Parallels
10:41 am
Fri October 11, 2013

What You Need To Know About The Group That Won The Nobel

Originally published on Fri October 11, 2013 11:40 am

The Norwegian Nobel Committee on Friday awarded the 2013 peace prize to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a group that's only recently been thrust into the spotlight as it works to dismantle Syria's chemical program.

The OPCW, which is based at the Hague, was established in 1997 and now has an annual budget of $100 million and a staff of about 500 people. Here's a profile of the group.

Where is the OPCW working?

Prior to its work in Syria, the OPCW was perhaps best known for its role in ensuring that Libya followed through on its pledge to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile. While much progress has been made since Libya made the pledge a decade ago, the work is still ongoing.

The OPCW's biggest job to date has been working with the United States and Russia to destroy their stockpiles of chemical weapons, the largest in the world.

The group said Russia destroyed 74 percent of its total stockpile; the U.S. has destroyed 90 percent. Still, both countries missed a 2012 deadline to get rid of their chemical weapons, a point noted by the Nobel Committee on Friday.

"Certain states have not observed the deadline, which was April 2012, for destroying their chemical weapons," the committee said. "This applies especially to the USA and Russia."

Both countries are continuing to eliminate stockpiles.

How is its mission defined?

The group ensures that the Chemical Weapons Convention's 189 signatory nations abide by the pact. According to the OPCW's website, the convention has four tasks:

- destroying all existing chemical weapons under international verification by the OPCW;

- monitoring the chemical industry to prevent new weapons from re-emerging;

- providing assistance and protection to states and parties against chemical threats; and

- fostering international cooperation to strengthen implementation of the convention and promote the peaceful use of chemistry.

Who are the OPCW's member states?

The group represents 98 percent of the global population and 98 percent of the global chemical industry.

Only a handful of states haven't signed the treaty. They include Angola, Egypt, North Korea, South Sudan and Syria, while Israel and Myanmar have signed, but haven't ratified it. Syria is expected to sign the convention in the coming days.

The OPCW is an independent body, but has a working relationship with the United Nations.

Why did it get the peace prize?

The Nobel Committee has awarded the prize to numerous organizations and often it's aspirational, based on what the groups are attempting to do rather than on what they have actually accomplished.

Also, the issue of disarmament figured prominently in the will of Alfred Nobel, who established the Peace Prize. Several groups committed to disarmament have won the prize since it was first awarded in 1901.

They include the International Atomic Energy Agency (2005), International Campaign to Ban Landmines (1997), Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs (1995), and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (1985).

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.