The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee announced the decision at a press conference held in Oslo Friday morning, saying it chose the OPCW "for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons." The organization will receive a monetary prize of $1.25 million, to be awarded at a ceremony in December.
Based in the Hague, Netherlands, the OPCW was founded in 1997 to uphold the international Chemical Weapons Convention. This year, the organization deployed a team of experts to Syria, following a series of attacks widely believed to have been launched by the army of President Bashar al-Assad. An August 21st attack outside Damascus nearly prompted US President Barack Obama to launch a military strike against Assad, but the conflict was avoided after Syria agreed to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention and open its arsenal for inspection. Inspectors began overseeing the destruction of Assad's stockpiles last week.
"OPCW has not been given this prize because of Syria."
At today's press conference, the Nobel Committee said it chose to honor the OPCW not for its recent work in Syria, but for its long-term mission to wipe out chemical warfare altogether.
"OPCW has not been given this prize because of Syria," Thorbjørn Jagland, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, told reporters. "It's because of its longstanding goal to get rid of chemical weapons and weapons of mass destruction."
The committee acknowledged, however, that recent events in Syria have underscored the OPCW's importance to global security. Syria is set to officially become an OPCW member state on Monday.
"The conventions and the work of the OPCW have defined the use of chemical weapons as a taboo under international law," the committee said. "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."
OPCW wins the #NobelPeacePrize !— OPCW (@OPCW) October 11, 2013
The Nobel Committee says it received a record 259 nominations for this year's Peace Prize, though the nominees' identities have been kept secret. Today's announcement marks the second consecutive year that the Committee has awarded the prize to an institution rather than an individual, having honored the European Union in 2012.
Purported contenders for this year's prize included Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist who has spent his career treating rape victims, Malala Yousafzai, a 16-year-old Pakistani women's rights activist, and Chinese dissident Hu Jia. Mukwege and Yousafzai were widely seen as the favorites to receive this year's honor, making today's decision something of a surprise.
"Certainly it is a deserved honor."
The committee has faced controversy in the past, with some accusing it of basing its decisions on politics, rather than merit. But chemical weapons experts say that regardless of the political context, the OPCW is indeed an important organization whose work has often gone unrecognized.
"It is certainly an organization that has done a lot of unrecognized hard work over the years and has labored in complete obscurity until the current crisis," Dan Kaszeta, a London-based security consultant and former officer in the US Chemical Corps, said in an email to The Verge following today's announcement. "The people I've known who worked there are really dedicated and skilled individuals who believe in what they do. Certainly it is a deserved honor."