The (Ig)Nobel Peace Prize awarded to chemical arms watchdog – before they have accomplished their task

Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

In the Orwellian fashion similar to that with which we are so familiar at the UN, the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to an organization that has yet done anything to deserve it.  This year it is the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (admit it, you had never heard of them before either):

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for its efforts to stop the chemical warfare that has haunted the world from Hitler’s gas chambers to the battlefields of Syria.

Based in The Hague, Netherlands, the OPCW was formed in 1997 to enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention, the first international treaty to outlaw an entire class of weapons.

“The conventions and the work of the OPCW have defined the use of chemical weapons as a taboo under international law,” the committee said. “Recent events in Syria, where chemical weapons have again been put to use, have underlined the need to enhance the efforts to do away with such weapons.”

The organization has 189 member states and Friday’s award comes just days before Syria officially joins, and even as OPCW inspectors are on a highly risky United Nations-backed disarmament mission based in Damascus to verify and destroy President Bashar Assad’s arsenal of poison gas and nerve agents amid a raging civil war.

By giving the award to the largely faceless international organization the Nobel committee found a way to highlight the Syria conflict, now in its third year, without siding with any group involved in the fighting.


The OPCW had largely worked out of the limelight until this year, when the United Nations called on its expertise to help investigate alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

And when — faced by the prospect of US military strikes — Assad admitted his chemical stockpile, his government quickly signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention and allowed OPCW inspectors into his country.

Syria is scheduled to formally become a member state of the organization on Monday.

The first inspection team arrived last week, followed by a second this week and they have already begun to oversee the first stages of destruction of Assad’s chemical weapons.

It is clear from the above that the Syrians did not sign up to join the OPCW from any admiration or even fear of the organization itself. They did so simply because of fear of American strikes. Joining and complying with the OPCW was obviously the lesser of two evils for them.  Furthermore, their compliance with the organization does not mean that they will not try to hide their WMD or spirit them away to another friendly entity acting as a proxy for them, for example Hezbollah.

As Syria prepared to surrender its chemical weapons in compliance with international efforts, the Saudi newspaper Al Watan quoted a Lebanese parliamentarian on Sunday as saying that Syrian President Bashar Assad has already transferred large stores of chemical weapons to his ally, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.

According to the report, Hezbollah now has long-range missiles capable of carrying chemical warheads.

Quoting Khaled Zaher from the anti-Hezbollah al-Mustaqbal party, the paper reported that the transfer of weapons was overseen by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Zaher reportedly added that these missiles were spread out in various locations, some of them underground.

The OPCW may be doing commendable work, and when they have overseen the destruction of the last gram of the last bottle in the last storehouse of Syria’s chemical weapons, and when they have similarly neutralized Hezbollah’s stockpiles of Syria’s absconded weapons, then I will admit that they deserve the Nobel Peace Prize, but not a moment before.

The Syrians themselves are outraged at the award:

The Nobel Prize Committee’s decision to award its prestigious peace prize to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, whose inspectors are currently at work dismantling Syria’s Bashar Assad’s chemical stockpiles, was met with derision by the Syrian opposition, which considers it a fig-leaf for a West silent in the face of Assad’s crimes.

“I would have thought that 2013 would have been a year for soul searching at OPCW, not accolades,” said Nadim Houry, director of Human Rights Watch in Beirut.


“If this prize gives the impression that the chemical weapons inspections in Syria will help foster peace, then it’s a wrong perception,” said Louay Safi Safi, who serves as a political strategist for the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition.

“We welcome the removal of chemical weapons that were used by Assad against civilians,” Safi added. “But demolishing the regime’s chemical weapons alone will not bring peace to Syria because many more people are dying because Assad’s troops are killing them with all types of conventional weapons.”

Loay al-Mikdad, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army, echoed that stance and said the world has forgotten tens of thousands of Syrians killed by conventional weapons in the civil war.

“They forgot about our blood,” he said. “Our problem is not just chemical weapons.”

