Chemical Weapons Watchdog Group Wins Nobel Peace Prize

Dan is a deputy news editor for Science.

Few people would choose to make a career of destroying chemical weapons. But the work has earned members of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize.

OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü said the prize is a “great honor” for the organization. In a prepared statement,  Üzümcü said “we are a small organisation which for over 16 years, and away from the glare of international publicity, has shouldered an onerous but noble task–to act as the guardian of the global ban on chemical weapons that took effect in 1997.”

The Nobel Committee said it was honoring OPCW "for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons." Such international bodies are not famed for their speed and effectiveness, but OPCW’s track record is impressive. Some 189 countries, representing 98% of the global population, have joined OPCW since the Chemical Weapons Convention came into force in 1997 and 82% of the world's declared stockpile of chemical agent (some 58,172 tonnes) has been destroyed. OPCW has carried out 5286 inspections at 228 chemical weapon-related and 1905 industrial sites in 86 countries.

“It’s great news,” says Yasemin Balci of the Verification Research, Training and Information Centre in London. “[T]hey have done great work achieving the destruction of the stockpile we have … and building a global norm against chemical weapons.”

OPCW’s recent mission in Syria, following the August chemical weapon attacks in Damascus, has brought it much greater public attention. And the recent international agreement to dispose of Syria’s chemical weapons has thrown OPCW into entirely new territory. “The organization has tried to react to the situation in a quick and effective manner,” Balci says. “This is such a different mission, because it is happening while a war is on all around them.”

Posted in People & Events 2013 Nobel Prizes