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Do Nobels Make a Difference?

Don’t be fooled: “The Nobel Peace Prize's aims are expressly political,” Ronald Krebs wrote in a July 30 article for Foreign Policy that is again suddenly relevant. The Nobel Prize Committee does not try to hide this: In 1990, its chairman said, “The committee also takes the possible positive effects of its choices into account [because] ... Nobel wanted the prize to have political effects. Awarding a peace prize is, to put it bluntly, a political act." Since 1971, Krebs estimates that the committee has awarded 27 “aspirational” prizes, or prizes given, like Obama’s, to “set the international agenda, draw attention to marginalized causes, and kick-start stalled efforts.” But do they work? “One would be hard-pressed to argue that the prize had much of an effect on international media coverage of South Africa's transition from apartheid (1993), the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (1994), or the troubles in Northern Ireland (1998).”