The Nobel Peace Prize was never intended to simply honor the achievements of a moral authority or organization: Since it was first awarded in 1901, the prize has also promoted particular political agendas, critics and advocates say.

"The Nobel Peace Prize has always been the most politicized of awards - and openly so," said Ron Krebs, an associate professor of political science at the University of Minnesota who has researched the prize.

In 2009, President Obama received the prize for his efforts "to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." Many thought that the honor was premature, but the decision was in line with the committee's traditions.

That politicization can even be visualized in the chart above, which shows the nationalities of laureates between 1901 and 2014. Until the 1970s, the vast majority of laureates had European or North American origins. Promoters of peace from developing countries had largely been ignored. But in the following decades, the prize became much more international - and now it includes many laureates from other parts of the world, particularly Africa, Asia and the former Soviet Union. More of the recipients have also been women.

"The impact of the decolonization of Africa, the Vietnam War and the fear of an atomic war made the Nobel committee more focused on conflicts outside Europe," said Oivind Stenersen, who co-authored a book about the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Norway-based peace prize committee, which is to announce the 2015 winner Friday, had focused on political leaders but began including more dissidents and lesser-known figures in the second half of the 20th century. For instance, no Russian won the Nobel Peace Prize between 1901 and 1974. But in 1975, the prize was awarded to Soviet nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov.

Sakharov, the mastermind behind Soviet thermonuclear weapons, received the honor "for his opposition to the abuse of power and his work for human rights," according to the committee's official Web site. Soviet leaders viewed the committee's choice as offensive and prohibited Sakharov from traveling to Norway to accept his award. But the decision reflected the growing shift within the Norway-based committee that continued in the following decades.

"The prize has increasingly focused on domestic political arrangements, especially regimes' disregard of individual liberties and democratic institutions," Krebs said. He referenced the examples of Iranian lawyer and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 laureate, and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who won in 1991.

Three influential women from Africa and the Middle East received the 2011 award - Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first elected female president in post-colonial Africa, peace activist Leymah Gbowee, also from Liberia, and Tawakkol Karman, a leading Yemeni activist.

Malala Yousafzai, who has advocated for girls' right to an education in Pakistan and beyond, became the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner last year, when she was 17.

Whether the prize has had much of an impact on the laureates' work remains the subject of academic debate.

"Though the prizewinners themselves are often spared, regimes have clamped down hard on local dissidents to demonstrate resolve and prevent local and international activists from taking heart," Krebs said.

"To the extent that the Nobel Peace Prize has been successful in drawing worldwide attention to their plight - or to the extent that the regime believes it will - it has rendered insecure regimes even more anxious and thus more brutal and dangerous."