Barack Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize: Justified or World Optimistic?

By Michelle Jones
Interstate - Journal of International Affairs
2010, Vol. 2009/2010 No. 1 | pg. 1/1

On the 20th January, 2009, millions of people celebrated the inauguration of Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States and also the first African- American President. Yet the news that he had been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in October 2009 shocked and confused many people. Their infatuation for this man had not faded but the question escaping everyone’s lips was, “What had he done to deserve this prestigious prize?”

Within nine months in office, Obama has managed to help re-build the US economy, create new regulations to limit the effects of climate change, has expressed his desire for better relations between the US, Russia and the Middle East and attempted to negotiate with Iran. However, do any of these constitute being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

The Head of the Nobel Committee for the prize believes so stating, “It is because we would like to support what he is trying to achieve.” The emphasis on many of the congratulatory reports focus on what Obama is going to do or trying to do. It soon becomes apparent that the question shouldn’t be “What has Obama done?” but, “What is Obama going to do?” Paul Reynolds from BBC News stated that the, “award was unexpected and might be regarded as more of an encouragement for intentions rather than a reward for achievement.”1 According to a BBC news article, the majority of world leaders had expressed their support for Obama receiving the award whilst 75% of the comments received from the public showed them to be bewildered by the decision.

In previous years the prize was awarded to people after they had completed or contributed to an act that led to greater peace amongst the international community. Theodore Roosevelt was awarded the prize in 1906 after helping put an end to the Russo-Japanese war; Wilson received the prize in 1919 due to his participation in the creation of the Versailles Treaty and vision for world peace. The end of the Cold War saw Mikhail Gorbachev being recognised for the prize. Yet others deem the Nobel Peace Prize to be losing its prestige. After Henry Kissinger won the prize for his participation in the Paris Peace Accords of 1973, shortly before the catastrophic accounts of war crimes were leaked to the press, Tom Lehrer stated that, “political satire becomes obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Yet World Leaders seem to be congratulating Obama on his premature award and see it as a template for the future. Germany’s Angela Merkel stated that it was an “incentive to the President and to us all to do more for peace.”2 French President Nicholas Sarkozy believes that the Nobel Peace Prize has, “confirmed America’s return to the hearts of the people and the world.”3 Although many of the World Leaders are congratulating Obama for the award, some figures have refuted the idea and believe that it has completely undermined the traditions of the prize. Mehdi Hasan disagrees with the nominated winner and suggested that, “the cult of Obama has elevated him to a god-like, saint-like superhuman.”4 Awarding this prize based on, “what he is trying to achieve,” surely is placing him on a pedestal, where if he fails to bring about the necessary changes to the international order there will be a harsh reprisal awaiting him.

Since it became public knowledge that he would be entering the Presidential race, he has become such a well-known and loved figure. Yet is it fair to deem him the miracle maker? As the former President of Finland suggests, “the world expects that he will also achieve something.”5 After the controversy surrounding the Bush Administration and the bad press they received their foreign policy, Obama is seen in a more hopeful light. A mediator not a fighter, interested in the affairs of the world, not just affairs affecting US interests. As Glenn Greenwald stated, “Obama has changed the tone America uses to speak to the world.”6

In a world with corruption, terrorism and global crime, will peace ever be attainable? And can it ever be achieved by one man? It seems to me that Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize has been orchestrated in such a way that despite the pessimism in the world today, Obama has been a ray of hope not only within his own country but on a larger international scale, that by developing this superior, unification seeking image then the world’s leaders will follow suit and only then can we, in a united hope for peace, begin the necessary steps in creating a world focused on harmony.

It may be optimistic to grant such a prestigious award based on a promise. But by promoting that promise and encouraging others to support and carry forward that promise. Obama must succeed and carry forth the vision of peace or risk another humiliating blow to America’s superpower status.


  1. “Obama wins 2009 Nobel Peace Prize” taken from (accessed: 7.11.09).
  2. “Surprise Nobel for Obama stirs praise and doubts” by Steven Erlanger and Sheryl Gay Stolberg. Cited from: (accessed: 7.11.09)
  3. Op Cit no: 2
  4. Hasan, Mehdi. “Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize, is this a joke?”, NewStatesman, 9th October 2009.
  5. Op Cit no: 2.
  6. “Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize” by Glenn Greenwald, 9th October 2009.

Suggested Reading from Inquiries Journal

The presidential campaign of Barack Obama was met with enthusiasm and controversy. If you were alive and cognizant at the time, you understood the importance and historic value of the 2008 election no matter your position... MORE»
The politics of Harold Pinter’s work are not derived from any ideological affinity with a specific political position, or indeed from any clearly defined ideological base or contemporary party politics. Pinter’s dramatic and poetic works do not scrutinise government politics or rail against those politics in a thinly veiled dramatic polemic. Pinter’s work is not the product of the “angry playwright” that the popular... MORE»
Philosophers have been grappling at what characterizes the manifestation of what we call “ideology” for some time now. Is it based in some written or spoken manifesto? Or is it much murkier than that— a frame for what we think in the same way language or culture might? And what of its prophets? How do we determine... MORE»
Gun control and federal reform of firearm legislation have recently become popular and contentious topics in Washington D.C. and around the country. Yet despite vast public support, none of the legislation proposed by the Obama administration has been enacted. The Obama administration and the several Congresses that have served... MORE»
Submit to Inquiries Journal, Get a Decision in 10-Days

Inquiries Journal provides undergraduate and graduate students around the world a platform for the wide dissemination of academic work over a range of core disciplines.

Representing the work of students from hundreds of institutions around the globe, Inquiries Journal's large database of academic articles is completely free. Learn more | Blog | Submit

Follow IJ

Latest in International Affairs

2022, Vol. 14 No. 04
With over 10 million stateless people globally, statelessness has increasingly become a pressing issue in international law. The production of statelessness occurs across multiple lines including technical loopholes, state succession, and discriminatory... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 09
The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated current global challenges. However, this article argues that this time of crisis can also be a unique opportunity for the existing global economic institutions - G20, WTO, IMF, and World Bank (WB) - to make the... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 02
On January 1st, 1959, a small band of Cuban rebels shocked the world, overthrowing the American-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. These rebels were especially known for their guerrilla tactics and their leaders, such as Fidel Castro and Ernesto... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 01
Israel has increased the nation’s security presence around the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank. Here, the research project analyzes how transaction costs resulting from Israeli security policy impact the output of manufacturing activities... Read Article »
2020, Vol. 12 No. 09
The necessity of international relief is unending as new crises continue to emerge across the world. International aid plays a crucial role in shaping how affected communities rebuild after a crisis. However, humanitarian aid often results in a... Read Article »
2019, Vol. 11 No. 10
This article aims to present the biopiracy of traditional knowledge from India by the United States, which has occurred directly through the use of patent law and indirectly through economic power and cultural imperialism. Throughout this essay,... Read Article »
2018, Vol. 10 No. 10
After joining the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2004, Estonians felt secure and in charge of their future. However, following the 2007 Bronze Horseman incident in the Estonian capital of Tallinn which included... Read Article »

What are you looking for?


5 Tips for Publishing Your First Academic Article
7 Big Differences Between College and Graduate School
Writing a Graduate School Personal Statement