The selection of the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) as the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize recipient demands interrogation of the award’s legitimacy.
OPCW receives the honor despite its failure to meet its April 2012 goal of eliminating all chemical weapons from member states, notably Russia and the United States. In August, the Syrian government used nerve gas on its own citizens. Clearly, the OPCW has not succeeded — far from it.
The Nobel Committee praised the organization for being understaffed and underfunded, exemplified by the lack of a phone line at OPCW’s office in The Hauge. But these conditions are shared by many other international organizations and should not be justification.
The Nobel Committee also praised the organization for working under dangerous conditions. Again, this is the case for any organization or person working in a war zone.
According to the OPCW, it has rid the world of 81.1 percent of its chemical weapons. But the Nobel Peace Prize is meant to award a body of work, not a work in progress.
OPCW’s work is commendable, but countries like Israel, Egypt, North Korea, Burma, Angola, and South Sudan have made no attempt to end their chemical weapon programs. Ironically, these countries are the ones most likely to harness them whether on other countries or its own citizens. As long as the United States and Russia have chemical weapons, there is a non-zero probability that they will too.
By ridding chemical weapon stockpiles from largely peaceful countries, OPCW has yet to bring about much more peace than already existed in those nations.
Syria, the newest member of OPCW, joined only after the government attacked its own people. OPCW is in the process of destroying the Syrian arsenal, only after Russia strong-armed the country into membership to avoid a limited strike from the U.S. Besides, eliminating a type of weapon does not necessarily eliminate war altogether.
The Nobel Committee has received criticism for not recognizing Middle Eastern candidates. Abdul Sattar Edhi, who founded the Edhi Foundation, which is hailed as the world’s largest volunteer ambulance service has been dubbed, “Father Teresa.” Surely his selection would have been a more apt choice than OPCW.
Critics clamored for Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old girl who was shot by the Taliban for advocating women’s education, to win the prize. Her meteoric rise to fame culminated with her appearance on “The Daily Show,” which shared her story with American viewers. Giving her the honor would be premature, but her choice would have been better, and like Edhi, another non-western candidate to choose.
If the political goal of the Nobel Committee was to restart the conversation on the Syrian conflict, then we should not view the prize with the same reverence as before.
Instead, it should be seen as a political tool. Winning a Nobel Prize is widely considered the highest honor one can receive, regardless of field or discipline. Despite the lack of Middle Eastern winners, past winners have largely been justified. On 19 separate occasions, the last of which occurring in 1972, there was no prize awarded. This year, just like in recent years, perhaps choosing no winner would have been preferable to the OPCW.
For example, the 2012 winner was the European Union. The Nobel Committee said that the EU’s members refrained from fighting for 65 years and therefore should be given peace’s highest honor. But the EU, created in 1993, only existed a fraction of those 65 years.
In 2009, President Barack Obama received the prize for “efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” What this means exactly is a mystery. There is a difference between an effort to strengthen and strengthening itself. He had no measurable peaceful achievement at the time of his award. Since 2009, Obama has issued numerous drone strikes onto nations with which the United States is not at war, a violation of international law. He also ordered the deposition of the leader in Libya and continues a war in Afghanistan.
As was the case with Obama and the EU, awarding the OPCW with the Nobel Peace Prize call into question the meaning of the award itself.Next to the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Nelson Mandela, the Nobel Committee places a chemical weapon disarmament organization that has failed in many ways to even live up to its name.