Paul Walker

Awarded 2013


For working tirelessly to rid the world of chemical weapons.

Paul Walker is one of the most effective advocates for the abolition of chemical weapons. His leadership has helped to safely and verifiably eliminate more than 71,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, about 98.6 per cent of the world’s declared stockpiles. Walker has also been key to leveraging billions of US dollars for effective programmes for arms control, disarmament, threat reduction and non-proliferation. 

Walker is known for his skills in bringing together and engaging various stakeholders from around the world. He has effectively engaged government leaders, NGOs, think tanks, academics, and citizens’ groups from different countries to work towards full implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and a world free from the dangers of chemical weapons. Walker has striven to persuade the few countries still not a party to the convention to join the abolition regime.

Walker is also active on a whole range of issues relating to weapons of mass destruction. He has engaged in successful advocacy work to reduce nuclear weapons and has promoted the strengthening of the Biological Weapons Convention. Walker believes that a global and verified elimination of a whole class of weapons of mass destruction – chemical weapons – would serve as a role model for a world free of nuclear and biological weapons. He has worked tirelessly for decades to achieve that goal.

We have to think globally, but also act locally.

Paul Walker, 2013 Laureate


Paul Walker is one of the most committed and successful advocates for the abolition of chemical weapons. He has played a vital role in the joint international work ridding the world of more than 98 per cent of declared chemical weapons stockpiles.

Chemical weapons a threat to humanity

A chemical weapon is a substance or toxic agent used to cause harm or death. So-called “modern” chemical weapons were first used during World War I, injuring and killing more than 1 million people. Over the past century, the world has witnessed the horrific consequences of the use of such weapons a number of times. Hundreds of thousands of people, mainly Jews, were killed by chemical weapons in Nazi Germany’s gas chambers during World War II. Another example is the Halabja chemical attack in 1988 when thousands of Kurds were killed by Iraqi troops. Chemical weapons are lethal and, relatively speaking, cheap to produce. Even tiny quantities are enough to kill thousands of people. Most recently, chemical weapons were used by the Syrian regime against civilian populations, by North Korea in an assassination in Kuala Lumpur, and by Russia in at least two assassination attempts in the UK and Russia.

Committed to peace from his early years

After completing a Bachelor’s degree in 1968 at the College of the Holy Cross in modern languages, Walker served in the US Army as a Russian Intelligence Specialist for the Army Security Agency. Following his honourable discharge in 1971, he returned to university – at Johns Hopkins SAIS for a Master’s degree in international relations, and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for a doctoral degree in political science and global security. Walker’s strong and lasting commitment to peace, justice, arms control, disarmament and non-violence stem from his undergraduate Jesuit training at Holy Cross, his military service during the height of the Vietnam war, and also his graduate internship at the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) in Washington DC.

Walker worked as a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard University’s Center for Science and International Affairs (CSIA). During this time, he published a book, The Price of Defense (Times Books, 1979), with the Boston Study Group arguing that US foreign and military policy should be more preventive, more diplomatic and less militarised in its practice. Walker also founded the nuclear arms control programme of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in 1979. He also contributed to a second book, The Nuclear Almanac (Addison Wesley, 1984), with colleagues from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

While at UCS, Walker helped defeat the proposed new MX mobile strategic nuclear missile scheme, which sought to deploy 100 missiles with 1,000 nuclear warheads in the deserts of Utah and Nevada in a mobile mode. Walker also contributed to the launching of the first national teach-in on nuclear weapons and war on Veterans’ Day, November 11, 1981. While working thereafter at Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), he managed the medically accredited educational programmes on the health effects of nuclear weapons and war. He was also called as a defense expert witness in many legal trials of anti-nuclear peace activists in the United States. Walker was also Co-Director of the Institute for Peace and International Security (IPIS) from 1986-1993 and organised the first Soviet-US-European study groups on “common security.”

From 1993-1995, Walker worked for the Committee on Armed Services in the United States House of Representatives. In July 1994, he organised the first US on-site inspection of a Russian chemical weapons stockpile, Shchuch’ye, in the Kurgan Oblast of Russia. He also helped to establish US financial and technical support for the Russian chemical weapons destruction program under the US Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR or “Nunn-Lugar”) program.

The Chemical Weapons Convention makes history

Universal disgust at the horrific effects of chemical weapons on human life led governments to take systematic measures to prohibit them after World War I. The Geneva Protocol of 1925 banned the use of chemical (and biological) weapons, but did not inhibit ongoing research and development of these horrible and inhumane weapons. The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which opened for signature in 1993 and entered into force in 1997, further outlawed the development, production and stockpiling of chemical weapons. It made history by being the first international convention aiming to verify and eliminate an entire category of weapons of mass destruction. (The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention [BTWC or BWC], which entered into force in 1975, bans bioweapons but has no inspection and verification regime.) Prohibition of the manufacture and use of chemical weapons is widely accepted as a principle of customary international law today, binding on all states. Today 193 of 197 countries have signed, ratified, or acceded to the CWC representing 98% of the world’s population.

The ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention was a major challenge in both Russia and the United States in the mid-1990s, with hard-liners arguing that we still needed chemical weapons as an alternative to nuclear weapons, and with environmentalists opposing the military-preferred method for weapons destruction – incineration.  Walker worked actively, along with colleagues in both Washington and Moscow, to promote ratification in the US Senate and Russian Duma.  The US Senate ratified the CWC on April 24, 1997, by a vote of 74-26, and the treaty enters into force five days later.  Russia successfully ratified the treaty in December 1997, bringing the two largest possessor states, holding 95% of declared chemical agents, into the abolition regime.

