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This article was first published 10 years ago  » News » OPCW's Nobel win shouldn't be lost in the din of Malala fans

OPCW's Nobel win shouldn't be lost in the din of Malala fans

By T P Sreenivasan
October 14, 2013 15:10 IST
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OPCWThe Nobel Prize for Malala may have caused deep divisions across the globe and disturbed the peace, while the award to OPCW, though not without critics, may have served the cause of peace by eliminating a weapon of mass destruction from the face of the earth, says Ambassador T P Sreenivasan.

Unpredictability is the hallmark of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, when it comes to awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize. With no appellate authority to restrain it, the Committee revels in exercising its prerogative to choose the Laureates, often redefining and expanding the concept of peace itself.

The biggest surprise recently was President Barack Obama, who took a break from actually waging a couple of wars to travel to Oslo to receive the Nobel. Awarding the prize to a lover of trees and to institutions like UN agencies and the European Union had raised eyebrows in the past.

By denying the Prize to Gandhi and Nehru, the Committee lost credibility in India long ago. Though the Prize is often seen as a political instrument of the West, it is highly coveted and recognised.

This year, the popular vote was in favour of Malala Yousufzai, the teenager from Pakistan, who fought for the cause of women's education and nearly got assassinated for doing so.

The Taliban lived up to its reputation for irrationality and ruthlessness by making an attempt on her life. Her escape was providential and recovery miraculous.

Her contribution to the campaign for women's education was hailed before and after the shooting. Her nomination for the Nobel Prize was logical and convincing. Many vested interests may have rallied around her to promote her, but the fact remains that she has become a symbol of courage and conviction.

The shooting did not deter her from pursuing her ambition not just to educate the women in her country, but also to lead it. By aspiring to be another Benazir Bhutto, she has even courted martyrdom.

For the first time in recent years, a Pakistani was the hot favourite for the Nobel in India. The disappointment was palpable when the announcement was made as the Taliban had the last laugh.

The reaction to the award to the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical weapons, OPCW, was not very positive mainly because of Malala. Many saw in it a conspiracy by the usual suspect, the US, which did not want to provoke the Taliban, while it was on its way to setting up a new government in Afghanistan.

The US had brought the OPCW to the centre stage by entrusting it to eliminate the chemical arsenal of Syria. Vladimir Putin, the main architect of the plan for Syria, was also apparently a candidate, whom the US did not approve of. So the inanimate OPCW prevailed over personalities like Malala and Putin, because of US pressure, it was said.

The award of the Prize to UN bodies and even UN officials is nothing unusual. Mohamed El Baradei, then the director-general, International Atomic Energy Agency, was awarded the Prize, together with the IAEA, and Kofi Annan, then the UN secretary-general, was awarded together with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

In the present case, like in the case of the International Panel on Climate Change, a scientific body, no individual was named.

The merits of the OPCW to win the Nobel Prize should not be overlooked in the din and bustle created by the Malala fans. The name of OPCW was heard in this context ever since the Syria accord was reached.

The UN itself hinted at the possibility of this award, when it tweeted that several UN organisations had won the Nobel in the past. It had a premonition that the new fame the OPCW had acquired might win it the Nobel.

The Chemical Weapons Convention and the Organisation, which resulted from its coming into force, have certain unique features. Unlike the NPT, the Chemical Weapons Convention is non-discriminatory in the sense that its provisions equally bind all countries.

It is, thus, a model disarmament Convention. Its objective is not only to eliminate, but also to prohibit chemical weapons, while in the case of nuclear weapons, the IAEA has to accept the reality of Nuclear Weapon States and also promote nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, knowing well that proliferation is still possible.

The mandate of OPCW is unambiguous. The members have undertaken to destroy all stockpiles and production of new weapons is strictly prohibited.

Journalists characterised OPCW as 'little known' and, on the lines of the IAEA as a 'chemical weapons watchdog'. True, it was not well known and the Nobel Prize was meant to focus attention on the Hague-based organisation and its mandate.

Even without a specific authorisation, OPCW could have demanded destruction of the chemical weapons in Syria since Syria has just become the 190th member of the organisation. The Syria agreement made it mandatory for it to search out and destroy the arsenal. Armed with the Nobel Prize, it will be in a better position to do its task.

Why should the Nobel Prize be given to an organisation, which is simply doing its job, some ask. The answer is that it is doing its job well and it needs to do it even better. OPCW is not just a watchdog; it is mandated to verify the elimination of chemical weapons and to encourage all nations to adhere to the norm.

Since 1997, the OPCW has helped to destroy 82 per cent of the chemical weapons in the world. The US and Russia are guilty of violating the Convention as they are still in possession of these deadly weapons. The OPCW has severely criticised these countries and it deserves the full support of humanity in its endeavor.

The Prize is very much in keeping with Alfred Nobel's vision of disarmament, particularly weapons of mass destruction. Israel, Myanmar, Angola, Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan are the only countries, which have not become adherents to the Convention.

'We are conscious of the enormous trust that the international community has bestowed on us... The recognition that the Peace Prize brings will spur us to untiring effort, even stronger commitment and greater dedication,' said Ahmet Uzumcu, the director-general of OPCW, a former Turkish ambassador.

The Nobel Prize for Malala may have caused deep divisions across the globe and disturbed the peace, while the award to OPCW, though not without critics, may have served the cause of peace by eliminating a weapon of mass destruction from the face of the earth.

Image: The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons headquarters at The Hague. Photograph: Michel Kooren/Reuters.

T P Sreenivasan is a former ambassador of India to the United Nations, Vienna, and a former Governor for India at the International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna.

He is currently the Director General, Kerala International Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, and a Member of the National Security Advisory Board.

For more articles by Ambassador Sreenivasan, please click here.

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