Svalbard Treaty

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Svalbard Treaty
Ratifications of the Convention
Signed 9 February 1920
Location Paris, France
Effective 14 August 1925
Condition ratification by all the signatory Powers
Parties 42
Depositary Government of the French Republic
Languages French and English
Spitsbergen Treaty at Wikisource

The Svalbard Treaty or the Spitsbergen Treaty, recognises the sovereignty of Norway over the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, at the time called Spitsbergen. The exercise of sovereignty is, however, subject to certain stipulations, and not all Norwegian law applies. The treaty regulates the demilitarisation of the archipelago. The signatories were given equal rights to engage in commercial activities (mainly coal mining) on the islands. As of 2012, Norway and Russia are making use of this right.

Uniquely, the archipelago is an entirely visa-free zone under the terms of the Svalbard Treaty.

There were fourteen original High Contracting Parties, including: the United States, Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands,[1] Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and British overseas dominions of Canada, Australia, India, South Africa and New Zealand.[2] Several additional nations signed within the next five years before the treaty came into force, including the Soviet Union in 1924 and Germany and China in 1925. There are now over 40 parties. The treaty was submitted for registration in the League of Nations Treaty Series on 21 October 1920.[3]

Of the original signatories Japan was the last to ratify the treaty on 2 August 1925. On 14 August 1925, the treaty came into force.[4]


The archipelago was discovered by the Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz in 1596 and named Spitsbergen, meaning "sharp-peaked mountains". It was uninhabited. The islands were renamed in the 1920s by Norway as Svalbard.

Spitsbergen/Svalbard began as a territory free of a nation, with multiple people from different countries participating in industries including fishing, whaling, mining, research and later, tourism. Not belonging to any nation left Svalbard largely free of regulations or laws, though there were conflicts over the area due to whaling rights and issues of sovereignty between England, the Netherlands, and Denmark–Norway in the first half of the 17th century. However, by the 20th century mineral deposits were found on the main island and continual conflicts between miners and owners created a need for a government.

The Treaty[edit]

By 9 February 1920 the Spitsbergen Treaty was signed in Paris during the Versailles negotiations after World War I. In this treaty, international diplomacy recognized Norwegian sovereignty (the Norwegian administration went in effect by 1925) and other principles relating to Svalbard. This includes:

  • Svalbard is part of Norway: Svalbard is completely controlled by and forms part of the Kingdom of Norway. However, Norway's power over Svalbard is restricted by the limitations listed below:
  • Taxation: This allows taxes to be collected, but only enough to support Svalbard and the Svalbard government. This results in lower taxes than mainland Norway and the exclusion of any taxes on Svalbard supporting Norway directly. Also, Svalbard's revenues and expenses are separately budgeted from mainland Norway.
  • Environmental conservation: Norway must respect and preserve the Svalbard environment.
  • Non-discrimination: All citizens and all companies of every nation under the treaty are allowed to become residents and to have access to Svalbard including the right to fish, hunt or undertake any kind of maritime, industrial, mining or trade activity. The residents of Svalbard must follow Norwegian law though Norwegian authority cannot discriminate against or favor any residents of any given nationality.
  • Military restrictions: Article 9 prohibits naval bases and fortifications and also the use of Svalbard for war-like purposes. It is not, however, entirely demilitarized.

Disputes regarding natural resources[edit]

200-nautical-mile (370 km) zone around Svalbard[edit]

There has been a long-running dispute, primarily between Norway and Russia (and before it, the Soviet Union) over fishing rights in the region.[5][6] In 1977, Norway established a regulated fishery in a 200-nautical-mile (370 km) zone around Svalbard (though it did not close the zone to foreign access).[5] Norway argues that the treaty's provisions of equal economic access apply only to the islands and their territorial waters (4 nautical miles at the time) but not to the wider Exclusive Economic Zone. In addition, it argues that the continental shelf is a part of mainland Norway's continental shelf and should be governed by the 1958 Continental Shelf Convention.[6] The Soviet Union/Russia disputed and continues to dispute this position and consider the Spitsbergen Treaty to apply to the entire zone. Talks were held in 1978 in Moscow but did not resolve the issue.[5] Finland and Canada support Norway's position, while most of the other treaty signatories have expressed no official position.[5] The relevant parts of the treaty are as follows:

