According to the website Oddschecker, which gathers odds from across betting platforms, the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, along with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, are the leading contenders to win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Stunningly, at press time the several betting websites that Oddschecker follows on Nobel prospects predict a greater than 50 percent chance of Kim winning. The leader of one of the world’s cruelest social experiments, with 25 million people stuck in a medieval personality cult, and more than 100,000 people languishing in concentration camps, might win one of the world’s most respected prizes. Sigh.
There would be no problem with recognizing the democratically elected Moon, who has sought to end North Korea’s isolation and temper his northern neighbor’s belligerence without overlooking the Kim dynasty’s crimes against humanity. Or the Nobel Committee could honor the UN Refugee Agency (odds: 1/12), the Russian investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta (1/16) or the Saudi dissident Raif Badawi (1/20). As many in the United Kingdom and the United States learned in 2016, the future is hard to predict. That said, there is a real chance that Kim might get the prize. Awarding it to him would stain the Nobel Committee’s already shaky reputation in the same way that the election of Donald Trump — ranked scarily close to Kim on Oddschecker — has weakened the United States’ global stature.
Kim’s crimes against his own people should disqualify him for a prize awarded to those who “have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.” More importantly, the Nobel Committee would be singling out Kim for reducing tensions that he mostly caused in the first place. (Trump, with his threats of “fire and fury like the world has never seen” also deserves some of the blame.) Since Kim assumed power after the death of his father Kim Jong Il in December 2011, Pyongyang has conducted four nuclear tests, dozens of missile tests and threatened the United States, Israel, Japan, the United Nations and Australia. Until this spring, many worried that the United States would bomb Pyongyang.
But Kim moderated his rhetoric and paused his testing. In June, Trump and Kim joined for a historic summit, the first meeting between sitting heads of the United States and North Korea. Now, Trump regularly praises Kim. We “fell in love,” Trump said last month, citing the “beautiful letters” Kim wrote him. But even though Trump and Kim are planning for a second summit, Pyongyang has yet to take meaningful steps toward denuclearization and still could possess up to 60 nuclear weapons. The two sides could easily backslide.
Yes, the Nobel Committee has been nearsighted in the past — but most of the time, forgivably so. In 1991, Myanmar activist Aung San Suu Kyi merited a Nobel Prize “for her nonviolent struggle for democracy and human rights,” even though today she deserves censure for tolerating the genocide of the Muslim minority Rohingya. In 1994, when Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres shared the prize with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, a lasting peace agreement felt almost tangible. No one should desire a repeat of 1973, where national security adviser Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese leader Le Duc Tho shared a prize for a ceasefire that fell apart soon after. Le Duc Tho became one of only two winners (along with Jean-Paul Sartre) to voluntarily decline the Nobel; Kissinger accepted “with humility” and then tried to return it in 1975. Two Nobel committee members resigned in disgust.
That sad moment in the history of the prize would, however, pale against the scandal of awarding one to Kim Jong Un. This year has already witnessed enough violations of norms of reason and decency as it is. Let’s not add another one.