Ridding the World of Chemical Weapons

by Joe McGonegal on November 29, 2013

in Health, In the News, Public Service

Paul Walker PhD ’78 spent Thanksgiving day en route to Scandinavia, where he will have an exciting two weeks.

On Tuesday afternoon, he’ll be honored at the Swedish Parliament building with the Right Livelihood Award, which honors individuals “offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges” facing the world.

The Right Livelihood Foundation, which will bestow half a million krona upon Walker’s organization Green Cross International, lauds him for his lifelong crusade to rid the world of chemical weapons.

Paul Walker PhD '78. Photo: Green Cross.

Paul Walker PhD ’78.
Photo: GCI.

A week after that appearance in Stockholm, Walker will join his colleagues from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in Oslo for the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize. This year’s prize honors OPCW, which Walker advocated for creating in 1997 and to whose convention and diplomacy he has been a noted contributor.

“I am honored to receive the Right Livelihood Award, and to see the OPCW so recognized with the Nobel,” Walker said earlier this week, “but it’s this new public attention to building a world free of chemical weapons which will carry the day.”

Walker’s name has become synonymous with demilitarization in the past three decades. He has been outspoken this fall about Syria’s chemical weapons disarmament after the deadly August attack near Damascus, and he has been on site for several inspections over the years in other nations. Walker’s citation for the Right Livelihood Award credits him with leading elimination efforts of over 55,000 metric tons of chemical weapons over the years.

While the United States and Russia still hold the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons, Walker is also concerned about Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, and South Sudan, the six nations that have yet to ratify OPCW’s convention.

Walker, who lives in Washington, leads Green Cross’s advocacy in the United States, supporting green housing, clean water, and alternative energy initiatives.  Founded by former Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev, Green Cross International also works on environmental disaster readiness, mine safety, and air and water pollution crises in developing nations.

While abroad this month, Walker will continue his work in helping advise authorities on Syria’s promised disposal of chemical weapons, though as he told the New Yorker, it won’t be easy. Finding a European country to take in and help dispose of many of the weapons is his utmost concern at present.

But in the next two weeks, Walker will have time to reflect on the work behind him and celebrate how far his efforts have brought him and the world. Both awards, he says, are an important acknowledgement of that.

“This success will demonstrate that we can indeed eliminate a whole class of weapons of mass destruction today,” says Walker, “and also verify that chemical weapons will never again reemerge. This is an enormous breakthrough in global security for all humankind.”

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