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Conflict going on in the north

Norway wants the shelf around Svalbard for itself, but there are more about the leg.


On August 14, it is 80 years since Norway gained sovereignty over Svalbard. This sovereignty was recognized in the Svalbard Treaty, which came into force on August 14, 1925. To date, 39 states have signed the treaty, including Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and China.

Until 1920, the archipelago had been no-man's land. Sweden had already started mining in Svea, but was not really interested in the ownership of the archipelago. The driving forces to support a treaty were to prevent Norwegian sovereignty og possibly shut other countries out, Professor Roald Berg pointed out in a chronicle recently. In 1906, the Storting had closed the country by means of the concession laws, and Norway was also aggressive in the northern areas. In the 1920s, we were in quarrel with Russia / the Soviet Union over ownership of the land of Francis Joseph. We also annexed Bouvet Island in 1929, Peter I Island in 1933 and Queen Maud's Land in Antarctica in 1939.

Despite Norwegian unrestricted sovereignty over Svalbard, the treaty gives citizens and companies from all treaty countries equal rights to access and stay in Svalbard. They must be able to conduct fishing, fishing and all kinds of maritime, industrial, mining and trade activities on equal terms and no one can be treated differently on the basis of nationality

- When it comes to the relationship to Norwegian sovereignty on Svalbard, there is nothing in the treaty that presupposes that we have any kind of activity on the archipelago. Norwegian sovereignty is given in an international treaty, so under international law, sovereignty is eternal. Nevertheless, it has been seen as politically desirable to have a continuous financial commitment, which until recently has been willing to subsidize, says Professor Willy Østreng, head of the Center for Basic Research and former director at Fridtjof Nansen's Institute. And adds:

- This is definitely a survival from the Cold War. And even though one can formally discontinue the activity today, this is not a current issue, Østreng points out.

Continental shelf?

Fishing, trapping and mining have so far been the main component of the commercial operations in Svalbard. The Norwegian fishing protection zone of 200 nautical miles is not recognized by any other state, but has a regulatory effect on fishing.

On January 1, 2004, the territorial boundary of the archipelago was extended from 4 to 12 nautical miles. Within this zone, the rules that apply to Svalbard in general apply, and thus give all parties to the treaty equal rights. On the other hand, it has not been clarified whether Svalbard is entitled to an economic zone of 200 nautical miles, as any sovereign state has under current ocean law. An economic zone gives the state concerned full financial sovereignty and is limited only if the zone is in conflict with another state's zone. Then the centerline principle is usually used, as it is done in the North Sea.

In addition to these regulations comes the principle of continental shelf. The continental shelf is defined as a shallower sea area that surrounds the mainland. The UN is currently working to define at what depth a continental shelf ends and the international ocean begins.

For Svalbard, this question has been of little relevance, because the fisheries protection zone has regulated fishing and in the oil industry it has not been possible to make withdrawals under such climatic conditions. Today, the situation is changing. Russia has in recent years conducted seismic surveys along the east coast, also outside the 12-mile border. If petroleum resources are detected in areas between 12 km and 200 km, the rights to these areas will have to be clarified.

Unresolved problem

Norway has full and unrestricted sovereignty over resources within the 200-mile zone, although no economic zone has been established, states Professor Geir Ulfstein, director of the Norwegian Center for Human Rights at the University of Oslo.

- There is little doubt that Norway has control over the areas between 12 and 200 nautical miles, in the same way as on our own mainland shelf. The question is whether the Svalbard Treaty's requirements for equal treatment, the special tax rules and the mining scheme apply to this area, Ulfstein emphasizes.

- It is an unsolved problem, if other signatory states should sometime in the future want access to oil from a future economic zone around Svalbard. Then I would think Norway chooses the line of negotiation with affected parties, rather than taking the case to court in The Hague. Even if Russia does not recognize The Hague, a court ruling against Norway will clearly weaken our role in the area, Østreng points out.

And Norway has so far not wanted to assign Svalbard its own continental shelf.