The CWC mandates that all declared chemical weapons stockpiles be destroyed, at the latest, by April 2012. Unfortunately, this diplomatic goal was never reached, and all possessor states required extensions of the CW destruction timelines. Of the eight declared possessor States Parties to the Convention, seven have now successfully eliminated their declared stockpiles – Albania in 2007, South Korea in 2008, India in 2009, Syria in 2015, Libya in 2017, Russia in 2017, and Iraq in 2018.  The US, although it was the first country to begin its chemical weapons destruction effort unilaterally in 1990, will be the last to complete its demilitarization program, likely in 2023.   And the stockpile declarations of both Syria and Russia have now been brought into question with the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict and the assassination attempts by Russia in 2018 and 2020.

Working for a chemical weapon-free world

Walker has worked relentlessly at all levels reinforcing the international norms prohibiting chemical weapons and facilitating cooperative, safe, environmentally sound, and timely elimination of all chemical weapons globally. He has engaged with US and Russian citizens, ministries, militaries, public health and environmental groups, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and the G-7 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction.

In 1995, Walker took up the position of Director, Legacy of the Cold War Program, with Global Green USA, the US national affiliate of Green Cross International (GCI), established and chaired by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1993. This program was later renamed the Environmental Security and Sustainability (ESS) Program, and Walker continued to lead its crucial efforts to safely secure and eliminate weapons – nuclear, chemical, biological, and conventional – across the globe.  Walker and Green Cross colleagues from Russia, led by Dr Sergei Baranovsky, and from Switzerland, led by Dr. Stephan Robinson, established Citizens’ Advisory Commissions (CACs) and Green Cross Public  Outreach and Information Offices (POIOs) in Russia at every chemical weapons stockpile site and also organized annual International Green Cross Dialogues to promote civil society and non-governmental involvement in these controversial and risky disarmament efforts.  They also advocated in the US and internationally for transparency and public outreach in order to resolve public concerns about stockpile destruction processes that could endanger public health and the environment.

Upon receiving the Right Livelihood Award, Paul Walker, as Director of Environmental Security and Sustainability (ESS) at Green Cross International, had led the Program for seventeen years in its local, regional, national, and global efforts to safely demilitarise and abolish chemical weapons stockpiles and fully implement the 1997 CWC. Under Walker’s leadership, the ESS Program has helped to safely and verifiably eliminate most of the world’s declared stockpile of chemical weapons. Walker was also key to securing billions of US dollars annually in successful international demilitarization programs in the US and elsewhere for arms control, disarmament, threat reduction, and non-proliferation.

Walker’s advocacy efforts have also centred on trying to persuade the countries still not a party to the CWC – Egypt, Israel, North Korea, and South Sudan – to join the abolition regime.

Convinced that a world free from chemical weapons is impossible without global cooperation at all levels, Paul Walker is known for his inclusive and participatory approach. For instance, under the auspices of the Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition (CWCC), established in 2009-2010 by Paul Walker and other NGO colleagues, he has coordinated the active involvement of non-governmental experts and organisations the CWC and its implementing organization, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague, and has increased civil society participation by a factor of ten or more in the annual Conference of States Parties.

Promoting environmentally sound pathways for the actual physical destruction of chemical weapons

Walker has been instrumental in working across the political spectrum in the US to secure funds and support chemical weapons destruction in both the US and Russia. Walker has helped to appropriate annual congressional funding of over $500 million for the US Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR or “Nunn-Lugar”) Program, over $1 billion for the US chemical weapons destruction program, and another $1 billion for nuclear non-proliferation efforts.

Working closely with Green Cross colleagues in Russia and Switzerland, Walker has helped facilitate local dialogues, public hearings, and the first Citizens’ Advisory Commissions in Russia in order to promote transparency, stakeholder involvement, democratic decision-making, and community empowerment in weapons demilitarisation efforts. He and his Green Cross colleagues have also worked for recognition of the thousands of burial sites of toxic chemical agents and weapons on land and in every ocean of the world from the last century.

A role model for the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction

Walker is active on issues around other weapons of mass destruction. He has advocated for a strengthening of the Biological Weapons Convention and that states should take stronger measures to prevent the potential misuse of deadly diseases, as well as to better protect public health and the environment.

In the 1990s, he supported and shared strategies with anti-nuclear weapons advocates who brought the case that determined that the use of nuclear weapons were illegal under most circumstances to the International Court of Justice. In 1995, Walker worked tirelessly to support 2006 Right Livelihood Laureate Daniel Ellsberg in his call for nuclear weapons abolition. Walker’s outreach and diplomacy led to broad media attention and helped in the creation of Abolition 2000, an international network of civil society nuclear weapons abolitionists that presented 21 million signatures calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons to the UN General Assembly in 2010. The same year, he and many colleagues successfully lobbied lawmakers for the US Senate ratification of the New START agreement on strategic nuclear weapons between the US and Russia.

Today Walker continues his work for a world free of all weapons of mass destruction – nuclear, chemical, and biological – by coordinating the CWC Coalition, under auspices of the Arms Control Association, and working closely with the OPCW and CWC States Parties in The Hague to fully implement the treaty, to universalize it with a full international membership, to promote inclusion of civil society, and to hold any violators fully accountable.  He also is active in strengthening the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the BWC, and the Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).  Walker also remains engaged in developing technologies for weapons demilitarization and remediation which protect public health and the environment (for example, supplant open-burn and open-detonation practices) and help to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Laureate news
Culture and Education