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Analysis & Opinion
16.10.09 Does Medvedev Deserve A Nobel Prize?
Introduced by Vladimir Frolov

Contributors: Vladimir Belaeff, Stephen Blank, Ethan Burger, Alexander Rahr, Sergei Roy

It is a pity that President Dmitry Medvedev will not share the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 with U.S. President Barack Obama. He may be no less deserving of it than Obama, possibly for changing the tone and direction of international politics. Are his foreign policy accomplishments on a par with Obama’s? Is he perceived outside of Russia as a transformational world leader?

Together with Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Medvedev is responsible for changing the tone and direction of international politics, in a genuine effort to create a better world for all of us.

Not unlike Obama, Medvedev inherited a foreign policy plate that was driving his country into isolationism and debilitating self-pity.

In fits and starts in less than two years, he managed to transform Russia’s international role from that of an estranged and piqued spoiler to that of a problem solver with a personal stake in a functional world order.

Medvedev has gradually steered Russia away from the unilateralist impulses practiced by his predecessor.

He shares Obama’s penchant for multilateral diplomacy, and has worked to make international institutions – from the UN to the nascent G20 – stronger and more effective.

His pragmatic position on Iran is likely to make international efforts to put a stop to the latter’s secret nuclear weapons program more productive.

Medvedev fought a successful war, even though it was forced upon him. Like Obama in Afghanistan, he did not go wobbly in Georgia, and proved his resolve to defend Russia’s interests and citizens.

Medvedev’s toughest foreign policy decision so far has been to unilaterally recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia. His perseverance on this issue, despite broad international criticism, casts him as a world leader with a strong set of values that he intends to defend with the full power of his office. He does not crave popularity, just respect for his country.

Obama won his Nobel Prize for a number of flowery foreign policy speeches and a vision for a nuclear-free world that is not likely to take shape in his lifetime. In this sense, Medvedev’s call in 2008 for a new, all-encompassing security architecture in Europe is a much more realistic and no less peace-making undertaking worthy of a Nobel, although Medvedev needs to work on this much more to make his vision a reality.

Medvedev’s greatest challenge in foreign policy is to restore Russia’s leadership in the former Soviet space - a truly Herculean task.

Does Medvedev deserve a Nobel Peace Prize for changing the tone and direction of international politics? Are his foreign policy accomplishments on a par with Obama’s? Is he perceived as a transformational world leader outside Russia? Is he a visionary in international affairs, with his proposals for a new security architecture in Europe and a new global financial architecture? Has he managed to bring new tone and style to Russia’s diplomacy and Russia’s approach to global issues, like WMD proliferation, global warming and financial stability? How does he fare internationally, compared to Obama?

Alexander Rahr, Director, Russia Program, German Council on Foreign Relations, Berlin:

Dmitry Medvedev does as little deserve the Nobel Peace Prize as Barack Obama. Medvedev annexed territories from Georgia (although in defense against aggression) and Obama is still fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama is indicative of the slow demise of the Western world order, based solely on so-called Western values.

The Nobel Prize committee has exhausted its imagination. Senior and distinguished personalities inside this committee behave in old fashion ways, celebrating ideals of freedom and human liberties in a manner reminiscent of the past century.

The Peace award should have gone to an international NGO, which truly engaged in changing the world somewhere in deep Africa. Or it should have gone to a figure from a moderate Islamic movement, which stands for cosmopolitan views of the future world order.

If Obama received the prize for abandoning missile defense in Central Eastern Europe, Medvedev indeed deserves the same honor for not putting nuclear missiles in Kaliningrad.

Ethan S. Burger, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC:

At present, the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has few accomplishments that could make him a legitimate nominee, much less a recipient, of the Nobel Peace Prize. Whether U.S. President Barack Obama's achievements to date are sufficient to merit the honor is debatable, but giving him the award is understandable in light of the last decade's events.

It is often difficult to determine who in a particular field deserves a Noble Prize. Sometimes the prize is awarded for a particular achievement, other times for accomplishments over a lifetime. In some years there are individual winners, other years there are groups of winners, and sometimes the award is not given out at all.

Measuring "accomplishment" is not an easy task. The Nobel Committee is certain areas (particularly literature and peace) is often influenced by political considerations. In 2006, for example, Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, whose works include My Name is White, Snow and Istanbul, may have been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature for his willingness to work with other prominent Turks to examine the death of more than one million Armenians during World War I (which some have described as the modern world's first Genocide). Scholars may debate whether politics may have entered into the decision to award Boris Pasternak the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958. This is not to say that either of these authors are not great writers, but contemplating whether the decision was made entirely on the merits of their works.

In my view, by awarding president Obama the Nobel Peace Price, the committee continued to demonstrate displeasure with the policies of former U.S. President George W. Bush. It should not be overlooked that Al Gore, Mohammed el Baradei and Koffi Annan all won the Nobel Peace Prize. Each year, there were many other deserving individuals and organizations.

