August 1, 2005

Hiroshima May Decide 2005 Nobel Peace Prize

OSLO -- Sixty years after the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, guardians of the Nobel Peace Prize could confirm a once-a-decade trend in 2005 by honoring work to prevent nuclear Armageddon.

The five-member awards committee, which will hold several meetings before announcing the winner of what many see as the world's top accolade in October from a field of 199 candidates, declines even to give out names on its short-list.

Yet if history is a guide, the anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and of Nagasaki on Aug. 9 may help decide the winner. About 200,000 people died by the end of 1945 from the attacks, which hastened Japan's surrender in World War II.

The 1995 Nobel Peace Prize went to Joseph Rotblat, a British ban-the-bomb scientist, and the Pugwash anti-nuclear group. The 1985 prize was awarded to International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, a U.S.-Soviet group of doctors.

"If the committee makes an award linked to nuclear arms this year it would seem like a definite tradition" building on 1995 and 1985, said Stein Toennesson, head of the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo.

But he said that mere mention of a pattern could make the committee shy away from a nuclear theme in 2005. "The committee does not like to be seen as predictable," he said.

In a possible link, the 1975 award went to Andrei Sakharov, a dissident nuclear scientist who campaigned for human rights in the Soviet Union. In 1965, there was no nuclear tie -- the award went to U.N. Children's Fund. And no prize was made in 1955.


Since 1985, the committee has honored a wide range of non-nuclear themes. Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai won in 2004, for instance, Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi in 2003 and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in 2002.

"There is no pattern" of anti-nuclear awards on 10-year anniversaries of Hiroshima, said Geir Lundestad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute. "This must be a coincidence," he said of 1995 and 1985.

He said the 1975 award to Sakharov was for his work for human rights. Still, the head of the Nobel committee in 1975, Aase Lionaess, also praised an absent Sakharov at the awards ceremony for describing nuclear war as "collective suicide."

Several Nobel awards went to nuclear disarmament campaigners before 1985 -- in 1962, 1974 and 1982. Former Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato won in 1974, for instance, for opposing any Japanese nuclear arms program.

Among candidates for the $1.3 million 2005 prize are the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog and its head, Mohamed ElBaradei, amid worries about the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea. ElBaradei had been among favorites last year.

Others include U.S. senator Richard Lugar and former Senator Sam Nunn for efforts to dismantle Soviet-era arms. The work may also make it harder for terrorists to obtain nuclear material.

In March, the head of the Nobel committee, Ole Danbolt Mjoes, met Lugar at the Norwegian Embassy in Washington. Lundestad played down the meeting as an event attended by many other guests.

Irwin Abrams, a professor emeritus at Antioch University, Ohio, and a leading world expert on the prize, said the committee probably thought of Hiroshima in making the 1995 and 1985 awards but said there was no once-a-decade policy.

"In 2005 there are good reasons to think about Hiroshima, not only the anniversary," he said. Abrams has nominated Senji Yamaguchi, a survivor of the Nagasaki bomb and an anti-bomb campaigner, for the 2005 prize.


Nobel committees often mark anniversaries. Guatemala's Rigoberta Menchu, a campaigner for the rights of indigenous peoples, won in 1992 -- 500 years after Columbus' voyage across the Atlantic.

Other candidates mentioned for the 2005 prize, named after Sweden's Alfred Nobel, include relief groups after the Indian Ocean tsunami and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko for leading a peaceful "Orange Revolution."

The present Nobel committee, appointed by Norway's parliament to six-year terms, also has a chance to set a milestone by giving the award to a woman for an unprecedented third year in a row after Maathai and Ebadi.

Other nominees include Irish rock star Bono, frontman of U2, for campaigning to ease Third World poverty. By coincidence, U2's latest album is titled: "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb."

($1=7.769 Swedish Crown)