The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2013 is to be awarded to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons.
During World War One, chemical weapons were used to a considerable degree. The Geneva Convention of 1925 prohibited the use, but not the production or storage, of chemical weapons. During World War Two, chemical means were employed in Hitler’s mass exterminations. Chemical weapons have subsequently been put to use on numerous occasions by both states and terrorists. In 1992-93 a convention was drawn up prohibiting also the production and storage of such weapons. It came into force in 1997. Since then the OPCW has, through inspections, destruction and by other means, sought the implementation of the convention. 189 states have acceded to the convention to date.
Photo: A Vietnam-victim of Amercan chemical warfare. The U.S. chemical weapons program began during World War I. Chemical weapons production directed principally against people ended in 1969. For nine years between 1962 and 1971 approximately 20 million gallons of defoliants and herbicides were sprayed over Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia by the US military resulting in an estimated 400,000 people killed or maimed and 500,000 children born with birth defects as a result of what were called ‘rainbow herbicides’ in Operation Ranch Hand. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld helped Saddam Hussein build up his arsenal of deadly chemical and biological weapons.
For years Middle Eastern countries have accused the US of double-talk over Iraq. They are bitterly critical that the American government helped arm Saddam during the 1980s in a war against Iran, which at that time Washington regarded as its biggest enemy in the region.
United States Secretary of State John Kerry was one of the senators who fought for the right of US Veterans, exposed to Agent Orange, to achieve proper compensation. However, at the same time, Kerry is part of the US Establishment which refuses to compensate the Vietnamese for the same chemical poisoning by America’s Agent Orange.
If the Obama administration wants an example of the difficulties involved in destroying chemical weapons, it might reflect upon its own struggles to get rid of cold-war era chemical arsenals stockpiled in tightly controlled storage facilities in Kentuchy and Colorado.
The United States promised, but failed, to destroy these stocks by 2012 at the very latest. The most recent forecast from the US is that the process of “neutralising” the chemicals in its Colorado weapons dump will be finished by 2018; the date for Kentucky is 2023. That will be 11 years after the US promised to destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles, and eight years after Russia – the other major possessor of declared chemical weapons – says it will have finished destroying its arsenal.
About 2,611 tons of mustard gas remains stockpiled in Pueblo, Colorado. The second stockpile, in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky, is smaller – 524 tons – but more complicated to decommission, because it consists of a broader range of lethal gases and nerve agents, many of which are contained within weaponry.