Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: It won’t be Donald Trump.
The president has on several occasions suggested that he should win the Nobel Peace Prize for his diplomatic outreach to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Several other figures, including South Korean President Moon Jae-in and former British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, have suggested he deserves it. Bookmakers are giving him bizarrely good odds. But don’t count on it.
For one thing, Trump is probably not even nominated. The Norwegian Nobel Committee reported in February that a nomination for Trump was found to have been forged. (The full list of 331 nominations won’t be publicly revealed for 50 years, though many are made public by the nominators.) Trump has since been nominated by two members of Norway’s governing Progress Party and a number of Republican members of U.S. Congress, but he won’t be eligible until 2019. Trump is intensely unpopular in Europe—including in Norway, the committee’s home country, where his approval rating was just 13 percent in a poll this year.
But if not Trump, who will win the prize? It’s a notoriously tricky award to predict given the number of candidates and opaque process, but here, in no particular order, are a few intriguing possibilities:
Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un
The biggest story on the peacemaking front this year is the improving climate on the Korean peninsula, where a devastating nuclear conflict appeared quite possible just last year.
Kim Jong-un wouldn’t be the first official from an authoritarian regime or human rights abuser to win the prize, but it still seems unlikely that the committee would overlook the prison camps, starvations, and executions that are commonplace under his regime, not to mention the fact that he has yet to actually give up his nuclear weapons and doesn’t appear to be in any hurry.
Could Moon take home a solo prize for the unlikely rapprochement, following in the footsteps of his predecessor Kim Dae-jung, who won it for his conciliatory “sunshine policy” in 2000? It’s possible, but keep in mind that nominations had to be submitted by Jan. 31, before the historic Kim-Moon meeting in April, and the committee may want to see how this process goes before handing out any hardware. Trump would presumably not react well to being left off the podium.
The World Food Programme
The U.N. organization tops Peace Research Institute Oslo’s annual informal Nobel shortlist, with Director Henrik Urdal writing that an award could “highlight the crucial work the organization is doing for populations fleeing from conflict, while also ensuring continued commitment from its funders to keep up their endeavours to make sure victims of conflict, displacement and natural disasters are fed and cared for.”
It’s certainly a timely message, with a catastrophic famine in Yemen and other conflict areas. The award could also highlight the continued relevance of the beleaguered United Nations, which won the prize as a whole in 2000. On the other hand, after awards to the International Atomic Energy Agency (2005), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007), and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (2013), the committee may want to avoid highlighting yet another U.N.-affiliated agency.
SOS Méditerranée, Doctors Without Borders, International Rescue Committee
Udval also suggests the award could go a group working to address the Mediterranean refugee crisis, which has claimed more than 1,600 lives this year. SOS and Doctors Without Borders jointly operate the rescue ship Aquarius, which just last week was forced to dock in France after its registration was revoked under political pressure from the Italian government. The IRC has worked to provide medical care and other assistance to refugees on both sides of the Mediterranean.
Refugee resettlement has become one of the most contentious political issues in Europe amid a rising tide of populism and nativism, and the peace prize could put some of the attention back on the humanitarian stakes of the crisis.
Journalists: Reporters Without Borders, Cumhuriyet, Novaya Gazeta, or Raif Badawi
It’s been a brutal year for press freedom and the safety of journalists, with lowlights including the killing of three Russian reporters in the Central African Republic, the imprisonment of Reuters reporters in Myanmar, the arrest of prominent blogger Wael Abbas in Egypt, and—just this week—the apparent detention of well-known Saudi columnist Jamal Kashoggi. Almost more discouraging have been attacks on the press from leaders of democratic countries, including Trump’s description of the media as an “enemy of the people.”
The committee could highlight the importance of press freedom and safety by recognizing the leading global advocacy group for journalists, independent publications like Turkey’s Cumhuriyet and Russia’s Novaya Gazeta, or the imprisoned Saudi blogger Badawi. An award for the latter would almost certainly provoke a diplomatic crisis between Norway and Saudi Arabia, which has not reacted well to criticism of its human rights practices lately.
Joshua Wong and Hong Kong democracy protesters
A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers led by Sen. Marco Rubio nominated Wong and other leaders of the “umbrella” protest movement, which has sought to protect Hong Kong’s democratic institutions from increasing pressure from Beijing. As a teenager, Wong helped organize the 2014 protests that shut down central Hong Kong and was briefly jailed for it earlier this year.
While a worthy candidate for recognition, Wong and his comrades wouldn’t necessarily benefit from the award. After imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the award in 2010, his wife was placed under house arrest and the Chinese government cracked down even more harshly on his associates. Liu died in custody last year, and his wife was finally allowed to leave China this summer.
Here’s an intriguing one. The controversial financier and philanthropist was nominated by a group of academics from his native Hungary in honor of his support for anti-communist opposition groups in the 1980s and his backing of civil society groups through the Open Society Foundation. In recent years, his name has become a one-word shorthand for sinister left-wing (often implicitly Jewish) influence, employed by right-wing leaders from the United States to Israel and Russia, and particularly in his native Hungary where Viktor Orban’s government has lately taken aim at the Soros-founded Central European University.
Soros is a complex figure, and he doesn’t seem likely to win, but imagine the reactions if he did!
Next year may ultimately turn out to be the more interesting Nobel contest. If inter-Korean relations continue to improve, the case for awarding Moon may grow stronger. (The case for Trump and Kim will not.) This summer’s shocking diplomatic breakthrough between Ethiopia and Eritrea may also get Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed a look. This year also saw surprising transfers of power following elections in Malaysia and the Maldives. These developments all missed the cutoff date for this year’s prize, but if progress begun by those leaders is sustained, they may warrant some consideration. As always, that’s a very big if.