Nobel Oblige

10/09/2009 03:01 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more. Luke 12:48 

The concept of noblesse oblige applies to President Barack Obama’s win of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.  Roughly translated as “noble obligations," it places this very new American president in the position of herculean expectations to fulfill his vision that the world might live together peaceably in a nuclear-free environment.  

The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded annually “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”  

The Nobel Committee acknowledged Obama "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."  

The Nobel Peace Prize is considered to be the most controversial of all the Nobel awards.  

In 2007, Al Gore shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”  Ten years earlier, Vermonter Jody Williams shared her prize with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines “for their work in the banning and clearing of anti-personnel landmines.”  

In 1973, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with North Vietnamese politician Lê Ðức Thọ for the 1973 Paris agreement intended to bring about a

cease-fire in Vietnam and a withdrawal of American forces.  Kissinger accepted, but Thọ refused, citing the lack of a peaceful resolution in his country.  

Obama’s Nobel win is extraordinary for its acknowledgement of presidential rhetoric in the service of global cooperation. Plenty of naysayers argue that this award is too soon.   

The president is not even nine months into his executive term.  He’s pregnant with promise, but hasn’t yet delivered.

Last week late-night television’s Saturday Night Live was spoofing the president for accomplishing “nada, nothing.” And who can forget the Friday surprise when Rio de Janiero triumphed over Obama’s hometown.  We’re still waiting to hear what the commander-in-chief decides about troop levels in Afghanistan.  

The US was just named the world’s most admired nation brand and now the US president is named the world’s greatest peacemaker.  Can we live up to our “most admired” status?  Can the president fulfill his peaceful promises?  His April 5, 2009 speech in Prague that called for a nuclear-free world caught the attention of the Nobel Peace Prize committee:

One nuclear weapon exploded in one city -- be it New York or Moscow, Islamabad or Mumbai, Tokyo or Tel Aviv, Paris or Prague -- could kill hundreds of thousands of people. And no matter where it happens, there is no end to what the consequences might be -- for our global safety, our security, our society, our economy, to our ultimate survival.

Some argue that the spread of these weapons cannot be stopped, cannot be checked -- that we are destined to live in a world where more nations and more people possess the ultimate tools of destruction. Such fatalism is a deadly adversary, for if we believe that the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable, then in some way we are admitting to ourselves that the use of nuclear weapons is inevitable.

Just as we stood for freedom in the 20th century, we must stand together for the right of people everywhere to live free from fear in the 21st century.  And as nuclear power -- as a nuclear power, as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it. So today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.


Equally inspiring was President Obama's June 4, 2009 speech in Cairo:


I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles - principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

Congratulations to President Barack Obama for a noble work-in-progress.


Dr. Nancy Snow teaches public diplomacy and communications at Syracuse University's Newhouse School.  Her second edition of Persuader-in-Chief is forthcoming.