Nobel Prize shoves the small Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons into the spotlight

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Carol Hills: I'm Carol Hills, in for Marco Werman. This The World.

"The Nobel Prize should have gone to her, because she had the courage to stand up and say, "If you're going to hit me, hit me with whatever you've got. I'm going to stand tall.""

So Pakistani girl activist Malala Yousafzai didn't get the Nobel Peace Prize, but she's still inspiring young women around the world. We'll hear from some of them later in the show, but first, let's take a look at the group that did win the Peace Prize today.

The United Nations Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. It was recognized for its efforts to eliminate chemical weapons, including Syria's stockpiles of nerve gas. Until recently, the OPCW has gotten little attention, so we're going to turn to Amy Smithson. She's a chemical and biological weapons expert at the Center for Non-Proliferation Studies in Washington.

Amy, give me a snapshot of how the OPCW goes about its work.

Amy Smithson: Well, first of all, prior to this day and to the chemical crisis in Syria, they've gone about their work very, very quietly with very few people paying attention. The treaty that bans chemical weapons provides inspection rights for this organization, and they literally trot the globe, going to military facilities where chemical weapons are stored, and overseeing the destruction of chemical arsenals.

They've done this in India, in South Korea, in Albania. They continue to do this in Libya, in the United States, and in Russia. In addition to that type of inspection, they also inspect chemical industry facilities.

The chemical industry makes a lot of chemicals that are used for legitimate purposes, but if these chemicals were diverted into a military program -- and that's what they safeguard against -- then we would have chemical weapons proliferation. They do two types of inspection: Military and commercial facilities.

Hills: Are there countries out there that one suspects has chemical weapons, but they're just not playing ball? They're not signing on to the treaty, and therefore their weapons aren't getting inspected and removed?

Smithson: Well, at the top of that list, one would find North Korea. That probably doesn't surprise your listeners, because North Korea is known best for its nuclear weapons program, but they're also thought to be harboring a biological and definitely a chemical weapons capability.

Other countries that I would hope would soon join the chemical weapons convention would be Egypt, which at one time was thought to be a chemical weapons possessor, and Israel, which is in kind of a limbo status. They've signed the treaty but not ratified of it. Perhaps the joining of Syria, and if the chemical disarmament process does go smoothly there, we'll see these other Middle Eastern nations join the treaty.

Hills: And who are the people who actually carry out the work of the organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons?

Smithson: These are nameless heroes, for the most part, who are finally getting some wonderful recognition from the Nobel committee. They are chemical analysts and engineers; in some cases, weapons experts. The inspectors can come from any of the states that belong to the treaty, and now there are 190 members, although something tells me they're not going to be asking the Syrians to be inspectors any time soon.

Hills: Now that the OPCW has received this Peace Prize, do you think it will enhance or possibly hinder their effectiveness?

Smithson: One would hope that it would be an enhancement, first of all. They badly need the cash that comes along with the prize. The situation in Syria is going to put an incredible burden on the very meager resources that the OPCW has to do its work around the work.

They have roughly 110 inspectors, and they have to be able to send a lot of these people into Syria on very short notice and still do their work around the work, which is why there are plans underway to augment the manpower of this organization.

Another thing that I hope that the Nobel recognition does is help the international community understand that while the nuclear weapons threat is something they should be concerned about, let's not forget that chemical weapons -- which were the first weapon of mass destruction to be used on World War I battlefields -- they took thousands and thousands of lives -- that this is something that also needs attention and resources devoted to address this problem.

Hills: Amy Smithson is an expert in chemical and biological weapons at the Center for Non-Proliferation Studies in Washington DC. Thanks...

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