Does Edward Snowden deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?

The whistleblower doesn’t fit the bill as a peacemaker.

Trent M. Kays

National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden will be on a list of Nobel Peace Prize nominees, thanks to a recent call from Norwegian lawmakers. While his actions continue to alter policy decisions, Snowden shouldn’t receive such an honor.

The former NSA contractor released thousands of classified documents to the press last year, and our country is still reeling. The United States will undoubtedly understand surveillance differently for generations. Snowden’s revelations have confirmed the massivity of government spying, both at home and abroad. He exposed uncomfortable truths about our shrinking world.

Certainly, at some level, there has always been spying. It would be foolish to think otherwise. Sun Tzu wrote about the use of spying in the “Art of War” more than two millennia ago, arguing, “Be subtle! Be subtle! And use your spies for every kind of business.” While Sun Tzu’s intended his doctrine for war, if anything, Snowden’s leaks have shown us that war needn’t be the only venue for covert surveillance.

Even so, what should Snowden’s punishment or reward be? I don’t think he should face punishment, per se. He should stand judgment, but our government shouldn’t punish him. Snowden, for better or worse, has shown Americans that our government’s reach is long and deep. Still, besides throwing back the curtain hiding our wizard, what has Snowden done? He surely hasn’t done anything to encourage or promote peace. Yet that is exactly how some understand his leaks.

Two Norwegian members of parliament nominated Snowden for the peace prize last month, which seems to be another step in a trend to award the prize for symbolic reasons, rather than diplomatic. Alfred Nobel, the progenitor of the Nobel Prizes, wanted the award’s winners to be people who “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” Based on these criteria, Snowden shouldn’t win an award.

As always, the Nobel Peace Prize is a political decision. It’s a statement on peace in the world. Unfortunately, peace in our world is lacking. If the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which has the task of selecting Nobel Peace Prize laureates, wanted to reflect the status of peace in the world, then it wouldn’t award a prize this year. The world is not at peace, and it has a shortage of peacemakers.

Of course, the Nobel Peace Prize has been a farce before. In 2009, President Barack Obama won the peace prize. While I have a deep respect and admiration for our president, he hadn’t and hasn’t done anything worthy of the prize. Perhaps the Norwegian Nobel Committee has a different understanding of peace.

During its lifetime, the committee awarded the prize 94 times, with 15 prizes going to women. The great disparity regarding female laureates versus male laureates is tragic but telling. Surely, there are more women worthy of the honor. I happily witnessed three women receive the prize in 2011: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman. These laureates worked for the rights of women and engaged in non-violent struggle for peace building. They are peacemakers.

Does Edward Snowden deserve a place on the same pedestal as these women? Does Snowden deserve the same prize that Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama received?

Emphatically and without reservation, the answer is no. This isn’t just about Snowden’s nomination. This is about peace. This is about compassion and empathy. The Nobel Peace Prize should go to those who labor in the name of world peace. It should go to those who serve humanity and who devote themselves to causes greater than their individuality.

Edward Snowden’s contribution to history will be significant, but we should let future historians determine the magnitude. Obama didn’t deserve the prize, and Snowden doesn’t either. Only someone who has served the cause of peace to the fullest deserves such recognition.

Our world desperately needs heroes and peacemakers. We need people who can help ease the tension of disparate parties and bring progress. Snowden is both a reckless renegade and a champion of liberty. He’s confirmed the propensity of global surveillance, which, in part, prompted Obama to review NSA policies. Snowden exposed our nation’s failed security efforts to safeguard its most sensitive data.

Snowden has not only kicked the proverbial hornet’s nest, but he’s smashed it into a million pieces. His actions are historic and allowed the world to rethink the role of surveillance. However, Snowden did not encourage peace, but discord instead.

There are few people who deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. There are few who have and will struggle for human rights and world peace. The rarity of peacemakers reflects the seriousness of the peace prize. We should respect that.

Albert Camus, the French author and Nobel Laureate, once wrote, “Peace is the only battle worth waging.” In the battle for peace, our heroes should be the people who work to define peace for our world’s future. While Snowden has illuminated government injustice, our world is not a more peaceful place.