WASHINGTON – Once again, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded not to an
extraordinary individual, but to an organization tasked with a great challenge
well before its hoped-for achievements materialized.
The Organization for
the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the recipient of the prestigious medal,
only a month ago became the political saving grace of US President Barack Obama
during his dramatic showdown with Syrian President Bashar Assad. Over a tense
two weeks, Obama faced pressure to mount a military response after Assad killed
more than 1,400 of his people, including hundreds of children, with sarin gas in
the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.
The Nobel committee, by awarding the 2013
peace prize to OPCW, has cast the organization as a practical and powerful tool
for the implementation of peace. And yet it is far from certain that the OPCW
can deliver. Soon after Russia brokered a deal with the US to rid Syria of its
chemical weapons, reports surfaced of Assad dispersing his stockpiles throughout
hundreds of sites around the country. The OPCW will have to find and destroy
more than 1,000 tons of chemicals in the middle of an unforgiving civil
“Far from being a relic of the past, chemical weapons remain a clear
and present danger,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message
congratulating the OPCW on its award. “Progress in achieving the total
destruction of chemical weapons must be complemented by efforts to gain
universal adherence to the Chemical Weapons Convention.”
This has become
the hallmark of the Nobel Peace Prize – The hope of peace, not its
Organizations have won the prize over individuals of
late. The European Union won last year, as it scrambled to salvage Greece and
the euro currency. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won in 2007,
its work far from over. And in 2005, the International Atomic Energy Agency won
the award – the same year Iran restarted nuclear enrichment in
Even when Obama won the prize in 2009 – “for his extraordinary
efforts to strengthen international diplomacy,” the committee said, mere months
into his presidency – the justification was the prospect of peace, the
encouragement of it, and the recognition of its possibility because a person or
group with good intentions had been empowered to deliver.
favorite for the award, Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl whom the Taliban shot
in the head on her way to school, told Christiane Amanpour last week that she
wanted to deserve the award before accepting it.
“When I think of myself,
I have a lot to do,” Yousafzai said. “I would feel proud when I would have
worked for education – when I would have done something. When I would be feeling
confident to tell people, yes, I have built that school, I have done that
teacher’s training, I have sent that many children to school.
“Then, if I
get the Nobel Peace Prize, I would be saying yeah, I deserve it, somehow,” she
said to laughter.
Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles should be
significantly degraded in a year’s time, if all parties abide by the Russian
deal and the OPCW works tirelessly. The Nobel committee’s decision not to wait
for results speaks to the nature and purpose of the award as an incentive, if
unintentional, and if nothing else.
Stay on top of the news - get the Jerusalem Post headlines direct to your inbox!