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Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons wins Nobel Peace Prize

In a somewhat surprising move, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The Committee press release notes:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2013 is to be awarded to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons.

During World War One, chemical weapons were used to a considerable degree. The Geneva Convention of 1925 prohibited the use, but not the production or storage, of   chemical weapons. During World War Two, chemical means were employed in Hitler’s mass exterminations. Chemical weapons have subsequently been put to use on numerous occasions by both states and terrorists. In 1992-93 a convention was drawn up prohibiting also the production and storage of such weapons. It came into force in 1997. Since then the OPCW has, through inspections, destruction and by other means, sought the implementation of the convention. 189 states have acceded to the convention to date.

The conventions and the work of the OPCW have defined the use of chemical weapons as a taboo under international law. 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. Some states are still not members of the OPCW. Certain states have not observed the deadline, which was April 2012, for destroying their chemical weapons. This applies especially to the USA and Russia.

Disarmament figures prominently in Alfred Nobel’s will. The Norwegian Nobel Committee has through numerous prizes underlined the need to do away with nuclear weapons. By means of the present award to the OPCW, the Committee is seeking to contribute to the elimination of chemical weapons.

Oslo, 11 October 2013

Two quick comments.

First, the decision can be seem as an important effort to continue to solidify an international legal norm against the use of chemical weapons. And to that extent it illustrates an important role that a non-state actor can play in the international legal process– something my colleague Marilyn McMorrow has emphasized.

Second, much like the Nobel Prize awarded to Barack Obama, this decision strikes me as the use of the award to promote future efforts by the winner in the promotion of world peace.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.