Geir Lundestad, former secretary of the Nobel Prize committee, has said in a new autobiography that President Barack Obama, who was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize months after he was elected U.S. President, failed to live up to expectations after he received the prize.
Lundestad, former director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute and secretary to the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee from 1990 until 2015, stepped down from his positions with the Nobel Institute last year, after serving 25 years.
According to the BBC, in his memoir, titled Secretary of Peace: 25 Years With The Nobel Prize, published six years after the controversial prize, Lundestad said the selection committee made the decision to award the Peace Prize to President Obama because it thought that would help to boost his presidency. But according to Lundestad, the prize “did not have the desired effect” because Obama failed to achieve what the committee had hoped for.
“Even many of Obama’s supporters believed that the prize was a mistake. In that sense the committee didn’t achieve what it had hoped for.”
However, at a press conference on Thursday, Lundestad denied media reports that he “regretted” the decision and that the award was a “mistake.”
“Several of you have written that I believe the prize to Obama a mistake, but then you cannot have read the book. It says nowhere that it was a mistake to give Obama the Peace Prize.”
But the decision was controversial when it was announced in 2009 and widely criticized because many — including Obama’s supporters and opponents — felt it was too early in his tenure as president and that he had not yet made any appreciable impact.
But the committee had defended its action, saying that Obama was awarded the prize because of his focus on international diplomacy and his vision for nuclear disarmament. It was also hoped that the prize would encourage him as President of the United States to further pursue international diplomacy and nuclear disarmament.
“In hindsight, we could say that the argument of giving Obama a helping hand was only partially correct.”
Thorbjørn Jagland, Chairman of the Nobel Committee, said at the time that “Only very rarely had a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future.”
Obama had also appeared surprised by the decision to award him the Nobel Peace Prize. Lundestad said he learned that Obama had considered staying away from the award ceremony. But he traveled to Oslo and received it and expressed surprise, but said he was “humbled” by it.
Lundestad’s disclosure in his memoir came as a surprise because members of Nobel prize committees rarely talk about the decisions taken behind closed doors, the Huffington Post notes.
But Lundestand was not directly involved in the decision-making because he did not have a vote in the award committee as the director of the Nobel Institute. But he admitted he did not disagree with the decision at the time.
However, his decision to talk openly about the issue might be connected with his statement that he wants to see “greater openness around the [Nobel] prize, which has a 50-year secrecy rule.”