This habit of awarding the Peace Prize to undeserving, or prematurely undeserving, individuals or entities has become a habit at the Nobel Committee. Who can forget the IAEA receiving the 2005 Peace Prize at a time when Iran was working furiously on its nuclear enrichment program, or President Barack Obama receiving the 2009 prize when he had been in power barely 2 weeks. And not to mention the European Union’s award last year (for what exactly?).

The Nobel Peace Prize committee has made a mockery of what could be and should be an important salute to real humanitarian achievement. Instead, it has become a mark of ridicule. To quote former British PM Tony Blair:

Embarking on a round of diplomacy in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Tony Blair quipped to George W. Bush, “If I win the Nobel Peace Prize, you will know I have failed.” It was just a quip, yes, but it must be the most stinging criticism of the peace prize ever uttered.

UPDATE: Gary Kasparov, the international chess champion and fugitive from the Russian regime, nails it with these brilliantly witty and scathing tweets:


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11 Responses to The (Ig)Nobel Peace Prize awarded to chemical arms watchdog – before they have accomplished their task

  1. Linda says:

    What is wrong with them?? “The world is a perpetual caricature of itself; at every moment it is the mockery and the contradiction of what it is pretending to be.”
    George Santayana

  2. cba says:

    It could have been worse–I thought they were going to give it to Putin.

    (I’m kidding… I think.)

    • anneinpt says:

      I think he was a realistic option. Chilling to think so. At least the OPCW has good intentions, which one can in no way say of Putin.

    • anneinpt says:

      See Gary Kasparov’s tweets:


      I think I might insert these into the post as an update.

  3. Reality says:

    talk about chelm! (sorry any chelmians) Are you sure you got the right month? It could be an April fools joke!

  4. Brian Goldfarb says:

    Aren’t they always getting it wrong? Rabin & Arafat got it, when (if at all) it should have been when the peace process was completed, or as near as made no difference. And, admit it, Obama was embarrassed by the award and said he had nothing to deserve it.

    The only time in the recent past it has been rightly and justly awarded was to Mandela & De Klerk, when, by 1993, it was clear that an election based on universal suffrage was about to happen and wouldn’t unhappen. They also got it right because the South Africans have continued to hold elections based on universal suffrage 4 times since, with a 5th about to happen.

    Apart from that…remind me folks!

  5. PeteCA says:

    By the way – I notice that the subject of “nuclear negotiations” is once again a big deal in the news. As I reflect on all the previous “negotiations” I ask myself one simple thing … what concrete thing has the West ever achieved through this process? I cannot think of anything. There seems to be this fascination in the West that somehow a divide exists in Iran between hardliners and softliners. It does not seem to have occurred to anyone, even at a high level, that this divide could be a complete illusion. It may be merely a trick that is a part of Iran’s grand startegy of “heroic flexibility”. It’s hard to believe that Iran could not be at the stage of working on final assembly of a nuclear device – the timing would be about right. I don’t have a shred of proof of this, but given how long their centrifuge program has been in operation – it seems reasonable. Pretty soon they will start digigng a deep hole in the ground.
    Pete, USA

  6. cba says:

    It does not seem to have occurred to anyone in the USA, even at a high level, that this divide could be is a complete illusion.

    There, Pete, I fixed it for ya.

    I’m pretty sure the vast majority of Israelis–including our PM–are acutely aware of the fact that the “divide” is a complete and utter farce. But it seems the rest of the world are determined to consider us as hysterical party-poopers who want to prevent peace from breaking out.

    • Brian Goldfarb says:

      Hey, cba, I’m not an Israeli, but please don’t include me in the “rest of the word”. I am very aware that in the Iranian context, the term “moderate” is a very much a relative term.

      Rather along the lines that African-American views were (maybe still are) that white liberals were those who would hang you from a _low_ branch.

      • cba says:

        Sorry Brian, I wasn’t clear… I meant the leaders of “the rest of the world.” Oh, and 95% of the commenters on articles on the CBC website. And Guardian readers. People like those 🙂

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