- Norway uses two arguments to justify that the treaty does not apply to these areas. First, Norway assumes that Svalbard does not have its own continental shelf. Secondly, Norway bases its interpretation on the Svalbard Treaty's provision that the principle of equal treatment applies only within the archipelago's territorial waters, ie 12 nautical miles, and not on the continental shelf outside the territorial waters and in the 200-mile economic zone, says Ulfstein.

The Norwegian continental shelf thus extends further north than Svalbard according to the authorities. Should Norway be awarded this shelf, we would have supreme rights throughout this area, with the exception of the 12 mile zone around Svalbard. The alternative is that Svalbard is assigned its own 200-mile zone, bounded by Norway and Russia by the centerline principle.


And that's now it is starting to rush, especially due to two factors: The technology for petroleum extraction in the Arctic is available, and there is an ever-growing tug of war over the world's remaining oil resources.

Some believe the oil is about to change him; from being something of a war om, to become something of a war with. This was recently confirmed when the partially state-owned Chinese oil company CNOOC attempted to buy US Unocal. Despite their bid $ 1 billion higher than rival Chevron, the Chinese did not win. The US Congress promised CNOOC trouble if the company did not withdraw the bid. It was argued that oil has become one arms, which can be used in a future war, despite the fact that Unocal controls only 1 percent of the US total oil resources.

With rising Russian oil exports from Murmansk, the Norwegian Snøhvit project on the way and the promising Stockman field on the Russian side, the countries in the area will experience a steady stream of new enthusiasts.

Not least the United States. It has been pointed out numerous times that Norway must play a more active role in relation to the contacts that are now being made. The horror scenario has been: Russia is partnering with the US and / or the EU as oil and gas buyers, and Norway is on the sidelines and can only count the supertankers passing by during the winter storm.

This is more than a scenario, points out Willy Østreng.

- This is very much a reality. The new American energy legislation is precisely aimed at making the United States less dependent on the Middle East, and thereby less vulnerable. The law lays down guidelines for looking for new areas to extract oil from, in its own territory and elsewhere. And now the first oil cargoes from the Russian High North have been sent to the USA, Østreng states.

Should there be a drag match between the US and the EU to be Russia's first lover, this puts Norway in yet another dilemma. As a loyal supporter of the United States, it would be natural to stand up for the old ally. And even if Norway were to remain outside the EU, it would still include our closest neighbors and most important trading partners. Some have argued that an EU membership would solve this dilemma.

Invite China

In April, Vice Admiral Rolf E. Pedersen led in the pen a report from the Norwegian Defense College Association, called Challenges in the Barents Sea area. The report describes the need for long-term, balanced agreements with the four or five most powerful states in the world. In this context, China is also mentioned.

- Do you think China should be more involved in relation to Svalbard, in order to balance other, powerful players?

- This is connected with China's growing need for petroleum, and that China is on its way to becoming a great power. There are two aspects here: we have oil, and China can become a current buyer of this. We can involve the Chinese through long-term agreements in several areas. In general, it is difficult in Norway to involve trade policy in foreign policy, but when it comes to the High North, we should perhaps involve Chinese companies in petroleum extraction. At the same time, we see today that Russia and the United States have good cooperation, but we do not know how this will develop. Should there be a conflict between the two, Russia could turn the oil flow eastwards, and focus on China as a buyer instead. This increases the country's interests in the area, Pedersen points out. China also established a research station on the archipelago last year.

The report also points out that we must be prepared to share the riches in the Barents Sea with others, in order to achieve robust alliances.

- If others are to support Norway in a crisis situation, then we must ensure that other countries have some interest in it. We ensure this best by having direct financial interests. The extraction of oil in the north is of great importance to the USA and several heavy EU countries. I believe we can achieve win-win situations, both vis-à-vis the United States, Russia and others, says Pedersen.

Pedersen believes to a lesser extent that NATO can no longer play an equally important role in the areas as before.

- NATO of today is more diluted than before, although Article 5 (an attack on one NATO country is an attack on all) still applies. The United States will be reluctant to come to Norway's rescue in a budding conflict with Russia. Oil means more to the United States than that, and in such a conflict, the United States will take Russia's side, Pedersen believes.

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