The Nobel Peace Prize

What Nobel Really Wanted

by Fredrik S. Heffermehl


When Barack Obama in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech endorsed preemptive invasion and declared that American military action underwrites global peace, many around the world wondered why the commander-in-chief of a military superpower engaged in two foreign wars should have been considered for the peace prize in the first place.

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Cover image for The Nobel Peace Prize

August 2010


Pages 239
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Politics, Law, and Government/General
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In this groundbreaking and controversial critique of the selections of Nobel Peace Prize winners, an eminent Norwegian lawyer and peace activist calls for its return to legal and moral compliance with the will of Alfred Nobel who wished to support disarmament to prevent war.

The Nobel Peace Prize is the world's most coveted award, galvanizing the world's attention for 110 years. In recent decades, it has also become the world's most reviled award, as heads of militarized states and out-and-out warmongers and terrorists have been showered with peace prizes. Delving into previously unpublished primary sources, Fredrik Heffermehl reveals the history of the inner workings of the Norwegian Nobel Committee as it has come under increasing political, geopolitical, and commercial pressures to make inappropriate awards.

As a Norwegian lawyer, Heffermehl makes the case that the Norwegian politicians entrusted with the Nobel peace awards have brushed aside the legal requirements in Scandinavian estate law using the prize to promote their own political and personal interests instead of the peace ideas Alfred Nobel had in mind. Evaluating each of the 119 Nobel Peace Prizes awarded between 1901 and 2009, the author tracks the ever-widening divergence of the committee's selections from Nobel's intentions and concludes that all but one of the last ten prizes are illegitimate under the law.


  • Presents a list of all 120 laureates accompanied by gradings of the committee's justification for each of their choices, the results shown in easy-to-understand tables
  • Each chapter concludes with a comprehensive list of additional resources for further research
  • Photos of Alfred Nobel and Bertha von Suttner, the two key individuals behind the Nobel Peace Prize
  • Bibliography points to approximately 100 books and articles on the history of the peace prize and relevant sources on military security versus peace politics
  • The included appendix, "How to Earn the Nobel Peace Prize" provides the criteria and qualifications required in Nobel's will, lists of those entitled to nominate, application address and deadline, and more


  • Contains revealing evidence from the late longest-serving chair of the Nobel committee, published here for the first time
  • Documents how Norwegian lawmakers have broken the law by modifying the selection criteria, to the disadvantage of those entitled under Nobel's will
  • Provides the only existing analysis of the content of the Nobel will as interpreted properly under Norwegian-Swedish law
Author Info

Fredrik S. Heffermehl is a Norwegian lawyer and international peace activist. He is the vice president of the International Association of Lawyers against Nuclear Arms and served as president of the Norwegian Peace Alliance and vice president of the International Peace Bureau. He has served in Norway as a deputy judge, deputy consumer ombudsman, and the secretary general of the Norwegian Humanist Association. Heffermehl has law degrees from the University of Oslo, New York University, and the College of Public Administration in Oslo. He is the editor of Peace is Possible, featuring contributions by 31 eminent peacemakers.



"This highly original and well argued critical examination of the record of the Norwegian Nobel Committee represents a milestone in serious discussion and scholarly literature about the Nobel Peace Prize which no student or commentator will be able to ignore. The originators of the Nobel Peace Prize (Alfred Nobel and Bertha von Suttner) have reason to be grateful to Fredrik Heffermehl, as has the entire peace movement working in their spirit."—Dr. Peter van den Dungen, Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, UK

"Fredrik Heffermehl has written a provocative book that all peace-minded people should read with a sense of urgency. By challenging current thinking surrounding the recent awards of the Nobel Peace Prize we are led not only to rethink what Nobel truly intended with this recognition, but also what peace does and should mean in the early 21st century."—Prof. Richard Falk, Princeton

"Fascinating evidence of how Nobel wished his prize to support visionary reforms of international relations while Norwegian politicians have deliberately and improperly pursued their own purposes."—Bruce Kent, London, prominent leader of international and British peace organizations

"Fredrik Heffermehl has done the world a great favor with his book. He shows that Norway has used the prize as a tool for its own foreign policy and obviously not been up to the task entrusted to it by Alfred Nobel."—Johan Galtung, dr hc mult, Professor of Peace Studies, Founder of TRANSCEND

"Fredrik Heffermehl has written an extraordinarily important pioneering study of the Nobel Peace Prize, a brilliant and original educational text written in a way that makes it most enjoyable reading also to the general public. No serious journalist who has read this unique in-depth analysis should again call this a prestigious prize. The Nobel Committee consists of people who have no competence in peace and therefore repeatedly have awarded the prize to other people than the 'champions for peace' Nobel had in mind."—Jan Oberg, Sweden, PhD, Dr.hc., co-founder and director of TFF

"This eye-opening book shows how the Norwegian Nobel Committee has ignored the recipe for human security and survival that Nobel entrusted to their care."—Daniel Ellsberg, author of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers

"Heffermehl’s book is an admirable achievement; through substantial insights into the last 100 years of history and politics he explains matters vital to humanity’s future. He reveals how Nobel’s original and visionary ideas of peace through disarmament have been betrayed and replaced by prizes tailored to suit the preferences of the political establishment in Norway or to honour various do-gooders instead of the “champions of peace” Nobel described in his will. Thus the prize is no longer a threat to the interests of the military-industrial complex."

—Eivind Otto Hjelle, lawyer, Chief Editor, TV-News (ret.) Norwegian Broadcasting Corp.

“This courageous and important book by Fredrik Heffermehl is an imperative read for those concerned about the integrity of the Nobel Peace Prize and its future in helping ‘Champions of Peace’ keep the human family secure by working to abolish militarism and armies and putting international law in place.”
—Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate

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