The Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons won the 2013 Nobel Peace prize this year. According the Washington Post, Nobel Prize Committee Chairman, Thorbjor Jagland, said, “We are now in a situation in which we can do away with a whole category of weapons of mass destruction.”
On August 21, 2013, a sarin gas attack killed more than 1000 people in Syria, many of them children. OPCW inspectors, working with the United Nations, were there when the attack occurred. They returned in October as part of a weapons deal brokered by the United States and Russia. They are looking for 1000 tons of chemical which weapons they hope to destroy.
On the road to Damascus
How did it come to pass that we were we able to force Syria to the table to negotiate an agreement on these weapons of mass destruction? On the road to Damascus, President Obama had a vision: it was one of unspeakable horror and cruelty, innocent children gassed to death by their own government, lined together in a row neatly wrapped in funeral shrouds without a mark on their tiny bodies. Obama made it clear that we cannot ignore the reality of a people being killed by chemical weapons. The use of chemical weapons is a particularly odious form of warfare. Their use was banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention, signed and agreed to by 165 of 189 countries in 1993. The agreement is administered by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague. Their use was a clear violation of international norms.
The case for intervention
The case for intervention goes something like this: All war is evil, but sometimes it is necessary to choose the lesser of two evils. For the United States not to act in the face of such evil perpetrated against the civilian population by the Syrian government would be unethical and immoral. If we did nothing, we would be sending a signal to Assad and others who would violate international norms that it is okay to use these weapons. That would be a danger to our national security interests. Failure to act would only encourage their use and do nothing to discourage their use. A price had to be paid and Assad needed to be held accountable.
The lesser of two evils
In her 1947 book, “The Ethics of Ambiguity,” Simone de Beauvoir makes the point that we don’t just submit to war as if it were a natural disaster. Rather, we must choose sides and take action. She gives the example that if by saving 10 men we have to sacrifice one, it is reasonable to make that sacrifice. This is the doctrine of the lesser of two evils. By taking action, even if it is an act of war, we can effectively forestall the forces of tyranny.
In the end, only the credible threat force brought the Assad regime to the negotiating table and to the agreement to disarm. Not a shot was fired and not a life was lost. Bravo to the Obama administration for bringing this about and congratulations to the OPCW inspectors for their work. They are richly deserving of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.