This alone should have given the Nobel judges second thoughts about the OPCW. But the kicker is, according to assessments of the U.S. government, Iran has been in violation of the CWC since it joined, in 1997. Any state that joins is required to provide a full declaration of its chemical weapons facilities and stockpiles. Tehran said it had already destroyed such stuff, and had nothing to declare. The U.S. government believes this to be a lie. But the OPCW only inspects what a member state declares — so Iran gets to have its OPCW membership and cheat on the Chemical Weapons Convention too. The same goes for Russia, main author of the Syrian chemical weapons disarmament deal that just won the OPCW the Nobel Peace Prize. The U.S. government believes Russia never declared all its facilities or its entire chemical weapons stockpile. But as the OPCW conducts business, undeclared chemical weapons are not normally their department.

In other words, the Nobel Peace Prize has just gone to a multilateral outfit that bestows a good housekeeping seal on alleged violators of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and chief among them are two of Assad’s best pals, Russia and Iran. In that sense, this prize is a gift to Assad.

More directly, however, this prize dignifies above all surrounding considerations the hope that OPCW inspectors will now be instrumental in removing Assad’s chemical arsenal. Even that much is premature, and, as PJMedia’s Jonathan Spyer reports, not remotely assured. The further problem is that this OPCW endeavor in Syria comes at the cost of a Russia-brokered U.S.-Russian deal, translated into a UN resolution, which goes far to ensure that if Assad gives up his chemical weapons, he will have an enhanced chance of remaining in power. Less than two months ago, Assad in the Western “narrative” of Syria’s war was the villain, a bloodstained tyrant who had to go, a despot who by gassing his own people had invited U.S. military attack. Then along came the deal, and with the agreement to give up his chemical weapons, Assad has received praise from the American secretary of State, and is on his way to being restored as the internationally accepted ruler of Syria (somebody phone Vogue!).

Whichever brand of poison one might favor as the lesser evil in this war — Assad, or what is by-now the jihadi-heavy opposition — the Assad chemical weapons deal sends a terrible message to other ruthless regimes. That unfortunate message is: If you don’t have chemical weapons, you’d be prudent to get some. If you run into trouble, they can be used as bargaining chips — traded away for international concessions that help keep you in power. Horrify the world by using a chemical arsenal. Placate the world by agreeing to give it up. And you will be praised and allowed to carry on with more conventional butchery in relative peace. That is a ghastly set of incentives to introduce into the 21st century world order.

OK, but what about the horror of chemical weapons, and the courage of OPCW inspectors now braving the Syrian war zone? Some of those inspectors may well deserve a prize, even if the OPCW itself does not. But the time for that is not now. The time for that is when the Assad regime is gone. If the aim is truly to discourage the acquisition or use of chemical weapons, the rule needs to be that any ruler who uses them is toast. That has not been the message here. As it now stands, Assad himself benefits from this Nobel Prize.
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What books does Claudia Rosett recommend for 2013? Click here to see her picks at the Freedom Academy Book Club.