In Surprise Pick, Peace Prize Goes to Peacemakers

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Oct. 11 2013 9:33 AM

Chemical Weapons Watchdog Wins Nobel Peace Prize

Judging from the tweets above, the Norwegian Nobel Committee seems to have had a bit of trouble getting through to someone at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, this year’s peace prize winner.

The 16-year-old Hague-based organization seems like such an obvious choice for the prize that, in retrospect, it’s hard to imagine why it didn’t get more media speculation in the last few weeks. Malala Yousufzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot by the Taliban was clearly the public’s choice—this week alone she won Europe’s top human rights award, the Sakharov Prize, gave a must-see interview to Jon Stewart, and released a now-bestselling book—but the ongoing situation in Syria, where OPCW inspectors are currently on the ground working in unfathomably difficult and dangerous conditions, has faded from headlines since the prospect of armed international intervention was taken off the table and is arguably more in need of the global spotlight it will get from the prize. (Given the grim fates that have met other brave activists in the years immediately following their Peace Prize wins, the committee may have been doing Yousufzai a favor.)

You can be skeptical about the deal worked out for Bashar al-Assad to give up his chemical weapons, but the inspectors themselves are worthy of praise and the large number of states that have signed on to the convention barring the use of these weapons is certainly worthy of acknowledgment. Interestingly, the prize announcement also specifically calls out the United States and Russia—the primary architects of the Syria deal—for lagging on the destruction of their own chemical stockpiles.

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It’s not a completely safe pick—we may view it differently in a few weeks if the Syria deal falls apart—but in contrast to previous years, it’s one that actually focuses squarely on the goal of peace-building through diplomacy.  Alfred Nobel’s will, which originally established the prize, states that it should be given to whoever has “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

The committee’s picks haven’t always exactly been in line with that description, but I suspect this year’s choice, while not exactly a crowd-pleaser, will be remembered as one of the good ones. 

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog.