A Nobel for Good Intentions
The OPCW did little to merit the Peace Prize.

OPCW Director General Ahmet Üzümcü


John R. Bolton

More broadly, international organizations — both their member states and their bureaucracies — tend to forget their original objectives too soon and too often, losing themselves among political and institutional imperatives only remotely related to those initial purposes. In this sense, not surprisingly, they mirror national governments, whose operations public-choice economists have illuminated, freeing us from the naïve early-20th-century belief that governments serve the public interest better than private entities do.

The same is true in international bodies: Rent-seeking dominates, as governments promote their citizens for particular jobs, seek memberships on desirable governing bodies, and tap into “technical assistance” programs (sometimes candidly referred to as “spigots”). Governments are problematic enough, but organizations composed entirely of governments embody geometric progressions of those problems.

Moreover, the organizations’ secretariats, while often composed of dedicated professionals, too frequently step out from their proper roles as agents of the member governments. National bureaucracies have an analogous tendency to ignore their elected political masters. Rewarding such tendencies with the Nobel Peace Prize is perplexing at best.

The way José Bustani, the OPCW’s first director general, was fired in 2002 demonstrates the bureaucratic problem. An overwhelming majority of the countries for which the CWC really mattered (as opposed to those that simply join virtually every multilateral agreement, pay insignificant financial assessments, and engage assiduously in rent-seeking) saw Bustani as harming the OPCW. A senior Brazilian foreign-service officer, he was a poor manager: unfocused in his priorities, heedless of budget constraints, and enchanted with the perquisites of office and the pursuit of self-serving publicity.

Bustani’s incompetence was compounded for the new Bush administration by his unopposed reelection in May 2000, a year before his initial term actually expired. When I asked State Department careerists, who had informed me of Bustani’s unacceptable managerial performance, why they had allowed an early, uncontested reelection, they said no one had wanted to take the political risk of challenging Bustani and losing. Indeed, some State careerists worried about even expressing displeasure with Bustani’s performance (except by wringing their hands), let alone launching a campaign to remove him from office. Thus the State Department, along with most other important OPCW members (notably excepting Japan and Germany), was willing to fill the role of the Titanic’s band, playing stoically as the OPCW sank beneath the waves.

My view was different. If the organization was worth creating, which the United States had presumably decided by ratifying the CWC, it was worth saving, if necessary by ousting Bustani if he would not leave voluntarily. This he refused to do, and the United States thereupon led the coalition that fired him at a special conference of CWC state parties in April 2002. (For those interested, I describe our campaign in Surrender Is Not an Option.) Bustani was succeeded by an Argentinian, there being no anti–Latin American bias at work despite Bustani’s effort to turn the controversy into a Third World–versus–America fight.)

The real question is why this agony was even necessary. While the OPCW has run quietly since 2002, that tells us nothing about its capabilities under fire, literally, in Syria, and certainly does not justify the Nobel Peace Prize. There is simply no basis for the Norwegian committee’s decision, and why the committee members believe that such inexplicable awards enhance the prestige of either the recipient or the Peace Prize itself is unfathomable. If its institutional experience so far is any indication, the OPCW will be yet another Nobel winner later forgotten by history, which judges much more stringently than the Norwegians who annually decide who wins the prize money.

— John R. Bolton is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. He is the author of Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad.


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