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Home* News and Stories → 100 years Spitsbergen Treaty

100 years Spitsbergen Treaty

The Spitsbergen Treaty was signed exactly 100 years ago, on 09 February 1920, in Versailles. The contract secured suverenity over the Spitsbergen islands but includes several limitations. Click here to read more about the treaty itself on the page dedicated to the treaty within this website.

Spitzbergenvertrag: Wedel Jarlsberg, Paris 1920

Fredrik Wedel Jarlsberg, Norwegian ambassador in Paris,
signs the treaty on 09 February 1920 in Versailles.

The Spitsbergen Treaty was negotiated over several months in Versailles in 1919. Fredrik Wedel Jarlsberg was leading the negotiations on behalf of Norway, but others including Fridtjof Nansen had been part of the political work that had paved the way to the treaty over years.

Today, the treaty is often referred to as the Svalbard Treaty, but the original treaty text does not include the word “Svalbard” at all.

Overlapping private territorial by a number of mining companies from various countries had to be sorted before the treaty could enter force. This happened finally on 14 August 1925, when the “Svalbard law” (Svalbardloven) came into force in Norway, turning the treaty into national law.

The treaty is still in force. There are some disputes regarding the use of marine resources (fishing, oil, gas, other mineral resources) outside the 12 mile zone, but within the 200 mile zone around Svalbard. The concept of these zones was defined much later and they were not part of the treaty, which hence leaves room for different interpretations, depending on whom you ask. Norway claims that the principle of nondiscrimination (equal rights for everybody regardless of nationality) is valid only within the 12-mile zone, but claims exclusive rights in the 200-mile economical zone (outside the 12-mile zone). Other countries do not agree, namely Latvia which was up to now the last country that entered the Spitsbergen Treaty on 13 June 2016 (a few months after North Korea) and Russia. Russia’s ministry of foreign affairs has just recently again released a press note claiming to be unhappy about restrictions of Russian activities in Spitsbergen and expects Norway to accept bilateral talks, something that Norway has never accepted in the past.

Spitzbergenvertrag: Mitgliedsländer

Signatory countries in the Spitsbergen Treaty.

Today, 100 years after the treaty was signed in Paris on 09 February 1920, a number of events and lectures are dedicated to the treaty in Longyearbyen, Norway and other countries.

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last modification: 2020-02-09 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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