The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons won the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize for its recent and ongoing disarmament work in Syria. It is one of the most significant disarmament efforts in decades yet. The OPCW was relatively unknown until its involvement in removing and destroying the Syrian government’s chemical weapons brought it to the global forefront. Other contenders for the prize were Hu Jia, a Chinese dissident, and Malala Yousafzai, a 16-year-old Pakistani education activist who survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban.
According to the OPCW website, much of its work being done in Syria is advisory. The framework established by the United States and Russia calls for the possessor country to take responsibility for the destruction of their own weapons. The OPCW plans to implement a “stringent inspection and verification process,” believing that they will make the ambitious deadline, set by the framework, with the amount of resources given to them by the United Nations and other sources.
The global tension and attention over Syria’s possession of chemical weapons has died down somewhat with the diplomatic efforts spearheaded by Washington and Moscow. In the meantime, the OPCW has been hard at work visiting chemical weapons sites and verifying the destruction of chemical agents along with the materials needed to make them, as reported by Reuters.
There is an estimated 1,000 tons of chemical agents and materials that need to be carefully dealt with. Ahmet Üzümcü, director-general of the OPCW, is quoted in the New York Times as saying that Syrian officials have been cooperative with the teams sent in to destroy the weapons. On the other hand, there are reports by ABC News of increased violence from various rebel factions, including the kidnapping of seven Red Cross workers, that have come to international attention.
According to Time magazine, the basic procedure for the destruction of chemical weapons is to have robots separate the agent, explosive and propellant components from each weapon. These components are then burned in various types of appropriate kilns or furnaces. Finally, any leftover waste is sealed in barrels and buried. In addition, any assembly machinery must be destroyed beyond repair. Sometimes, this is accomplished by driving tanks over it.
The OPCW was established in 1997 and has since completed over 5,000 inspections in 86 countries. USA Today reports that today, about 81 percent of all chemical weapons in the world have been eradicated. The U.S. has had 90 percent of its weapons destroyed, while Russia follows at 70 percent. Albania, India and a third unnamed country – presumed to be South Korea – have completely destroyed all of their stockpiles.