Last week’s awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons enables us to lament the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s failure to honor what has long been the organization most deserving of the prize: the United States armed forces.
To argue that a military should be given a peace prize may seem counterintuitive. Yet support for violent means did not prevent the Nobel Prize from being awarded to Nelson Mandela, perhaps the award’s most celebrated recipient, who unapologetically supported “armed struggle” against South Africa’s apartheid regime.
More than any other individual or institution in either the last century (when the prize was founded) or the present one, the U.S. military has done more to preserve peace defend freedom, and save innocent lives.
From the beaches of Normandy, to the hills of Bosnia and Kosovo, to the deserts of Iraq, the U.S. armed forces have liberated countless millions from the depths of totalitarianism. Americans have sacrificed like no other for the freedom of people thousands of miles from their shores.
The Nobel Committee implicitly understands this, as indicated by its awarding last year’s prize to the European Union. That decision elicited many groans in the United States, where it has become popular, particularly on the right, to liken the EU to an oppressive super state. But the EU embodies the peace and prosperity that Europe has enjoyed over the past 70 years, a remarkable run given the continent’s history of bloodshed. Furthermore, the EU has played an undeniably positive role as an instigator of democratization and liberalization in the countries that used to form the Soviet bloc.
But the EU, and all the good works for which the Nobel Committee lauded it, would not have been possible without the efforts of the United States, and, in particular, its armed forces. It was American soldiers, sailors and airmen who liberated Western Europe from fascism and laid the groundwork for the Marshall Plan that rejuvenated a destroyed continent. It was another generation of Americans under arms who protected the free half of the continent from the grip of the Soviet Union, which imposed communism by force in the countries it occupied after the war.
And it was American military forces — backed up by a mighty arsenal of Pershing missiles — whose vigilant presence in Europe helped contain and eventually brought about the dissolution of Soviet imperialism, leading to the furtherance of a Europe “whole, free and at peace,” as President George H.W. Bush prophesied in 1989.
“What about Vietnam?” critics will ask. Or the atrocities committed by American troops in war time? Or the innocent victims of American drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas? These are all valid points. Like any institution, the American armed forces are not perfect, and like any armed force, have been responsible for the death of innocents. But more than any other military of its size, activity and global reach in history, the American one holds those who violate its exacting standards accountable for their actions.
If one is to judge the Peace Prize by its laureates, the argument in favor of awarding it to the American armed forces grows even stronger. In 1994, the prize was bestowed upon the late Palestinian master terrorist Yasser Arafat. In 2001, the Committee honored the United Nations and its then-Secretary General Kofi Annan, a bizarre decision given that body’s elevation of dictatorships and Annan’s own disputed role, as director of UN Peacekeeping, in blocking an armed response to the Rwandan genocide.
The United Nations stood in the way of preventing ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and today stands in the way of stopping the murderous campaign of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Indeed, this year’s prize has been given to an organization that, while perhaps well-intentioned, became a pawn in Russian president Vladimir Putin’s elaborate ploy to keep his ally Assad in power, albeit only with the force of conventional weapons, and not chemical ones.
But the American military’s merit in deserving this award should not be determined by the lackluster record of the prize’s previous recipients; it is more than worthy of winning the Nobel in its own right. For global peace today, such as it is, owes itself almost entirely to the benign hegemony of the United States. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the world has voluntarily greeted (if not exactly acknowledged) a “Pax Americana” backed up by a military whose stabilizing presence is welcomed by the dozens of countries which host American military installations on their soil. Nations like South Korea and Taiwan owe their very existence to the United States military, which prevents North Korea and China, respectively, from violently consuming their territories and subjecting their populations to authoritarian rule.
In 2009, the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize President Barack Obama. This ridiculous decision was predicated upon “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples” as well as his “vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.” In what remains the best speech of his presidency, however, Obama stressed the vital role that American force of arms has played in protecting the peace. “The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms,” he told his slightly perplexed audience in Oslo. If the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to the commander-in-chief of America’s armed forces, then it’s only fitting that they recognize the actual men and women who carry out his policies around the world.