Reportedly, Syria’s President Bashar Assad made a joke the other day that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize “should have been mine.” Whether he really said that is unclear. The report came from a pro-Damascus newspaper in Lebanon, Al Akhbar. Agence France-Presse picked up the story, but noted that Al Akhbar did not actually say when Assad produced this quip. Nor, if Assad actually did say it, would I rush to assume that he meant it as a joke. Dictators — particularly those who kill people in large numbers — have a way of persuading themselves that what they are doing is noble and necessary work. It would be no surprise to discover that Assad really does believe he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.
But whether or not Assad actually said it, either as a joke or some sort of entitlement manifesto from an alternate universe, the truth is that in some ways the Norwegian Nobel Committee did indeed award its prize to Assad. Not by name, and surely not by intention. This year’s official winner is the outfit whose inspectors, along with United Nations personnel, are now tasked to unburden Assad of his poison gas arsenal: the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
But what is the OPCW, really? Based in The Hague, and created to implement the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) that entered into force in 1997, the OPCW has been depicted in most media coverage as a champion of good works; the world’s leading chemical weapons watchdog. It has an annual budget of about $100 million (22% of that supplied by the U.S.) and a staff of 450, working out of a distinctive semi-circular building in the Dutch capital of The Hague. In most media coverage since Friday’s Nobel Peace Prize announcement, the OPCW has been summed up simply as a body diligently ridding the world of chemical weapons, with various factoids thrown in about the how many inspections it has done, in how many countries, and who belongs to this organization. With Syria’s accession this week, the CWC has 190 State Parties, including 187 UN member states, plus the Holy See, plus two Pacific island territories off New Zealand with a total combined population of 14,000 (who, you may be relieved to know, have agreed not to acquire chemical weapons, or to give them up if they discover they have any). There has also been the list of the six holdouts, in which the democratic state of Israel (which has signed but not ratified the CWC) stands out as an anomaly against the other five: Egypt, Angola, South Sudan, Burma and one of the motherlodes of Syria’s chemical weapons program, North Korea.
A closer look at the OPCW provides at least one broad hint as to why Israel would not be eager to join this gang. The OPCW is a diplomatic romper room for Syria’s intimate ally and fellow terrorist-sponsoring state, Iran. Iran spends a significant portion of its time at the OPCW denouncing Israel (which Tehran’s envoys call “the Zionist entity”) and demanding that the “international community” pressure Israel to join the CWC and place itself under the OPCW regime. Iran has enjoyed a seat on the OPCW’s executive council every year since 1998; sits on all three of its main subsidiary bodies, including its budget advisory committee (you pay, Iran plays); and serves as a vice-chair of the OPCW’s General Conference. Iran has hosted OPCW training sessions, and the OPCW sees no problem with employing Iranian nationals as weapons inspectors, which it has in fact done.