Once again the awarders of the Nobel Peace Prize have done the unexpected. The more they do so the more they almost call for a new prize category. Perhaps a Nobel Humanitarian Prize would cover the diverse kinds of achievement well worth honoring which have founded their way into the committee's net. Certainly almost from the beginning in 1901 there have been winners stretching the definition of "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity among nations, for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."
Under that formula, an expected choice this year might have been Lord Carrington, under whose leadership came the final negotiations leading to peace and independence in Zimbabwe. Such a selection would have been in the line of such previus winners as United Nations peacemakers Ralph Bunche and Dag Hammarskjold.
But the Nobel committee instead named human rights activist Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina -- a less obvious "peace" figure than the previous (1936) Argentinian winner, Carlos Saavedra Lamas, who was active in bringing about a peace pact among Latin American nations and a Mediation commission when war broke out. The committee noted that Argentina's military regime has ruled with the use of "extreme violence" and that Mr. Perez Exquivel "champions a solution of Argentina's grievous problems that dispenses with the use of violence. . . ."
With this award attention is drawn to the excesses of right-wing government, as it was to the excesses of left-wing government with an earlier peace prize to human rights advocate Andrei Sakharov in the Soviet Union. A peace prize to Amnesty International also spotlighted human rights.
These are admirable effects of prize-giving. So was the focus brought to the "ggreen revolution" in the agriculture by the 1970 award of the peace prize to its pioneer, Norman Borlaug; to the needs of the poor in last year's prize to mother Teresa; to the importance of relief activities in more than one prize over the years to the Red Cross.
But if the leaders in human rights and other avenues of broadly humanitarian concern had their own Nobel Humanitarian Prize then the Nobel Peace Prize would stand clearly in the realm where its name has a special ring. That the prize is not above debate was indicated at its inauguration. then Sweden's Hjalmar Branting (who would win it in the future) complained that no single individual can effectively work for peace and "the masses ought certainly to have a share in the sums which the Nobel Foundation may be abel to disburse. . . ." As those sums have grown to more than $200,000 for a recipient, Mr. Branting seems somewhat foresighted.
YEt the will of Alfred Nobel is unlikely to be changed now. With the peace prize decisions expanding the definition of peace in response to the times, They can be made use of to challenge all of us to examine our own definitions of peace. Do we see how what we do in our daily round, the attitudes we adopt toward our neighbors, toward their needs and their rights, are ways of casting our weight for or against peace? Whether we catch the eye of the Nobel committee or not.