Earlier this week, the Secretary of the Nobel Committee Geir Lundestad defended (for want of a better word) the choice of Obama. The perceived need for the committee to justify its decision is noteworthy. Lundestad said that Obama's "commitment" to multilateral diplomacy, nuclear arms reduction and addressing climate change fulfilled the selection criteria better than other candidates.

Of course, pundits will quibble. Nonetheless, since nuclear proliferation stands at or near the top of the list of threats to peace, if Obama were to succeed in signing a nuclear test ban treaty, it would indeed be an accomplishment.

Obama should be applauded for his willingness to enter into dialog with "unfriendly" foreign leaders without precondition, in pursuit of seeking some common ground. At the same time, his message of hope and overcoming the "establishment" is likely to continue serving as an inspiration to those Iranians, Uighurs and others to persevere in their struggle. Obama's significance is in large part symbolic to those suffering oppression -- Medvedev has not demonstrated that he is willing to lend emotional support to those suffering under non-responsive governments.

Obama’s ability to reduce the legacy of the Bush administration in international affairs is no mean accomplishment.

In a sense, the Nobel Committee has made a bargain with the new American president. Obama has yet to transform the U.S. political scene and he has a lot to learn. Still, he is eloquent, insightful and well-motivated, and his impact extends far beyond the United States’ borders.

If Medvedev is able to bring the rule of law to Russia, transform Russian foreign policy so that it is a force for stability (particularly in the arms control area), and advance the cause of human rights and dignity throughout the world -- his prize may be yet come. Unfortunately, his ability to accomplish these tasks is yet to be demonstrated.

Medvedev must show that he is not a prisoner of the past, and is ready to develop constructive and mutually beneficial relations with the successor states of the Soviet Union (in particular, the Baltic States, Georgia and Ukraine). This will only be possible when he is willing to use his power (or acquire the power) to accomplish those aspirational goals set out in the Russian Constitution, the U.N. Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If this were to be achieved, Medvedev would be entitled to the honor recently (and maybe prematurely) bestowed on Obama.

Vladimir Belaeff, President, Global Society Institute, Inc., San Francisco, CA:

There is a view that no person deserves the kind of oblique insult that the Nobel Peace Prize Committee may have directed at president Obama by granting him an award basically for a few speeches, which – as is the custom in the United States – were most likely not even written by Obama, but prepared by one or more White House speechwriters.

Consider the situation if the Nobel Prize for Physics was to be awarded to a recently graduated doctor of sciences, on the basis of only announced proposals for future research, which might or might not produce useful results. This is approximately what happened with the Nobel Peace award in 2009.

The unfortunate award decision is now a source of derision and sarcasm directed at Obama and at the United States, and also a kind of millstone around the neck of the recipient, who will now have to forever justify the premature distinction by the Nobel Prize Committee.

And the Peace Prize itself has been unfairly cheapened by what is perceived by many as unbounded sycophancy on behalf of a selection committee that appears to be more interested in political correctness and a personality cult than in substantive candidacies. That is, unless one assumes that the whole episode is a wily and ironic exercise in United States-bashing. President Obama gets awarded the Nobel Peace Prize precisely because he is not his own predecessor?

One doubts that Medvedev, quite obviously a decent individual, deserves this kind of treatment. And one believes, neither does Obama.

As for the accomplishments of president Medvedev mentioned in the introduction, one must remember the following axiom: success in international relations occurs only when counterparts are willing – and actually do – interact. One cannot unilaterally develop a dialogue when counterparts are not willing to respond. Before Obama went to the White House, Russia’s diplomacy was not receiving adequate responses from Washington. Therefore, Medvedev’s genuine success is not only due to his personal efforts and skills, but also to the fact that with the change of U.S. presidency and administration in 2009, the dialogue between Moscow and Washington appears to be resuming, after many years of unilateral disregard on behalf of the White House for any substantive interaction with Russia and with many other countries.

Meanwhile, both under Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s multilateral relations with other foreign countries and organizations were, with a few exceptions, quite lively and successful. The proposition in the introduction that Russia’s foreign policy under Medvedev’s predecessor was isolationist and unsuccessful is highly debatable. There were very specific instances where attempts at dialogue were not working out for Russia (Poland, the Bush White House). However, with the world at large, Putin, and later Medvedev, were quite successful in their international dialogue. So with all respect and very sincere liking for president Medvedev, one cannot attribute a substantial breakthrough in Russia’s diplomacy with America to him – unless one is prepared to also recognize former president Bush – for leaving the White House, and also to Sen. John McCain – for losing the election of 2008.

In summary – Russia’s president Medvedev does not really deserve to be insulted by a contrived award from a committee, which in 2009, has demonstrated a thorough disregard for the history and the significance of a heretofore prestigious prize.

