to VG newspaper. 

Lundestad on Wednesday released his memoir, "Fredens sekretær. 25 år med Nobelprisen" (Secretary of Peace. 25 years with the Nobel Prize) about his experiences with the Nobel committee, revealing details about relationships within the committee and the peace prize winners up until he stepped down in 2014. 

In the book, he is scathing about Thorbjørn Jagland, the committee's former chairman, who is accuses of  having "surprising shortcomings in knowledge," being "very disorganised" and "not willing to learn from others". 

He also argues that appointing a former Prime Minister to lead the committee had always been a mistake, as it was not a rule suitable for former ministers.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, another former Labour Party prime minister, had also been sceptical of the choice, he wrote. 

"Gro Harlem Brundtland said to me after Jagland became the leader of the committee that he was lousy at dealing with staff," Lundestad writes. 

Lundestad was not the only person to have misgivings about the Obama award, the American president himself said he was "surprised". 

"Even many of Obama's supporters thought that the prize was a mistake. In that way, the committee did not achieve what it had hoped," Lundestad writes. 

He claims that Obama's advisors even discreetly asked if it would be possible for the US President to avoid the award. 
“His cabinet had already asked whether anyone had previously refused to travel to Oslo to receive the prize,” Lundestad said. “In broad strokes, the answer was no.”
According to Lundestad, then foreign minister Jonas Gahr Store tried the following year to dissuade the panel from awarding the prize to a Chinese dissident, fearing it would put a strain on Norway's relations with Beijing.  
"During my 25 years (on the committee), I don't ever recall seeing anything like that," Lundestad said.
The Nobel committee, which fiercely guards its independence from the politics of power, ignored the minister's warnings and honoured Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo -- which has left Oslo's ties with Beijing frozen ever since.


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