October 11, 2013

Global chemical watchdog wins Nobel Peace Prize

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

By Karl Ritter And Mark Lewis
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

In this Aug. 31, 2013, file photo released by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, samples brought back by the U.N. chemical weapons inspection team are checked in upon their arrival at The Hague, Netherlands. The Nobel Committee honored the global chemical watchdog “for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons.”

The Associated Press

“I have to recognize that they have particular challenges. They have huge stockpiles of chemical weapons,” he told the AP. “What is important is that they do as much as they can and as fast as they can.”

After an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds in Syria, Assad was faced by the prospect of possibly devastating U.S. strikes against his military. To avert that, he admitted his chemical weapons stockpile and his government quickly signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention and allowed OPCW inspectors into his country. Syria formally becomes a member of the organization on Monday.

The first OPCW inspection team arrived in Syria last week, followed by another team this week. They have already begun to oversee the first stages of destruction of Assad’s chemical weapons.

The struggle to control chemical weapons began in earnest after World War I, when agents such as mustard gas killed more than 100,000 people and injured a million more. The 1925 Geneva Convention prohibited the use of chemical weapons but their production or storage wasn’t outlawed until the Chemical Weapons Convention came into force in 1997.

“During World War II, chemical means were employed in Hitler’s mass exterminations,” the prize committee said. “Chemical weapons have subsequently been put to use on numerous occasions by both states and terrorists.”

According to the OPCW, 57,740 metric tons, or 81.1 percent, of the world’s declared stockpile of chemical agents have been verifiably destroyed. Albania, India and “a third country” – believed to be South Korea – have completed the destruction of their declared stockpiles.

An OPCW report earlier this year said the United States had destroyed about 90 percent of its stockpile of the weapons, Russia had destroyed 70 percent and Libya 51 percent.

Nations not belonging to the OPCW include North Korea, Angola, Egypt and South Sudan. Israel and Myanmar have signed but not ratified the convention.

The OPCW did not figure prominently in this year’s Nobel speculation, which focused mostly on Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban last October for advocating education for girls.

“She is an outstanding woman and I think she has a bright future and she will probably be a nominee next year or the year after that,” Jagland, the committee chairman, told The Associated Press. He declined to comment on whether she had been considered for this year’s award.

The European Union won the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize for uniting a continent ravaged by two world wars and divided by the Cold War.

Earlier this week, Alice Munro of Canada won the Nobel Literature Prize for her short-story prowess; three U.S.-based scientists won the chemistry award for developing a powerful new way to do chemistry on a computer; three Americans won the medicine prize for discoveries about how substances are moved around within cells; and the physics award went to a British and a Belgian scientist whose theories helped to explain how matter formed in the universe.

The peace prize was the last of the original Nobel Prizes to be announced for this year. The winners of the economics award, added in 1968, will be announced on Monday.

Ritter reported from Stockholm. AP reporters Mark Lewis in Oslo, Norway, and Bassem Mroue and Barbara Surk in Beirut contributed to this report.

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