Once again from Nobel, a prize for the prospect of peace

The Nobel c'tee awarded the peace prize to the organization tasked with destroying Syria's chemical arms, well before the success of the task is assured; yet again, the hope of peace makes the bill — not its accomplishment.

October 11, 2013 21:22
2 minute read.
Chairman of Norwegian Nobel C'tee Thorbjorn Jagland announces winner of Peace Prize, October 11

Nobel Peace Prize awarded to OPCW 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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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.

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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 war.

“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 accomplishment.

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 earnest.

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.


Considered a 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.

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