Response to Roger Alford’s The Nobel Effect: Nobel Peace Prize Laureates as International Norm Entrepreneurs

by Gregory Gordon and Anne Kjelling

[Professor Gregory Gordon is Assistant Professor of Law at the University of North Dakota School of Law.  Anne Kjelling is Head Librarian at the Norwegian Nobel Institute.]

We would like to thank Professor Roger Alford, the Virginia Journal of International Law and Opinio Juris for inviting us to participate in this online symposium.  Professor Alford is to be congratulated on his insightful piece regarding the impact of the Nobel Peace Prize on the development of international law.  The article analyzes 20th Century global norm formation through the revelatory filter of Peace Prize history.  Professor Alford’s innovative take on that history gives the lie to any popular conception of the Peace Prize as an annual pacifist beauty contest decided according to ad hoc criteria.  Instead, it describes an almost teleological evolution of the Prize through five distinct Zeitgeist phases: a “Pacifist Period” (1901-1913) (during which Prize winners largely focused on outlawing war and establishing a global legal order relying on arbitration to settle disputes); a “Statesman Period” (1917-1938) (where more conservative honorees directed their efforts primarily toward institutionalizing the accomplishments of the first phase and began to focus on humanitarian issues); a “Humanitarian Period” (1944-1959) (whose winners concentrated more exclusively on humanitarian issues — such as developing the laws of war and helping refugees); a “Human Rights Period” (1960-1986) (where the work emphasis of the Laureates underscored the importance of international human rights law for the cause of peace); and a “Democracy Period” (1987-present) (where the predominate aim of recipients was to establish democratic institutions for the realization of peace).

Professor Alford characterizes the Laureates as “norm entrepreneurs” and examines their contributions within the framework of the “constructivist” school of international relations theory, which focuses on norm evolution and its agents on the international plane.  The constructivists posit, inter alia, that international norms have a life-cycle composed of three stages: norm emergence, norm acceptance (also known as a “norm cascade”), and norm internalization.  Norm entrepreneurs, Professor Alford notes at the beginning of his piece, are critical for norm emergence.  States, international organizations and professionals, among others, are the prime movers, he notes, for norm acceptance and internalization.

Thus, in a general sense, the article looks at the work of the Laureates as giving birth to distinctive norms within each of the phases.  From this perspective, honorees such as Bertha von Suttner pioneered notions of outlawing war during the Pacifist Period.  During the Statesman Period, transnational architects such as Woodrow Wilson drafted the blueprints for the institutionalization of peace.  The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a winner during the Humanitarian Period, shaped norms pertaining to refugees during that phase.  Universal Declaration of Human Rights drafter René Cassin is perhaps the paradigmatic norm entrepreneur during the Human Rights Period.  And detained Burmese political leader Aung San Suu Kyi could be considered one of the symbolic trailblazers for democratic norm creation during the current Democracy Period.

Of course, Professor Alford explains that, during each of these periods, the Prize was bestowed on Laureates who did not engage in activities directly matching the period’s moniker.  The 1906 Prize winner, Theodore Roosevelt, for instance, won for his role in mediating the end of the Russo-Japanese War — he was not, however, a pacifist.  Carl von Ossietzky, a German journalist and political dissident who spoke out against Nazi policies and won the Prize during the “Statesman Period,” clearly did not win the Prize as a statesman.  So it is understandable that each “Period” is described by its outstanding or predominate, not exclusive, quality.

Still, there are other aspects of the Nobel Peace Prize story that do not fit neatly into Professor Alford’s framework.  The “Statesman Period,” the sole era described by an occupation rather than a concept, is hard to distinguish conceptually from the “Pacifist Period.”  As Professor Alford acknowledges: ” It is remarkable how similar the major themes were during both the Pacifist and Statesman Periods.”  Similarly, Professor Alford tracks themes covered in each of the Laureate’s lectures during the relevant period to underscore the importance of the sobriquet he assigns to the period.  To take but one example, mention of “human rights” is tracked in certain periods.  In the “Human Rights Period” itself, when we would expect this norm to be at its zenith, it is mentioned by the Laureates in 70% of the lectures.  However, there is not a significant divergence in its mention during the “Humanitarian Period (60%) or the “Democracy Period” (63%).   Other norms, such as democracy, also indicate considerable period overlap.

