Svalbard Treaty

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Svalbard Treaty
Treaty recognising the sovereignty of Norway over the Archipelago of Spitsbergen, including Bear Island
Traité reconnaissant la souveraineté de la Norvège sur l'archipel du Spitsberg, y compris l'île aux Ours
Ratifications of the treaty
Signed9 February 1920
LocationParis, France
Effective14 August 1925
ConditionRatification by all the signatory powers
Parties46[1] - See list
DepositaryGovernment of the French Republic
LanguagesFrench and English
Full text
Spitsbergen Treaty at Wikisource

The Svalbard Treaty (originally 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 restricts military uses of the archipelago, but it is not demilitarized.[2] The signatories were given equal rights to engage in commercial activities (mainly coal mining) on the islands.[3] As of 2024, Norway and Russia make use of this right.

Uniquely, the archipelago is an entirely visa-free zone under the terms of the Svalbard Treaty.[4]

The treaty was signed on 9 February 1920 and submitted for registration in the League of Nations Treaty Series on 21 October 1920.[5] There were 14 original High Contracting Parties: Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands,[6] Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom (including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and India), and the United States.[7] Of the original signatories, Japan was the last to ratify the treaty on 2 April 1925, and the treaty came into force on 14 August 1925.[8]

Many additional nations acceded to the treaty after it was ratified by the original signatories, including several before it came into force. As of 2024, there are 46 parties to the treaty.[1]

Name of the treaty[edit]

The original treaty is titled the Treaty recognising the sovereignty of Norway over the Archipelago of Spitsbergen. It refers to the entire archipelago as Spitsbergen, which had been the only name in common usage since 1596 (with minor variations in spelling). In 1925, five years after the conclusion of the treaty, the Norwegian authorities proceeded to officially rename the islands "Svalbard". This new name was a modern adaptation of the ancient toponym Svalbarði, attested in the Norse sagas as early as 1194. The exonym Spitsbergen subsequently came to be applied to the main island in the archipelago.[9][10] Accordingly, in modern historiography the Treaty of Spitsbergen is commonly referred to anachronistically as the Svalbard Treaty to reflect the name change.[citation needed]


The archipelago was discovered by the Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz in 1596.[11] It was named Spitsbergen, meaning 'sharp-peaked mountains' (literally 'spits-berg'). It was uninhabited.[12] The islands were renamed in the 1920s by Norway as Svalbard.[13]

Spitsbergen/Svalbard began as a territory free of a nation, with 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 sovereignty disputes between England, the Netherlands and Denmark–Norway in the first half of the 17th century.[14] By the 20th century mineral deposits were found on the main island and continual conflicts between miners and owners created the need for a government.[15]


The Spitsbergen Treaty was signed in Paris on 9 February 1920, 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:[7]

  • 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: Taxes are allowed 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 mainland Norway directly. 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 favour any residents of any given nationality. Russia has exercised this right of residency and in 2022 announced new investment plans to support its presence at Barentsburg and Pyramiden.[16]
  • Military restrictions: Article 9 prohibits naval bases and fortifications and also the use of Svalbard for war-like purposes. Norway interprets this provision as still permitting access to the territory by the Norwegian Armed Forces to exercise sovereignty and protect the environment. This largely encompasses visits by Norwegian military forces, particularly Norwegian Coast Guard vessels, to the territory. However, certain other signatory states, particularly Russia, dispute this interpretation. Notably, while Norway maintains that it has exclusive rights under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to the continental shelf around Svalbard, Russia rejects this position. Russia also objects to Norwegian or NATO military activities around Svalbard which, Russia claims, undermine the treaty’s military restrictions.[17]

Disputes regarding natural resources[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.[18][19] In 1977, Norway established a regulated fishery in a 200 nautical miles (370 km) zone around Svalbard (though it did not close the zone to foreign access).[18] Norway argues that the treaty's provisions of equal economic access apply only to the islands and their territorial waters (four 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.[19] 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.[18] Finland and Canada support Norway's position, while most of the other treaty signatories have expressed no official position.[18] 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)

"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. 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.[20]


A list of parties[21] is shown below; the dates below reflect when a nation deposited its instrument of ratification or accession.[1][22] Some parties are successor states to the countries that joined the treaty, as noted below.

