The committee for the Nobel Peace Prize always loved to rub up against politics, but recently it has discovered populism.
On Friday, the committee surprised audiences worldwide when it gave the prize to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, saying the award was not for the organization's work in Syria but for its efforts over the last several years.
And somebody out there may actually believe that.
The Nobel committee's announcement was laden with hypocrisy. That very same anonymous organization -- a rather technical one -- was founded in 1997 and would have continued anyway to work behind the scenes (as it did in India, Albania, Libya and South Korea) in Syria had it not been for the U.S.-Russian deal, the result of Russian President Vladimir Putin's initiative, and especially after Bashar Assad's Syria decided to become the 190th country to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Just as when U.S. President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 or the European Union won in 2012, the prize was given again this year for prospects over achievement. At this rate, the Nobel committee is going to start handing out the Prize for Literature for a synopsis instead of an actual book.
Since the founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Swiss businessman and activist Jean-Henri Dunant, won the prize in 1901, each subsequent win has been controversial, perhaps peaking in 1994 with Yasser Arafat. And this year's controversial choice is no exception to the list, which has helped uncover a trend in Oslo: They have decided to be in fashion.
Already in 2005, when the Nobel committee awarded the International Atomic Energy Agency under Mohamed ElBaradei the prize for helping to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons for military purposes, one could see the trend. Under the radar of those very same Nobel laureates, Iran managed to advance its military nuclear project with huge strides.
In 2009, the Nobel died of laughter when Barack Obama, then the recently elected U.S. president, won the Nobel for his promises and words. Four years later, the world is far from being a more secure place, but Obama has already joined the very respectable list that includes Martin Luther King, Soviet nuclear physicist and activist Andrei Sakharov and Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi
In 2012, following the debilitating global economic crisis that struck several countries in the European Union and the threat to the euro currency, the committee in Oslo decided to inject Brussels with some encouragement, shocking audiences again when it chose the EU over heroes such as Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist who helped women who had been gang-raped during the Second Congo War, and who won numerous important awards, but was forgotten in Oslo year after year.
This year, the tradition was upheld. In 2013, Syria is still far from liquidating the thousand of tons of chemical weapons it holds, including 300 tons of sarin gas. Syria will almost certainly fail to achieve its goal, if at all, by June 2014, which it agreed to do. But in Oslo, they decided that the promise was enough.
The Nobel Peace Prize committee's decision missed the mark this year. Choosing the OPCW comes off as differentiating between the victims of chemical weapons use (five percent among 120,000 people who have died since the outbreak of violence in 2011) and those who died from conventional weapons in the Syrian crisis. It also indirectly gives Assad a boost of encouragement. The Syrian president could even feel as if he is sharing the prize. Soon he will be giving a victory speech, reminding us all how, unlike Israel, Syria is a member of the OPCW.
If the committee in Oslo had wanted to associate the prize this year with Syria, it would have been a better choice to tap an accepted figure from among rebel groups or a humanitarian organization that is working in Syria under constant threat by the Damascus regime, rather than a group under its patronage, such as the weapons inspectors.