Sergei Roy, Editor,, Moscow:

The Russian people automatically responded to the news of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize going to Barack Obama with an up-to-the-minute political joke: “Mikhail Gorbachev received the Nobel Prize, and the Soviet Union collapsed. Now Barack Obama is getting his prize. This inspires certain hopes…”

However unfounded the hopes, responding to the ridiculous decision with a good-natured joke seems just right. Especially considering that Barack Obama was included in the list of candidates for the prize in February of 2009 -- after a couple of weeks in office.

The parallel between Obama and Gorbachev is not all that tenuous, either. Both men got their prizes for “inspiring hopes” rather than achieving what they set out to do. Gorbachev “achieved” a total collapse of the country he headed, not the “socialism with a human face” that he had vowed to build. Obama is getting a Peace Prize while escalating the war in Afghanistan, keeping troops on active duty in Iraq, achieving zero progress in bringing peace to the Middle East, and doggedly supporting his Georgian vassal now officially labeled aggressor in an EU report. No true peacenik, Obama.

His achievements are clearly more in rhetoric and good intentions than in actual deeds. Just one practical step can be chalked up to his credit, the cancellation of plans for ABM installations in Eastern Europe, though the move’s real value is wide open to doubt. As Mikhail Delyagin aptly put it, if a flower seller gives you a bouquet for free, that does not mean he loves you: he is simply getting rid of unsaleables. Alexander Vershbow now says that Washington has added Ukraine to the list of possible early warning sites as part of its refashioning of a European missile defense system. If moving ABM systems closer to Russia’s borders is a stroke for peace, then the Nobel Committee’s decision should be reinterpreted in strictly Orwellian terms: “Peace is preparation for war!”

Actually, the decision was couched in more circumspect terms than that. Obama was rewarded not for “achievements” in bringing peace to the world, but for “efforts” in doing the same. On this logic, the Russian government should be giving out subsidies of 250,000 rubles to parents not only for producing a second, third, etc.

child, as it is doing now, but also for their “efforts” in attempted production of progeny. However alluring the project, it is clearly not practicable in the harsh world we live in, as there are too many “efforts” being made nightly and thus too many prospective aspirants for the funds.

In our case, 172 individuals and 33 organizations were nominated for the prize. In both categories there were perfectly worthy nominees, like Greenpeace among the latter or Nicolas Sarkozy among the former. I would have betted on Sarkozy: he at least played a sort of Jimmy Carter role in the aftermath of last year’s Georgia-Russia conflict, doing a job of work, however skewed, in shuttle diplomacy.

No one knows if Dmitry Medvedev was included among the nominees (we will only know the full list in 50 years), but he should have been, by ordinary human logic if not the Nobel Committee’s. Didn’t he order the forcing of peace on Georgia? All that talk of using “excessive force” might spoil his chances of course, but he should definitely be in the running.

Moreover, Medvedev is more than Obama’s equal in terms of peaceful rhetoric and in creating a fresh atmosphere of constructive engagement, resetting U.S.-Russian relations, proposing a new security architecture for Europe, etc. There is no lack of “effort” on his part, and he has been much longer at it than Obama’s 12 days.

No, the Oslo Committee’s decision was not just a queer quirk: it was also a manifestly unfair one.

Professor Stephen Blank, the U.S. Army War College, Carlyle Barracks, PA:

This cannot be serious. Although Obama's victory was totally unexpected and perhaps undeserved, if we look at accomplishments rather than promise, none of the ideas advanced here holds water. First of all, the war with Georgia was not forced upon Russia, quite the opposite. Without defending Mikheil Sakaashvili's rashness, this was a war which, as the Tagliavini report notes, was the result of a steadily intensifying Russian pressure and strategy, a strategy of provocation to which Georgia unwisely responded.

Russian foreign policy is still replete with self-pity and what has been called “adolescent aggressiveness,” and Medvedev has contributed to this. To assert that his historic task is to restore Russian leadership in the former Soviet Union is also an exaggeration. There are few states there that want what Moscow thinks is “Russian leadership,” and as a result they are balancing against it as much as they are bandwagoning with it. Moreover, such leadership can only be attained at the price of these states' sovereignty, independence, and possibly territory, so that leadership is hardly an augury of peace.

As for the call for a new European security architecture, let us be frank. There is no substance there. Moscow has advanced no serious practical proposals, and merely asserts that the system is broken after it broke it. Therefore, supposedly others must make proposals to Moscow, even though they are quite satisfied with the system.

On Iran, Medvedev has sounded some more positive notes, but he has still done nothing in this regard, and to judge from Vladimir Putin and Sergei Lavrov, nothing will be done. The insistence on a sphere of privileged interests in the CIS, the annexation of territories in defiance of the Helsinki accords, and the rest of Medvedev's record hardly justifies such demands, which appear to be another case of Russia feeling that the deck is stacked against it. However, if Russia's leadership was truly of the caliber Frolov assumes here, we might ponder Nikolai Gogol's proverb that if you don't like the reflection, don't blame the mirror.
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