The Norwegian Nobel Committee on Oct. 11 announced its decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2013 to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The Hague-based organization, created in 1997 to implement the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to prohibit the production, storage and use of chemical weapons, will receive the $1.25 million prize in Oslo on Dec. 10, the 117th anniversary of Nobel Prize founder Alfred Nobel’s death.
The committee’s message is clear. It hopes that awarding the prize to the OPCW will accelerate global efforts to eliminate chemical weapons, which are relatively cheap and easy to produce and can indiscriminately kill or injure large numbers of people.
It is noteworthy that the committee explicitly named the United States and Russia in stating that certain states have failed to observe the April 2012 deadline, under the CWC, to destroy their arsenals of chemical weapons. Both countries — which together possess some 95 percent of the global stockpile of chemical weapons — should move quickly to fulfill their responsibilities.
The Nobel Committee decision will also exert pressure on six countries that have yet to become members of the CWC: Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, Egypt, South Sudan and Angola.
Another message is the committee’s hope that the OPCW will complete its task of eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons by mid-2014, with the cooperation of both the Syrian government and rebel forces as well as the support of the entire international community. On Oct. 14, Syria, which is believed to have some 1,000 tons of chemical weapons, became the 140th country to join the CWC.
Following widespread use of chemical weapons in World War I, the 1925 Geneva Protocol banned their usage in war but not their production or stockpiling. The United Nations General Assembly on Nov. 30, 1992, approved the CWC, which bans the production and storage of chemical weapons as well as their use.
In August, more than 1,400 people were killed in a chemical weapons attack near Damascus. Under a U.S.-Russia deal, Syria must destroy its chemical weapons-filling equipment and production facilities by the end of November and eliminate its chemical weapons by mid-2014.
OPCW workers are now inspecting and destroying Syria’s chemical weapons. This is an unprecedented mission as it is being carried out amid a brutal civil war. Government and rebel forces must let the OPCW team do its job in a safe and efficient manner. Japan should consider how it can help facilitate this vital work.