The global chemical weapons watchdog charged with overseeing destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile during a civil war won the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a relatively small organisation with a modest budget, dispatched its experts after a sarin gas attack killed more than 1,400 people in August.
Their deployment, supported by the United Nations, helped avert a U.S. strike against President Bashar al-Assad.
Thorbjoern Jagland, the head of the Nobel Peace Prize committee, said the award was a reminder to nations with big stocks, such as the United States and Russia, to get rid of their own reserves “especially because they are demanding that others do the same, like Syria”.
“We now have the opportunity to get rid of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction…That would be a great event in history if we could achieve that,” he said.
The OPCW’s mission was unprecedented in taking place during a civil war that has riven the country and killed more than 100,000 people. Members of the Hague-based OPCW team came under sniper fire on Aug. 26, but OPCW head Ahmet Uzumcu said this week Syrian officials were cooperating in the process.
While the inspection and destruction of chemical weapons continues, with a team of 27 experts in the field, government forces and rebels press clash across the country with conventional weapons. Human Rights Watch said this week rebels had killed at least 190 civilians in Latakia province in August.
The award marks a return to the classical disarmament roots of the prize after some recent awards, such as to the European Union last year and U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009.
Those awards led to criticism that the committee was out of line with the spirit of the prize, founded by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite.
His 1895 will says the prize should go to one of three causes - “fraternity between nations”, the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and the formation and spreading of peace congresses.