Does Donald Trump deserve to be a contender?

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According to the Nobel Peace Prize committee, there there are 331 nominees for the 2018 prize. The list is heavily guarded but many have speculated who is on it.
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In these politically and culturally fractious times, it may be the ultimate geopolitical conversation starter (or stopper): Does Donald Trump deserve a Nobel Peace Prize?

Trump’s critics vehemently assert that the question isn’t even worth asking. Just look at his foreign policy adventures (they say): Trump has deepened trade wars; walked away from the Iran nuclear pact; pulled out of the Paris climate change accord; exacerbated tensions with NATO allies; rolled back improving ties with Cuba; separated immigrant children from their parents at the border; and poured salt on Palestinian wounds by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. More broadly, he’s played fast and loose with many fundamental assumptions about diplomacy, society and, well, civility.   

Why on Earth should such activity be rewarded with the world’s most prestigious accolade? Alfred Nobel, its instigator, wanted the prize to go to “those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.” Is that Trump?

The short answer (for Trump’s backers and enthusiasts), including Republican lawmakers who have nominated him, is that it can’t be ruled out. 

Exhibit A: During his 20-month tenure Trump has already achieved something that’s eluded every U.S. high office holder for the past quarter-century: He has convinced a reclusive and recalcitrant North Korea to agree — albeit on the vaguest of terms  — to talk about halting its nuclear weapons program. As he prepared to leave office in 2017, former President Barack Obama, who pursued a policy of “strategic patience” with Kim Jong Un over his nuclear arsenal, considered North Korea to be the U.S.’s top national security priority. Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize after just eight-and-a-half months in the White House. He got nowhere with North Korea. Last week, Trump said he and Kim “fell in love” after exchanging “beautiful letters.” That looks like progress. 

With the Nobel Peace Prize to be announced Friday, USA TODAY asked foreign policy specialists and international relations experts to respond to the following question: “Does Donald Trump deserve a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts at denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.” Here’s what they said. 

Toby Dalton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

“Short answer for me is a qualified ‘No’ … Obama won the Nobel for words (which were not ultimately met by sufficient follow through) about the vision of a nuclear weapon-free world. Trump has been part of a process in North Korea that has yet to see ultimate results. There is reason for optimism, but also a high probability that denuclearization efforts won’t succeed … Now, if there is a denuclearization agreement and North Korea actually begins to verifiably implement it, then there is a case for Trump having helped make that possible … As of right now, though, it is really President Moon (Jae-in) of South Korea who has kept all the balls in the air to advance this peace process.”

James S. Robbins, USA Today columnist and Senior Fellow in National Security Affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council

“The breakthrough in relations was the critical element in shifting the ground toward peace, something that was unprecedented in U.S./North Korean relations. Even though a final denuclearization deal is not yet set, the breakthrough itself was what set the course … President Trump achieved this unprecedented diplomatic breakthrough, in large part because he was willing to first show strength, then express conciliation. This impressed Kim greatly, and Mr. Trump has since demonstrated great respect for his North Korean counterpart … Given the long duration and intensity of the conflict (since 1950), as well as more proximate crisis atmosphere that was defused, what President Trump achieved – and which few thought was even possible – more than merits the Nobel Peace Prize. It was a masterful example of the art of the deal.

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Alfred Nobel amassed a great fortune when he patented dynamite in 1867. Worried about a legacy of destruction, Nobel’s will established the Nobel Prizes upon his death. Nobel’s will caused a lot of controversy both in Sweden and internationally.
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Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). ICAN is winner of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize

“Trump shouldn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize, especially in a year he has announced a massive upgrade to the U.S’s nuclear arsenal. If he did want to win, signing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons would be a good start. Instead the U.S. has sought to scuttle the Treaty at every step. As long as Trump bases his security policy on the constant threat of civilian slaughter, then we are never truly at peace and Trump is not truly a peacemaker.” (Note: The Trump administration announced in February that it intends to continue a nuclear modernization plan laid out by the Obama administration that will see it develop new nuclear weapons capabilities. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was signed by 69 countries in 2017. The U.S. is not one of them.)

Richard Goldberg, senior advisor at research institute Foundation for Defense of Democracies and architect of congressionally enacted sanctions against Iran

“To me it’s a silly conversation well suited perhaps for a European cocktail circuit audience. It would be too Obama-esque to accept a Nobel Prize prematurely. The goal of a U.S. president should be to keep Americans safe, not win Nobel Prizes, and I think the Trump administration is rightly focused on the former.

Richard Caplan, professor of international relations, University of Oxford

“Trump deserves credit for helping to lower tensions on the Korean Peninsula, which is very significant indeed. However, North Korea is notorious for rowing back on its commitments with regard to nuclear weapons. My point is simply that it is too early to say that denuclearization has been achieved. 

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Robert Manning, Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security

“Donald Trump absolutely does not deserve to win any prizes for his efforts on North Korea. Possibly an Emmy for great reality TV … Having said that, I do think Trump deserves credit for getting things this far. Trump’s threats and bluster were key in building support from China and Russia to obtain unprecedented UN Security Council sanctions that applied “maximum pressure” to the North Korean economy which helped bring Kim to the table. Also, Trump’s unconventional diplomacy has been a factor. In a system were one man makes decisions, Trump is the first U.S. leader to decide that he better meet with that one man, Kim.”

Denny Roy, senior fellow of Asia Pacific security issues, East West Center

Trump does not deserve the Nobel Prize for his North Korea policy for several reasons.
First, immediately before Kim Jong Un went on his diplomatic offensive, Trump was threatening a military attack against North Korea if it acquired nuclear weapons, and with nuclear annihilation, if North Korea tried to nuke the United States. That may well have worked, but the aim of the Nobel Prize is not to honor successful belligerence …  Trump’s policy since Kim Jong Un’s outreach has simply been to restate a longstanding U.S. offer that predated Trump, which is that the United States will compensate North Korea with upgraded economic and political relations if North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons. Trump did not break new ground, although he added his characteristically bizarre stylistic flourishes, such as publicly fawning over the despicable Kim Jong Un.”

Henrik Urdal, Research Director, Peace Research Institute Oslo 

“I don’t think any of the actors involved in the work towards de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula deserves the prize this year, including Trump. We have seen promising signs that real negotiations could take place, but we are very far from any tangible and irreversible results towards nuclear disarmament. I think such a prize could happen down the road, but only after we have seen major progress.”

Bonus: Trump on Trump

“Everyone thinks so, but I would never say it,” the 45th president of the United States said in May, of himself, when addressing recent diplomatic progress made with North Korea and whether he deserved to collect the $1 million prize. Trump’s comment came in the wake of remarks made by South Korean President Moon. “President Trump should win the Nobel Peace Prize. The only thing we need is peace,” Mood said. 

More: Nobel Peace Prize: Who will win in 2018?

More: Unprecedented Nobel Prize combo may bode well for women in sciences

What do you think? Should Trump win the Nobel Peace Prize, if not this year then next? You can write to USA TODAY reporters Kim Hjelmgaard ([email protected]) and Deirdre Shesgreen ([email protected]) with your views. 

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