Weapons body pressures US, Russia after Nobel award

OPCW is monitoring the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal

The global chemical weapons watchdog whose inspectors are monitoring the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – with an admonishment to both the United States and Russia that they must follow suit and eliminate their own stockpiles.

Experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) were dispatched to Syria last month after a sarin gas attack in a Damascus suburb killed some 1,400 people, a last-minute deployment that helped to prevent a US missile attack on President Bashar al-Assad.

The OPCW mission in Syria is unprecedented because the civil war there has already killed as many as 100,000 people, but also because its fast-track aim is to destroy Mr Assad’s chemical weapons production capability by November 1st and the stockpiles themselves by the mid-2014.

Taboo warfare
The Peace Prize Committee praised the OPCW for creating an environment in which it might be possible "to eliminate an entire category of deadly weapons", adding: "The conventions and work of the OPCW have defined the use of chemical weapons as a taboo under international law."

The committee’s chairman, Thorbjorn Jagland, singled out the US and Russia – ironically, the two countries that brokered the Syrian chemical disarmament plan – for having failed to meet a deadline of April 2012 for completing the destruction of their own remaining chemical agents.

OPCW statistics released this year showed that 81.1 per cent of the world’s “declared” chemical weapons had already been destroyed, and specifically that the US had destroyed about 90 per cent of its stock while Russia had done away with roughly 70 per cent.

Mr Jagland said both countries now had a moral obligation to complete their destruction programmes “especially because they are demanding that other countries, such as Syria, should do the same”.

Based in The Hague, the OPCW is a low-key organisation. By making it the surprise recipient of the peace award, the Nobel committee diplomatically found a means to highlight the war in Syria without siding with any particular faction.

The OPCW was set up in 1997 to oversee the implementation of the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention. It is relatively small, with about 500 staff and a budget of $100 million (€75 million), which it pointed out a fortnight ago was inadequate for its Syrian mission, for which it still has a team of 27 in the field.

Funds to go further
Speaking to reporters in The Hague, its director general, Ahmet Üzümcü, welcomed the peace prize and the prize money of $1.25 million (€920,000) – both of which will be presented in Oslo on December 10th – which he said would be used to further the work of the OPCW.

“Our hearts go out to the Syrian people who were victims of the horror of chemical weapons,” he said.

“Events there have been a tragic reminder that much work remains to be done.”

The OPCW appeared in speculation about the prize only in the final hours before the announcement.

Before that, Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, shot in the head by the Taliban a year ago, had been tipped to win for her education campaign for girls.

However, the win for the OPCW is regarded as returning the peace prize to its original disarmament roots, after criticism of the choice of some recent winners, including the EU last year and President Barrack Obama in 2009.