Country Date of ratification Notes
Afghanistan 23 November 1929
Albania 29 April 1930
Argentina 6 May 1927
Australia 29 December 1923 Extension by the United Kingdom.
Austria 12 March 1930
Belgium 27 May 1925
Bulgaria 20 October 1925
Canada 29 December 1923 Extension by the United Kingdom.
Chile 17 December 1928
China 1 July 1925 Acceded as the Republic of China. Both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China claim to be the successor or continuing state, but as of 2024 all other parties to the treaty recognize only the People's Republic of China.
Czech Republic 21 June 2006 Czechoslovakia acceded to the treaty on 9 July 1930. On 21 June 2006, the Czech Republic stated that it considered itself bound to the treaty since its independence on 1 January 1993, as a successor state.
Denmark 24 January 1924 Extension to the entire Danish Realm.
Dominican Republic 3 February 1927
Egypt 13 September 1925
Estonia 7 April 1930
Finland 12 August 1925
France 6 September 1924
Germany 16 November 1925 Acceded as the Weimar Republic. On 21 October 1974, East Germany stated that it also reapplied the treaty since 7 August 1974. East Germany reunited with West Germany in 1990.
Greece 21 October 1925
Hungary 29 October 1927
Iceland 31 May 1994
India 29 December 1923 Extension by the United Kingdom.
Ireland 29 December 1923 Ireland was part of the United Kingdom when the latter signed the treaty, but most of Ireland left the United Kingdom and formed the Irish Free State before the treaty was ratified. On 15 April 1976, Ireland stated that it also applied the treaty since its ratification by the United Kingdom.
Italy 6 August 1924
Japan 2 April 1925
Latvia 13 June 2016
Lithuania 22 January 2013
Monaco 22 June 1925
Netherlands 3 September 1920 Extension to the entire Kingdom of the Netherlands.
New Zealand 29 December 1923 Extension by the United Kingdom.
North Korea 16 March 2016
Norway 8 October 1924
Poland 2 September 1931
Portugal 24 October 1927
Romania 10 July 1925
Russia 7 May 1935 Acceded as the Soviet Union. On 27 January 1992, Russia declared that it continued to apply the treaties concluded by the Soviet Union.
Saudi Arabia 2 September 1925 Acceded as the Kingdom of Hejaz.
Slovakia 21 February 2017 Czechoslovakia acceded to the treaty on 9 July 1930. On 21 February 2017, Slovakia stated that it considered itself bound to the treaty since its independence on 1 January 1993, as a successor state.
South Africa 29 December 1923 Extension by the United Kingdom.
South Korea 11 September 2012
Spain 12 November 1925
Sweden 15 September 1924
Switzerland 30 June 1925
United Kingdom 29 December 1923 Extension to Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa. Ireland also applied the treaty since its ratification by the United Kingdom.
United States 2 April 1924
Venezuela 8 February 1928

The parliament of Turkey approved the treaty in October 2023,[23] followed by the president's assent in December 2023,[24] but as of April 2024 the government had not yet deposited its accession.[1]

