Nobel Peace Prize Goes To Group That Rids the World of Chemical Weapons

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HEIKO JUNGE / EPA

Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjorn Jagland, announces the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2013 at the Nobel Institute in Oslo, Oct. 11, 2013.

In an unexpected turn, the Norwegian Nobel Committee, responsible for selecting the annual Nobel Peace Prize winner, granted its signature award to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on Friday, for its 16-year campaign to end the use of toxic agents in warfare. The Hague-based group was created to enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention, an international treaty that bans the use, manufacture and transport of chemical weapons. In announcing the award, the Nobel Committee said: “The conventions and the work of the OPCW have defined the use of chemical weapons as a taboo under international law…Recent events in Syria, where chemical weapons have again been put to use, have underlined the need to enhance the efforts to do away with such weapons.” The OPCW had already been on the ground in Syria for several weeks. Last month, under the threat of military attack, President Bashar Assad announced that he would become a signatory to the convention and agreed to dismantle his chemical arsenal – a sharp turnaround considering that he had until then denied that Syria even had one. Syria’s accession to the convention, as the 190th member, will be formalized next week.

In combination with the U.N. and in consultation with the Assad government, the OPCW has set an ambitious goal for the complete destruction of the Syrian program—promising to destroy all of Syria’s chemical weapons manufacturing facilities by November 1, and its entire toxic arsenal by mid-summer. It is an unprecedented timeline made all the more difficult by Syria’s ongoing civil war, and where many of the facilities and storage sites are surrounded by rebel forces. Many are skeptical that it can even be done, but in granting the award, the Nobel committee has given an even stronger impetus to see it through. It has also given the OPCW a global platform to push the remaining states that have not signed the convention, North Korea, Angola, Egypt and South Sudan among them, to do so.

For years the OPCW has worked quietly behind the scenes to help signatories eliminate their chemical weapons stockpiles. But they gained international attention this spring, in the wake of an alleged chemical weapon attack in the Syrian town of Khan al-Asal that killed 31 people. Both rebels and the regime traded accusations, and both demanded international inspectors to verify their claims. Yet it took five months for the OPCW and the UN to negotiate the terms of the investigation with the government, which seemed to be dragging its feet. Just days after investigators arrived in Damascus, chemical weapons were again deployed on August 21, this time in the capital city’s southern and eastern suburbs, killing hundreds. Within days, investigators were able to assess several of the afflicted sites. Though the investigator’s mandate prevents them from assigning blame, the resulting report’s conclusions, based on assessments of the deployment of complex chemicals, sophisticated dispersal methods and rocket trajectories, pointed at the regime.

Due to security threats, investigators still have not been able to access Khan al-Asal, as well as several other sites where chemical weapons were allegedly used. But as the OPCW expands its program in Syria, more evidence of past chemical weapons use is sure to arise. Even as it does, the OPCW will be there, making sure it never happens again. And that is surely what the Nobel Committee had in mind.

4 comments
bryanfred1
bryanfred1

Seems that the committee may once again be jumping the gun.  I'm glad OPCW is there, but let's wait to see if they can even get access to key areas - nevermind actually destroy all remaining weapons and manufacturing capabilities - before handing out the hardware.  I'm starting to think this should be called the Nobel Hope Prize.

ChandraPanchabhikesan
ChandraPanchabhikesan

The world remains a very dangerous place. Every attempt to rid the world of chemical weapons should be welcomed. Syria has long denied the possession of them. But under the huge threat of force for non-compliance the government has allowed UN inspection teams to enter the country to locate and destroy chemical arsenals. One should not forget that the war in Syria has been fuelled by arms supplied by Russia in the first place. The crucial talks between Kerry and Lavrov resulted in the major break through.

Pancha Chandra Brussels