How, and why, does the Nobel Committee decide whom to award the Peace Prize? It is a question that arises almost every year in early October. Unlike the science Nobels, which award work on “Higgs Bosons” and “multiscale models for complex chemical systems,” the work that leads to a Peace Prize can be understood by the layman. This year, the Nobel Committee bypassed Malala Yousafzai, the popular favorite to win, awarding instead the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). “We wanted to give a signal to the world that now we have the possibility to do away with a whole category of weapons of mass destruction,” Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Nobel Committee, told on Tuesday. This year also marks the twenty-year anniversary of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which created the OPCW and calls on signatories to destroy their stockpiles. “Eighty per cent of chemical weapons have been eliminated and more than ninety percent of production capacity,” Jagland said.
Few had heard of the OPCW before it was tasked with dismantling Syria’s chemical stockpile, but Jagland denied that the development had anything to do with his committee’s decision. “Actually we decided this before what happened in Syria this summer,” he said. “We awarded this organization because of what the organization has done.” “But of course,” he added, “it’s very important also now to give a kind of moral support to what it is going to do in Syria.” So what of Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani girl shot in the head by the Taliban last year for refusing to give up her fight for girls’ education? “Malala is an outstanding, courageous woman. She will certainly be a candidate for future years,” Jagland told Amanpour. “We cannot award people or organizations based on polls – we have to look at the will of Alfred Nobel.” The Committee, he added, only explains why it did give an award, not why it did not. Amanpour protested Jagland’s characterization of why Yousafzai did not get the Prize. “Well of course,” she said, “there weren’t polls; she actually took a bullet to the head for peace.” “The committee has awarded such personalities so many times,” he retorted, referring by way of example to the winner in 2010, Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo. “But we cannot do it every year,” he said. “We have to also look at the time of Alfred Nobel and the current situation in the world, and therefore we came to the conclusion that this year we should award OPCW.”