By Alex Day
Last week, Donald Trump argued in an Ohio rally that he was worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize. “I made a deal, I saved a country, and I just heard the head of that country is now getting the Nobel Peace prize for saving the country”. He has previously asserted he would win the award “if they give it out fairly, which they won’t”.
Trump is referring to Ethiopian President Abiy Ahmed, who was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his instrumental role in bringing peace to the Horn of Africa. Ahmed won the coveted prize because he orchestrated a deal that ended one of the last interstate conflicts in the world; the state of conflict between his country and Eritrea. There was no U.S. involvement in the Ethiopia-Eritrea peace accord, resulting in confusion as to why the President would make such a bold claim.
It appears Trump has confused the historic peace deal with the recent talks (convened by the United States) between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, as the reason for Ahmed receiving the Nobel. The talks are to negotiate the disputed construction plans for a dam on the Nile River, which would strongly benefit Ethiopia but potentially danger Egypt’s water supply. “Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Prize for his efforts to bring peace to the Horn of Africa, not stalled negotiations about a new dam on the Nile,” the U.S. House Foreign Affairs committee furiously tweeted. “If they gave the Nobel for deals that didn’t happen, the President would have a shelf full of them”.
Despite the unprofessionalism of this embarrassing mix-up, Trump’s self-proclaimed worthiness of the Nobel makes for an interesting discussion about his presidency – alongside a critique of the Nobel Peace Prize itself.
Do the 45th President’s foreign policy achievements genuinely merit the award? To find out, I will give an honest assessment of his contributions to international peace (and war) during his time in office.
Trump has actually been nominated for the Nobel before. In 2018, his name was put forward due to his role in deescalating tensions between the United States and North Korea, brokering historic diplomatic talks between the two nations, of which the Singapore Summit was the crowning achievement. However, no concrete peace deal has been agreed, only a significant relaxation of tensions – awarding the Nobel for preliminary, potential peace would be senseless. In fact, it was Trump who significantly worsened fears of war in the first place with North Korea by labelling Kim Jong-un as “rocket man”, and threatening to “totally destroy” his country in front of the United Nations in 2017.
Russia and China
Under Trump, America’s traditionally aggressive stance on Russia has significantly weakened and he has attempted to forge a better relationship with Putin’s regime. Despite launching a devastating trade war with China, Trump’s initial belligerence towards Beijing has resulted in a “phase one” deal that renegotiates their trade relationship. However, similar to North Korea, Trump’s ‘achievements’ here cannot be enshrined as peaceful, for it was Trump who escalated tensions to drastic levels in the first place, notoriously demonizing China during his 2016 election campaign to the point that pronouncing ‘China’ has become the starting point for any Trump impersonator.
The Middle East
With regards to the ongoing war in Afghanistan; the president oddly scrapped talks with the Taliban last month just as it looked like they were about to yield some results, meaning no advances towards peace have been made. Trump also ordered the first direct military action on the Syrian government, loosing 59 Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian airfield in 2017. These events appear to indicate strides towards war, not peace.
Assassinating Iran’s top military leader at an international airport and then provocatively tweeting a picture of your nation’s flag can hardly be termed peaceful, despite Trump’s claim that the drone strike “avoided” war in the Middle East.
Although the Nobel is awarded to those who abolish or reduce standing armies, Trump’s downsizing of military support to NATO jeopardizes the continuity of Europe’s Long Peace. The alliance is essential to curbing Russian encroachment into Eastern Europe, which is already happening with the country’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea (to which America has done little in response).
So far, Trump’s application for the Nobel seems rather weak – but there are various ways through which the President could earn one.
Trump has expressed an interest in mediating the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan, saying he would help them “iron out” tensions. “I think I’d be an extremely good arbitrator,” Trump added. If a concrete peace accord was reached between the two countries as a result of American mediation, this would irrefutably merit the Nobel – tensions over Kashmir have stalked the geopolitics of the region since its British partition. Similarly, Trump’s ambitious ‘Peace Plan’ for Israel and Palestine, if it did actually bring peace to the region, could be the crowning achievement of his presidency. This, to me, seems extremely unlikely. The plan is the final nail in the coffin of the two-state solution; allowing Israel to annex controversial West Bank settlements and encouraging Israel to assert control over Jerusalem, its “undivided capital”. Already, it has been called “the slap of the century” by Palestinians.
I do sympathize with Trump’s argument that he merits the prize more than Obama did, who was awarded the Nobel in 2009 for his aspirational rhetoric rather than any solid advancements towards peace at the time, despite his excellent achievements such as the Iran nuclear deal after he was awarded the prize. As the Washington Post outlines: “Trump has achieved more concrete progress on North Korea than Obama had more generally for his Nobel”. However, the fact that Obama won the prize without merit doesn’t mean that Trump also should.
We should also stop viewing the Nobel’s judgement as wholly correct; after all, notorious despots Adolf Hitler (1939) and Josef Stalin (1945, 1948) were also nominated for the prize in the past. American leaders hoping to win the prize should be held to a higher standard than others. As the ‘policeman of the world’, America has a bigger global military and nuclear presence than any other nation. This seems to indicate the country’s readiness for war rather than their hopes for peace.
America’s 45th president, to conclude, makes a bold statement by claiming his worthiness of the Nobel. With regards to an assessment of the foreign policy of the Trump administration, despite apparent advances in relations with North Korea and China, these conflicts were worsened by his aggressive policies in the first place and therefore his advances are remedies to his own problems. His aggression towards Iran is similarly difficult to render as peaceful behaviour. Mediation of the Kashmir conflict could indeed merit the Nobel if a concrete agreement were reached, but his ‘Peace Plan’ for Israel and Palestine looks to move toward quite the opposite through its endorsement of Israeli belligerence. The Nobel, despite Trump’s claims, seems very far away.