Alfred Nobel himself would probably have been satisfied and Norwegian politicians certainly were, when the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced Friday that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2013 would be awarded to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Outgoing Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg called it “a very important prize” because it can help rid the world of chemical weapons.
“And in Syria, they’re right in the middle of all the work to destroy (Syria’s) chemical weapons, so the prize is very timely,” Stoltenberg told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).
Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, who, like Stoltenberg, is due to leave office next week to make way for a new Conservatives-led government, nonetheless claimed the Peace Prize should help the OPCW’s efforts. “The OPCW has professional competence but limited experience in working in the middle of an ongoing conflict,” Eide told NRK. “That’s why it’s been important to cooperate with the UN.”
Norway has been asked to help take in and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons on Norwegian soil, but the request now will be handled by the incoming government coalition due to take office next week. Jan Tore Sanner of the Conservatives, widely tipped to be a minister in the new government, called the prize “a wise choice” and that the OPCW was “a worthy winner.” Sanner said the organization had “shown that diplomacy and the rule of law can yield results.”
Knut Arild Hareide of the Christian Democrats, which has agreed to support the new Conservative-led government, agreed with Sanner that the prize was “right in line with Alfred Nobel’s will,” as did Ola Elvestuen of the Liberal Party, another government support party. “This is all about disarmament and seems to be a very correct and good prize from the Nobel Committee,” Hareide said.
Nobel Peace Prizes often have a strong Norwegian connection, according to historian and Nobel expert Asle Sveen, but this time, none of Norway’s Members of Parliament had nominated the OPCW, according to NRK. Sanner, for example, had nominated the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo who won the prize in 2010, setting off a diplomatic freeze with China, and this year he nominated another human rights activist, Belarus dissident Ales Bjalatski. Audun Lysbakken, head of Norway’s Socialist Left party (SV), had nominated another favoured candidate for the prize, the Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege who has carried on a courageous fight against sexual violence in his African homeland. Lysbakken, though, was also full of praise for the choice of OPCW.
“This is a correct and well-deserved prize,” Lysbakken said. “SV is glad that the Nobel Committee has put disarmament on the agenda again.” He thinks the prize will also put more pressure on Syria to fulfill its international obligations and can help prevent Syria from using its chemical weapons against its own people again.
Heffermehl still not happy
John Peder Egenæs of Amnesty Norge said it would be hard for anyone to criticize this year’s prize. “It relates well to Nobel’s will,” Egenæs told news bureau NTB, “and rewards more than 16 years of work that has led to the destruction of many of the world’s chemical weapons.” He thinks it will also hasten efforts to destroy what’s left.
Norwegian lawyer Fredrik Heffermehl, who’s been one of the biggest critics of Peace Prize choices in recent years, conceded in a commentary on NRK that the prize to the OPCW was “a little better” than others. He remains critical, though, claiming that Nobel “would have supported work to eliminate all weapons, not just some weapons, the chemical weapons, but all weapons.”
To be a worthy winner, Heffermehl claimed, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate must have a global approach, where all countries eliminate all weapons.