Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is a tribute to the organization’s pivotal role in enforcing the prohibition against chemical weapons. The challenge of eliminating weapons of mass destruction has always been high on the agenda of the Nobel Committee. This award is also an affirmation of OPCW’s current role in managing and verifying the difficult task of destroying Syria’s huge stockpile of chemical weapons.
The Nobel Committee’s unstated but implied message is that efforts to prohibit and destroy weapons of mass destruction deserve international support and that technical organizations like OPCW can play an important role in this process. The OPCW has been scrupulously non-political in its operations, focusing on the technical tasks of verifying and monitoring implementation of the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which entered into force in 1997.
Similarly robust non-political technical bodies are needed for the still uncompleted task of prohibiting nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is the main organization charged with monitoring nuclear programs around the world.
Waiting in the wings is the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), which was established in 1997 when the comprehensive test ban treaty was negotiated. The U.S. Senate has refused to ratify the test ban treaty, however, so the CTBTO cannot begin full operations. Other countries have also failed to ratify, but the United States is the most important hold-out. If Washington were to ratify, other countries would follow suit, the treaty would come into force, and the CTBTO would be able to realize its full potential in detecting illegal nuclear explosions.
Some Senators oppose the test ban treaty with the claim that violations could not be verified. Their refusal to ratify, however, prevents the enhanced monitoring and inspection mechanisms that would make compliance with the treaty easier to verify.
Hopefully one day (after the Senate has done its duty) the Nobel Committee will be able to acknowledge the work of the CTBTO in helping to ban nuclear testing—and in moving the world closer to a prohibition on nuclear weapons.