Ships and nationals of all the High Contracting Parties shall enjoy equally the rights of fishing and hunting in the territories specified in Article 1 and in their territorial waters. (from Article 2)

They shall be admitted under the same conditions of equality to the exercise and practice of all maritime, industrial, mining or commercial enterprises both on land and in the territorial waters, and no monopoly shall be established on any account or for any enterprise whatever. (from Article 3)

Natural resources outside the 200-nautical-mile (370 km) zone[edit]

"Mainly the dispute is about whether the Svalbard Treaty also is in effect outside the 12-nautical-mile territorial sea," according to Norway's largest newspaper, Aftenposten.[7] If the treaty comes into effect outside the zone, then Norway will not be able to claim the full 78% of profits of oil- and gas harvesting, said Aftenposten in 2011.[8]


Svalbard Treaty parties

A list of parties (sorted alphabetically) is shown below; the dates below reflect when a nation deposited its instrument of ratification or accession.[9] For states that no longer exist, the successor state for which the treaty remains in force is noted.

Country Date of ratification
Afghanistan Afghanistan November 23, 1925
Albania Albania April 29, 1930
 Argentina May 6, 1927
 Australia December 29, 1923
(extension by UK)
Austria Austria March 12, 1930
 Belgium May 27, 1925
 Bulgaria October 20, 1925
Canada Canada December 29, 1923
(extension by UK)
 Chile December 17, 1928
 China July 1, 1925
 Czech Republic June 21, 2006
 Denmark January 24, 1924
 Dominican Republic February 3, 1927
 Egypt September 13, 1925
 Estonia April 7, 1930
 Finland August 12, 1925
France France September 6, 1924
 Germany November 16, 1925
Greece Greece October 21, 1925
 Hungary October 29, 1927
 Iceland May 31, 1994
 India December 29, 1923
(extension by UK)
 Italy August 6, 1924
 Japan April 2, 1925
 North Korea March 16, 2016
 Latvia June 13, 2016
 Lithuania January 13, 2013
 Monaco June 22, 1925
 Netherlands September 3, 1920
 New Zealand December 29, 1923
(extension by UK)
 Norway October 8, 1924
Poland Poland September 2, 1931
Portugal Portugal October 24, 1927
 Romania July 10, 1925
 South Korea September 7, 2012
 Soviet Union May 7, 1935
Kingdom of Nejd and Hejaz August 14, 1925
Union of South AfricaSouth Africa December 29, 1923
(extension by UK)
Spain Spain November 12, 1925
 Sweden September 15, 1924
  Switzerland June 30, 1925
 Ukrainian SSR May 7, 1935
 United Kingdom December 29, 1923
 United States April 2, 1924
 Venezuela February 8, 1928

See also[edit]



  1. ^ On Dutch interest and historical claims see Muller, Hendrik, ‘Nederland’s historische rechten op Spitsbergen’, Tijdschrift van het Koninklijk Nederlandsch Aardrijkskundig Genootschap 2e serie, deel 34 (1919) no. 1, 94-104.
  2. ^ Original Spitsbergen Treaty
  3. ^ League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. 2, pp. 8-19
  4. ^ Spitsbergen Treaty and Ratification (in Norwegian)
  5. ^ a b c d Alex G. Oude Elferink (1994). The Law of Maritime Boundary Delimitation: A Case Study of the Russian Federation. Martinus Nijhoff. pp. 230–231. 
  6. ^ a b Willy Østreng (1986). "Norway in Northern Waters". In Clive Archer & David Scrivener. Northern Waters: Security and Resource Issues. Routledge. pp. 165–167. 
  7. ^ Aftenposten, "USA snuser på Svalbard-olje" by Torbjørn Pedersen, page 14
  8. ^ Aftenposten, "USA snuser på Svalbard-olje" by Torbjørn Pedersen
  9. ^ "Treaty concerning the Archipelago of Spitsbergen, including Bear Island". Government of the Netherlands. Retrieved 1 March 2012. 


  • Moe, Arild; Schei, Peter Johan (2005-11-18). "The High North – Challenges and Potentials." (PDF). Prepared for French-Norwegian Seminar at IFRI, Paris, 24 November 2005. Fridtjof Nansen Institute ( Retrieved 2008-08-11. 

External links[edit]