Moreover, while certain individuals within each “Period” could easily be characterized as “norm entrepreneurs,” (nominally the classification for all the Laureates) many others cannot.  For example, given that the “Statesman Period” can be seen as a continuation of the “Pacifist Period,” it is perhaps not surprising that the achievements of many of the Prize winners during that time look more cascading than entrepreneurial.  Norm cascades, such as realization of a jus ad bellum norm prohibiting aggressive war, embodied in the Locarno and Kellogg-Briand Pacts –  for which Sir Austin Chamberlain (Locarno — 1925), Gustav Stresemann (Locarno — 1926), Aristide Briand (Locarno — 1926), and Frank Kellogg (Kellogg-Briand — 1929) won the Prize, constituted the relevant accomplishment of a number of Laureates during this period.  Other Laureates were even further removed from an entrepreneurial role.  Desmond Tutu, for example, was only a “norm internalizer.”  According to Professor Alford: “Tutu’s role was not to promote international norm cascades, but rather to help South Africans internalize these norms [of opposition to all forms of racial discrimination and apartheid].”

In fact, when seen in this light, perhaps the Periods, as well as the Laureates, could be better described according to their primary role.  If an era’s distinguishing feature is “norm cascades,” as seems to be the case with the “Statesman Period,” then maybe it should be designated as such.  The “Pacifist Period,” for its part, appears to deserve a strictly “entrepreneurial” tag.  Similarly, other eras, such as the “Humanitarian Period,” would be better classified as mixed (and within them, each of the Laureates could be subdivided by the more precise category befitting his or her accomplishments).  Professor Alford does not currently analyze the predominate norm characteristic or characteristics of each “Period” but this might be helpful as he continues with the project.

As already alluded to, within each period, individual Laureates appear to play diverse “norm” roles.  Perhaps referring to all of them as “norm agents” (as opposed to the monolithic “entrepreneur” designation) would do the trick.  Then, each “norm” agent could be further classified as either an “entrepreneur,” “cascader” or “internalizer” (or a combination of each).  Again, these additional classifications could provide for more conceptual clarity as Professor Alford continues developing this important opus.

That said, it is not entirely clear, in any event, that the Laureates themselves are the true norm “entrepreneurs.”  What about the Norwegian Nobel Committee (NNC)?  It is the entity that ultimately selects the recipients for the transformative honor of the Peace Prize.  It would be interesting to know if the percentage of norm references in the Laureate lectures tracked by Professor Alford roughly correlates with the percentage of efforts exerted by international social activists worldwide.   If, for example, abolition of war represents only 5% of all international social activist effort during a given period but the NNC chooses war abolition advocates for 80% of Prize winners during the same span, then it seems the NNC is serving as a significant norm agent (and most likely as an entrepreneur).  As it progresses, Professor Alford’s work might benefit from this kind of information and analysis.

One other point should be noted.  It is somewhat ironic that, as implicitly acknowledged by Professor Alford, jurists should be so feebly represented on the Peace Prize honor roll.  Very few jurists have won the award and none has since René Cassin in 1968.  Since, on the surface at least, one might think that jurists would have the most direct impact on the development of international law, it is surprising to see the omission of so many prominent ones over the years.  Raphael Lemkin, the international law pioneer who formulated the legal concept and definition of “genocide” and was most responsible for the drafting and adoption of the 1948 Genocide Convention, although nominated, never won the award and thus is nowhere to be seen in Professor Alford’s article.   Nor is M. Cherif Bassiouni, a more contemporary giant in the field of international criminal law who played such a central role in the drafting of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

But these are minor points.  Professor Alford’s seminal work introduces the world to the crucial relationship between the Nobel Peace Prize and the development of international law.  This is both a vital and creative contribution to international relations and legal scholarship.  As such, its future installments will be eagerly anticipated.

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