Skip to main content

Pakistan's Malala Yousafzai poses during a photo opportunity before speaking at an event in New York, October 10, 2013.SHANNON STAPLETON/Reuters

The selection of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize surprised many observers who had expected the award to be won by Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani education activist who survived a Taliban assassination attempt and later addressed the United Nations, or by Dr. Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist who has treated more than 30,000 rape victims at his personal clinic.

Here is what six expert observers of world affairs have to say:

1. It's a lost opportunity, says Lloyd Axworthy, a former Canadian foreign affairs minister and president of the University of Winnipeg.

Mr. Axworthy called the Nobel committee's decision a "lost opportunity."

Despite the OPCW's good work, he said, Malala has "really drawn attention to that very widespread misogyny that's going on," calling it "the moral issue of our time."

He called Malala's campaign – to bring education to young women – "a very, very serious peace issue, because there is a form of warfare against women in so many parts of the world."

He also added that it may be helpful for the future for the Nobel committee to have "broader representation than just a committee of older gentlemen in Norway."

2. Worthy of the spotlight, says Cheryl Rofer, a chemical weapons expert and retired supervisor at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the U.S.

Ms. Rofer said she was pleased with the OPCW's win.

"They've been operating consistently and doggedly at a level below what gets attention in the news until very recently, she said.

"What they're doing is eliminating an entire class of weapons which people have found particularly heinous and ugly. And they're ultimately making the world safer," she said.

She added that she was pleased to see the entire organization win, rather than just its director. "There are a great number of people in an organization like this doing a great amount of work," she said. "The inspectors in Syria – they've been fired on, they're operating in a combat zone, plus their work is extremely exacting in the way they have to sample and document them.

3. Reasonable, but with risk, says Kristian Berg Harpviken, director of The Peace Research Institute Oslo.

According to Mr. Berg Harpviken, the OPCW's win came as a surprise to most. "Speculation started to come up about a day ago that they could be a likely candidate, but until then, I hadn't really had my eyes on the OPCW," he said.

He said that as much as Malala's young age may have helped her cause, it may have ultimately hurt her candidacy. "My sense is the committee may have been quite concerned about her age, both with regards to what that might mean for her personal security, and in regards to the enormous responsibility to be an ambassador for the Nobel Peace Prize for a lifetime."

"It's a balancing act between rewarding aspiration versus rewarding achievement," Mr. Berg Haprivken said. He referred to President Barack Obama's win in 2009, and widespread criticism at the time that he had not yet done enough to deserve the award. "But I don't see the prize to the OPCW in the same way, simply because the convention on chemical weapons has been remarkably successful."

He added, however, that given the still-unfolding events in Syria, that the committee's decision may prove to be a risky one. "There is a very concrete risk there, in that, by the time the Nobel ceremony is hosted in Oslo two months from now, things in Syria may look so different that the prize to the OPCW will look very different than what it does today," he said.

4. It's a question of timing, says Paul Heinbecker, the last Canadian ambassador to the UN Security Council, currently with the Centre for International Governance Innovation at Laurier University.

Mr. Heinbecker said that the OPCW is a worthy winner, but questioned the Nobel committee's timing.

"I'm very glad that the OPCW has won this award, but if I had my druthers, they would have won it next year," he said.

"The OPCW is doing very important work and in extremely dangerous circumstances. But my guess is that they will still be doing that for the next nine or ten months, at least."

16-year-old Malala, on the other hand, he said, is "at her apex of her effectiveness."

5. A worthy winner: Speaking before the announcement, Tilman Bruck, director of the Stockholm International Peace Institute, praised the OPCW.

"Organizations like the OPCW, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, are critical for building the institutional infrastructure for peace," he said. "Peace is not just about not fighting."

He also said he was relieved that front-runner Malala Yousafzai hadn't been handed the "burden" of the Nobel Peace Prize, at least not this year while she was still technically a child.

"I just wonder if it's fair to impose the prize on a minor. While of course the prize is a great honour to anyone, it's a great burden as well... I would be happy to see her receive it in two years, when she's an adult and can perhaps manage that burden with more resilience and independence."

He compared Ms. Yousafzai, who is 16, to that of a child movie star thrust into the spotlight by others. "I doubt the Nobel Peace Prize Committee would call her guardian and ask if it's OK to award [her] the prize."

6. Spotlight on Malala: Speaking before the announcement, Shiza Shahid, head of the Malala Global Fund, said Ms. Yousafzai - who on Thursday won the Sakharov Prize, the European Union's top human rights award - wouldn't be changed by the Nobel Prize announcement, whether she won or lost.

"The Nobel Prize is an honour, whoever it goes to, I'm sure, will deserve it. As Malala says, it would be great to get it, says but really this is about getting girls into school and getting their rights back.... Regardless of the outcome, I'm sure Pakistanis are very proud and happy that she's been nominated."