The final Nobel Peace Prize of the 20th century will be awarded in Oslo tomorrow to an idea rather than to an individual peacemaker.
But the year that slips away produced several significant contributions to a better global future that should not go unnoticed.
Accepting the 1999 Nobel will be Doctors Without Borders, which has ignored national boundaries and politics to help the victims of disaster or tyranny. Founded in 1971 during the Biafran war, the Paris-based organization emphasizes a collective obligation to give aid to others and to resist evil from whatever source.
I applaud the recognition of this nongovernment organization of interventionist physicians and their subtly subversive assault on traditional concepts of diplomacy and sovereignty. The Norwegian Nobel committee's decision also usefully reflects the complexity of a year that saw much piecemeal peacemaking with still uncertain outcomes.
But in East Timor, Kosovo and Northern Ireland there was progress away from bloodshed toward a more peaceful future, thanks to dedicated and alert political leadership from individuals who also deserve recognition.
My short list starts with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan for his skillful extraction of East Timor from Indonesia's colonial grip and repression last autumn, and for his more recent role in forcing the United Nations to own up to its shocking failure "to recognize the scope of evil" in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia.
Annan's behind-the-scenes management of the East Timor crisis has not been disclosed in the detail it deserves. When Indonesian President B. J. Habibie surprised the world (and his generals) last May by promising East Timor independence through referendum, Annan understood the captive territory could not risk the cancellation of Habibie's promise that delay would bring.
He crafted a strategy of holding Habibie to his word while keeping outside pressure focused on the Indonesian leader. When bloodshed did erupt, Annan gradually increased his pressure on Habibie to "invite" an international peacekeeping force into East Timor--at one point publicly suggesting that Indonesia's repression could be called "crimes against humanity."
He used those words after the Indonesian military asked for two or three months to restore order in East Timor before the United Nations took over the territory's administration. "We would have nothing left to administer," Annan bluntly told the Indonesians.
Annan said in a recent interview "that the tone of conversations in Jakarta with U.N. officials changed and things moved much faster" after he publicly implied there might be war crimes trials.
Annan also deserves credit for the Nov. 15 report that fully acknowledges the United Nations' failure to give the protection it promised to thousands of Bosnian Muslims who were slaughtered in Srebrenica in 1995. The report is an indictment of the United Nations' "institutional ideology of impartiality even when confronted with attempted genocide."
Srebrenica "crystallized a truth understood only too late by the United Nations and the world at large: that Bosnia was as much a moral cause as a military conflict. The tragedy of Srebrenica will haunt our history forever," the report states.
This report addresses the reform the United Nations needs far more than the staffing and budgetary changes congressional critics of the world body demand. The United Nations must reform an organizational culture that willingly overlooks evil reaching to and including genocide.
Annan now needs to apply the standard outlined in his own report to current crises. The place to start has to be with the Iraqi regime, to which he has been too respectful, given its established and unequaled record of genocide and aggression against its own citizens and neighbors. Ending Saddam Hussein's rule is certainly "a moral cause" that cannot be constantly put off.
Also making the 1999 short list is Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, whose forceful reiteration of NATO's terms to Slobodan Milosevic helped bring an end to the war in Kosovo. Ahtisaari received crucial help from Viktor Chernomyrdin, the Russian envoy who kept telling Milosevic that Russian troops would not come to his aid if NATO ground forces were introduced, and from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose open determination to win in Kosovo helped corner Milosevic.
Blair also figures in the still unfolding Northern Ireland settlement, which could provide plenty of names for a new short list in the new millennium.