The red line of peace

This year's Nobel affirms faith in multilateralism, despite its inequities.

On a chilly Friday morning in Oslo, Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Prize Committee announced that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2013 was being awarded to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. This is a monumental announcement, one which recognises the outstanding diplomatic and technical efforts of an organisation that has governed, and implemented the world's most successful global disarmament regime. This peace prize, as well as the work of the OPCW, has reoriented the discourse on international cooperation. It has reaffirmed a faith in multilateralism and diplomacy.

The OPCW is the implementing body of the Chemical Weapons Convention, an instrument of international law which outlaws the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons, and stands in the vanguard of the world's defence against chemical weapons of mass destruction. Nearly all states of the world have signed and ratified the treaty, and with the accession of Syria, the world has destroyed 81.71 per cent of all declared chemical weapons stockpiles.

The Nobel prize acknowledges these specific achievements — it is a quantifiable peace, the implementation of security by numbers. The OPCW gives us a model of what our international institutions must look like, with important lessons for the deliberations on nuclear disarmament as well as contemporary debates over how multilateral organisations can collectively manage the planet's shared problems. The OPCW constitutes a prohibitive regime that does not stop at the mere statement of abhorrence. Structurally, it is a comprehensive gamut of provisions for the destruction of chemical weapons and the monitoring and verification of this destruction by an international inspectorate.

Within living history, we have been witness to the tragedies wrought by chemical agents in warfare and attacks — in the death of 5,000 people in Halabja, Iraq, in an attack on the Tokyo subway on 1995, and most recently, in Damascus, Syria. The existence of these weapons will always present the spectre of their possible use. We live in a world where warfare is no longer confined to states warring against each other. We are increasingly confronted with the threat of non-state actors — individuals and groups, in terrorism, militancy and factions of civil war — who can access these weapons. In their hands, the international community can no longer regulate these weapons. It is therefore important that these poisons of war are not just banned, but destroyed.

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