In awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has given another leg up to the goal of ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction. In 2005, the Peace Prize went to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Though it is tempting to see the 2013 Prize as an acknowledgement simply of the OPCW’s difficult and ongoing mandate to monitor the destruction of Syria’s chemical munitions, the organisation has done a commendable job since it came into being in 1997 as the custodian of the Chemical Weapons Convention. As many as 189 countries are party to the CWC’s ban on chemical munitions; under the treaty’s terms, they are obliged to declare and destroy any stockpiles they possess within a clear timeframe. Unlike the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which gives the United States, Russia, China, France, and Great Britain special status, the CWC is non-discriminatory. Unfortunately, as the Nobel Committee observes in its citation for the OPCW, “certain states have not observed the deadline, which was April 2012, for destroying their chemical weapons. This applies especially to the U.S. and Russia.” The U.S. has sought another decade to destroy its arsenal, while Russia is expected to complete the process only by 2018. The irony of thrashing out a deal to eliminate Syria’s CW stocks while lagging behind on their own commitments must not be lost on both countries. For its part, India has complied fully with the treaty, having eliminated its chemical stockpile four years ago.
Apart from living up to their disarmament commitments, the big powers must also ensure there is no interference with the OPCW’s functioning. The organisation relies both on technical and diplomatic expertise to fulfil its objectives. Yet, it has been impeded by partisan politics in the past: in the run-up to the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Bush administration managed to oust OPCW Director-General José Maurício Bustani when it emerged the Brazilian diplomat would stand in its way. Mr. Bustani had sought to engage Saddam Hussein, with a view to ensuring Iraq’s accession to the CWC. By bottling the OPCW and using entities like the U.N. Special Commission for Iraq to further its own interests, the U.S. has done no service to the goal of eliminating WMDs. The role of the OPCW in Syria — given the limited time it has for its mission — will now be thrown into sharp relief. The stakes are high and the organisation must be allowed to do its job without coercion or meddling from outside. The quick and effective elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons would reinforce the world’s faith in multilateralism and vindicate the Nobel Committee’s choice for what is arguably its most prestigious prize.