In the 2000s a new idea emerged in global policy circles: that the international community has a responsibility to protect not just the sovereignty of nations, but individual lives around the world. United Nations documents codified the principle, stating that if a government was “manifestly failing” to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, or crimes against humanity, the international community must be prepared to take action to guard civilians from harm.

On October 1, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), winner of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, entered Syria to remove and destroy weapons of mass destruction. In the midst of Syria’s civil war, chemical weapons have been used against civilians, killing over 1,400 women, men, and children in one attack. The OPCW has met with initial success. In the first week after arriving, the advance team began destroying commercial compounds that serve as precursors to chemical weapons, and a team of 35 is destroying and disabling others with cooperation from the Syrian government.

Read more in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.