Yugoslavia also acceded to the treaty on 6 July 1925, but, as of 2024, none of its successor states have declared to continue application of the treaty.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Treaties and agreements of France" (in French). Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France (depositary country). Retrieved 8 April 2024.
  2. ^ Jensen, Øyvind (2020). "The Svalbard Treaty and Norwegian Sovereignty". Arctic Review on Law and Politics. 11. Cappelen Damm: 82–107. ISSN 2387-4562. JSTOR 48710626. Retrieved 21 January 2023.
  3. ^ Berg, Roald (2023), Howkins, Adrian; Roberts, Peder (eds.), "The Genesis of the Spitsbergen/Svalbard Treaty, 1871–1920", The Cambridge History of the Polar Regions, Cambridge University Press, pp. 354–377, doi:10.1017/9781108555654.015, ISBN 978-1-108-42993-1
  4. ^ Immigrants warmly welcomed, Al Jazeera, 4 July 2006.
  5. ^ League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. 2, pp. 8–19
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ a b "Original Spitsbergen Treaty". Archived from the original on 2 July 2017. Retrieved 8 August 2021.
  8. ^ Spitsbergen Treaty and Ratification (in Norwegian)
  9. ^ "Norwegian place names in polar regions". Norwegian Polar Institute.
  10. ^ "History – Spitsbergen – Svalbard".
  11. ^ Grydehøj, Adam (2020), "Svalbard: International Relations in an Exceptionally International Territory", The Palgrave Handbook of Arctic Policy and Politics, Springer International Publishing, pp. 267–282, doi:10.1007/978-3-030-20557-7_17, ISBN 978-3-030-20556-0, S2CID 211340284 Alt URL
  12. ^ Torkildsen, Torbjørn; et al. (1984). Svalbard: vårt nordligste Norge (in Norwegian). Oslo: Forlaget Det Beste. p. 30. ISBN 82-7010-167-2.
  13. ^ Umbreit, Andreas (2005). Guide to Spitsbergen. Bucks: Bradt. pp. XI–XII. ISBN 1-84162-092-0.
  14. ^ Torkildsen (1984), pp. 34–36
  15. ^ Arlov, Thor B. (1996). Svalbards historie (in Norwegian). Oslo: Aschehoug. pp. 249, 261, 273. ISBN 82-03-22171-8.
  16. ^ Rosen, Kenneth (17 December 2022). "A Battle for the Arctic Is Underway. And the U.S. Is Already Behind". Politico. Retrieved 18 August 2023.
  17. ^ Wither, James (8 September 2021). "Svalbard: NATO's Arctic 'Achilles' Heel'". Per Concordiam. Retrieved 16 August 2023.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ a b Willy Østreng (1986). "Norway in Northern Waters". In Clive Archer & David Scrivener (ed.). Northern Waters: Security and Resource Issues. Routledge. pp. 165–167.
  20. ^ Aftenposten, "USA snuser på Svalbard-olje". Torbjørn Pedersen, p. 14
  21. ^ Traktaten er tiltrådt av Afghanistan, Albania, Argentina, Australia, Belgia, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Danmark, Den Dominikanske Republikk, Egypt, Estland, Finland, Frankrike, Hellas, India, Island, Italia, Japan, Kina, Latvia, Litauen, Monaco, Nederland, New Zealand, Nord-Korea, Norge, Polen, Portugal, Romania, Russland, Saudi Arabia (Hedjaz), Spania, Storbritannia, Sveits, Sverige, Sør-Afrika, Sør-Korea, Tsjekkia, Tyskland, Ungarn, USA, Venezuela og Østerrike // Traktat mellem Norge, Amerikas Forente Stater, Danmark, Frankrike, Italia, Japan, Nederlandene, Storbritannia og Irland og de britiske oversjøiske besiddelser og Sverige angående Spitsbergen [Svalbardtraktaten], Rettet 28.04.2022 (tegnsetting i lister tilpasset universell utforming) (norw.)
  22. ^ "Treaty concerning the Archipelago of Spitsbergen, including Bear Island". Government of the Netherlands. Retrieved 19 February 2019.
  23. ^ "TBMM Genel Kurulu'nda uluslararası anlaşmalara ilişkin 3 kanun teklifi kabul edildi" [3 legislative proposals regarding international agreements were accepted in the General Assembly of the Turkish Grand National Assembly] (in Turkish). Anadolu Agency. 4 October 2023.
  24. ^ "Karar Sayısı 8027" [Decision number 8027] (PDF) (in Turkish). Official Gazette of Turkey. 29 December 2023.

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