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The Northern political elite joins the protection zone


The following reader comments on the conflict between Norway and Russia in the Barents Sea were rejected by Aftenposten, correctly enough after the newspaper first said it would publish it. They argued that lack of space was the reason why they changed their minds. However, the newspaper has hardly published any critical post regarding the conflict, unlike, for example, Dagbladet. Still, one can hardly say that there has been any real debate about Norway's politics in the Svalbard area. The reason is the great power of what I call "the Northern political elite", cf. Terje Tvedt's phrase "the Southern political elite" (those who want Norwegian politics to revolve around the Third World, immigrants and asylum seekers). The Northern political elite consists of politicians, journalists, researchers and viewers who cheer in Norway in the northern areas. According to it, Norwegians have a divine right to rule and care for the area. Norway's motives are noble and selfless, the country only wants to protect the kind fish against the rude and irresponsible Russians and Icelanders. The Holy Protection Zone around Svalbard is, of course, perfectly legal and anyone who dares to criticize it should be put in the corner. Critical reader posts and chronicles are not published; one agrees and believes until the last cod is fished in the Barents Sea. Here's the post:

The Evening Post and the Svalbard Zone

Those who remember Norwegian media's coverage of the Smutthull conflict with Iceland should not be surprised that the media are cheering on Norway in the conflict with Russia. The unilateralism in the coverage of the Smutthull conflict was one of the darkest chapters in Norwegian media history. As recently as January 1998, NTB claimed that the Icelandic fishing in Smutthullet was "illegal", despite Norway admitting that the fishing took place in an open sea area. The Icelandic fishing there was admittedly both rude and reckless, but not illegal. Russian behavior in the Barents Sea is at least as bad. But it is not possible that Aftenposten hardly interviews the Russians and shows the case only from a Norwegian point of view. For example, journalist Halvor Tjønn complains that Western countries do not accept the zone as legal. The reason they don't do this is the prospect of financial gain, says Tjønn ("The Svalbard Zone of Norway's Achilles heel", Aftenposten 21/10). But these are ad hominem arguments, he criticizes the people who argue, but not their arguments. In plain text, this means that Tjønn suspects the people's motives, but does not mention their criticism of the protection zone. After all, they claim that there is no provision in international law to create such zones. At the time it is most natural to let the Svalbard treaty also apply to this area, says the Svalbard treaty countries. To make matters worse, Norway created the zone without consulting the other treaty countries. Furthermore, it seems strange that Norway has less rights in the 3-mile zone around Svalbard than in the area from 3 to 200 kilometers. It does not match the spirit of the law of the sea where rights diminish in proportion to distance from land.

Tjønn can say what he wants about this critique, but he cannot pretend that it does not exist. Moreover, his argument about economic motives is not very credible. The vast majority of the treaty countries have very limited interests in the area, what interests does Germany have there, for example? Tjønn should be honored for admitting that the vast majority of treaty countries refuse to accept the zone. Senior researcher Olav Schram Stokke does not do that in his article "The battle for predatory fishing in the north" (Aftenposten 22/10). He claims that the fishing zone "is not explicitly recognized by the states that fish in the area" (!!!!). Not a cliché about the fact that Norway has repeatedly tried to pressure these states to recognize the zone, but with a meager result. Only Finland and Canada have recognized it, Canada on the basis of a horse trade where the country recognized the zone against support in a fisheries conflict with Spain.

It remains to be hoped that Norwegian journalists, scientists and politicians will realize and begin to understand that the Barents Sea is not a Norwegian lake.


After writing this reader post, I discovered that Finland did not actually recognize the protection zone. The country has spoken with several tongues in the matter, the reason is simply that it has zero interests in the area. The Finns' refusal to be recognized is unlikely to be due to financial interests, the Finns are not known for their gas and oil companies. By the way, Tjønn has given me a good idea. I think the only explanation that Norway found in this with the protection zone was that as early as the seventies, people began to think that there was oil and gas in the area around Svalbard. If the Svalbard treaty had been applied to the 200-mile area around the island, then Norway would have had to share the oil and gas with the other treaty countries. If this is true then the "protection zone" only protects Norway's self-interest. However, I would like to point out that I have no idea whether this zone is legal or not. It would have been best if either the Hague Court or a specially appointed arbitration tribunal had decided this case.

Stefán Snævarr is Professor of Philosophy at Lillehammer University College.

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