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Speaking to Støre opposite

Norway claims a third of the sea area in Europe. None of the foreign ministers in the Svalbard treaty's signature country supports Norway's territorial ambitions.


[svalbard] – You possibly had a small incident with a fishing boat the other day. We are not completely in agreement with Norway on these questions, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs' press service answers the phone.

Constant fishing conflicts and Coast Guard hunting are just the beginning of trouble in the Barents Sea. Because what happens on the day someone wants to drill for oil around Svalbard? A bunch of unresolved issues are ready to explode. Ny Tid has contacted the 39 countries that have signed the Svalbard Treaty. None of the countries support Norwegian ambitions and policies in the waters around Svalbard, but several are cautious about speaking out. The loudest protest comes from Iceland. They receive a great deal of support from the EU, the USA, Russia and the Faroe Islands.

No support

The High North is high on the political agenda, with constant summits, unresolved boundaries and undiscovered energy resources. This summer comes a new episode in the thriller. Norway then sends its demands to the UN: That the Norwegian continental shelf continues past Svalbard, both westwards and eastwards – and as far as 85 degrees north. A quarter of the world's undiscovered energy resources can be found in the Arctic. The government also claims its right to turn the current protection zone around Svalbard into a Norwegian economic zone, which means that Norway will have a sovereign right to manage natural resources. Fish and oil are the most important contentious issues. The United States has not previously shown interest in fishing off Svalbard. The first thing the US State Department answers when Ny Tid asks is:

- Svalbard? Spitsbergen ?! Where is that?

When the ministry has had some time and discussed the matter among its lawyers, the tone is quite different. If there is oil or other valuables, the United States will demand its share: "The United States fully claims all rights the country has under the Treaty, including all possible rights with regard to the exploitation of any mineral resources on the continental shelf belonging to Svalbard," writes Amanda D. Rogers-Harper in the US State Department to Ny Tid.

When the Svalbard Treaty came into force in 1925, Norway was given sovereignty over Svalbard. However, all countries that signed the treaty in the period from 1921 to 1994 have equal rights to exploit the resources associated with the archipelago.

None of these unreservedly supports the Norwegian interpretation of the treaty. Norway also receives strong international criticism for having taken the initiative and established a separate protection zone around the archipelago in 1977. Previously, Norway has highlighted both Canada and Finland as supporters in its policy in the High North, but in talks with Ny Tid do not support these either. countries Norway directly.

Withdrawal for The Hague

Norway has a long tradition of conquering land and sea areas. Activities in the north started just after the divorce with Sweden in 1905, and after securing Svalbard, hijacked Norway Jan Mayen in 1929. Expansion westward continued with demands for large parts of East Greenland, but in 1933 Norway had to withdraw after judgment in The Hague. In Antarctica too, the desire for land and sea has been considerable.

"Norway is a fundamentalist coastal state that does not follow modern maritime law," the then Icelandic Foreign Minister Jón Hannibalsson told VG in 1994, the same year that Iceland signed the Svalbard Treaty.

Iceland has been arguing with the Norwegians since then. The Icelandic government believes that Norway has violated the provisions of the treaty on a number of occasions, and deliberately prevented others from accessing the fisheries protection zone in order to improve its own negotiating position – not least in connection with herring fishing. Iceland is protesting strongly against the fisheries protection zone established in 1977. In August 2004, the Icelandic government decided to begin preparations for a trial against Norway in the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The Icelandic authorities have obtained a legal statement from a foreign expert, and been in contact with a number of treaty countries. Several such discussions are planned, the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports.

Who owns the ocean?

Norway has also been in conflict with all the countries that have rights to fish at Svalbard. Each year, the Faroe Islands attach a note to the fisheries agreement with Norway, where they point out, among other things, that they do not agree that Norway unilaterally introduced regulations in the protection zone without first having raised the matter with the countries this affects. Alleged illegal fishing only reveals the peak of disagreements between Norway and the EU, Russia, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and other nations active in the zone. Now the temperature rises another notch. Oil and gas operations in the Barents Sea are becoming a much hotter potato. When the Svalbard Treaty was signed, it was not known that over 80 years later there could be enormous resources to collect on the shelf around Svalbard.

The diplomatic climate does not get any better because Norway claims that they now have the full right to transform the zone from the protection zone to the Norwegian economic zone. This reversal means that Norway alone can reap the fruits of the area's rich natural resources and in principle can shut other countries out. Most countries believe that the provisions of the Svalbard Treaty should apply in this area.

In line with the official Norwegian view, the associate professor at the University of Tromsø, Alf Håkon Hoel, believes that it is not right in international law that this area is international waters.

- Whether this area is governed by the Svalbard Treaty or the Norwegian economic zone, it is regardless of the Norwegian authorities' responsibility to manage the resources, says Hoel.

Hoel believes that Norway created a protection zone and not an economic zone in 1977 to avoid serious conflicts in a security-sensitive area.

"Creating an economic zone around coastal states is much more robust international law today," he says.

In Iceland's view, on the other hand, the Svalbard Treaty is the only basis for rights that Norway must have in the sea areas around Svalbard, both in terms of the economic zone requirement and the continental shelf.

- Norway's rights outside Svalbard can not be more comprehensive than Norway's rights on Svalbard, it is stated in the feedback from the Icelandic government.

Although the Foreign Ministry believes this is a matter between Norway and the UN, Iceland also sees it differently:

- The continental shelf around Svalbard belongs to Svalbard and not to mainland Norway, as the Norwegian authorities claim. Utilization of oil and gas deposits on the continental shelf around Svalbard is dependent on the provisions of the Svalbard Treaty, including the principle of equality, Iceland believes. Norway believes that the Svalbard Treaty applies to resources at sea, not on the shelf.

Massive countermeasures

The EU has not acceded to the Svalbard Treaty. Nevertheless, the conservation and management of fishery resources is within the EU's area of ​​responsibility. This also applies to the question of a coastal state's right to have resources in a given area. The EU has not raised the question of the rights to the shelf, but has been quite clear in its criticism of the fisheries protection zone.

The EU's principle legal position is to contest Norway's right to create a fishery protection zone around Svalbard.

- In practice, we tolerate Norway's administration – without this affecting our basic legal position, says the EU Commission.

Sweden, too, is skeptical of Norwegian policy in the protection zone.

- Sweden has never explicitly recognized Norway's interpretation of the fisheries protection zone. At the same time, there are important and complex reasons under international law that mean that we do not take a position either for or against. We are working fully on this issue now, it comes up in many contexts and touches on important issues between us as Nordic neighbors, says Erik Lindberg in the international law unit at the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The German government is in consultation with other countries now, including Norway, on these issues, which according to the German Foreign Ministry contain many complex legal and economic matters related to the Svalbard Treaty and the Convention on the Law of the Sea.

- Our common goal is to find a solution that combines a modern interpretation of the Svalbard Treaty with the legitimate economic interests of the interested parties in the case, says Stefan Bredohl in the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

These signature countries chose to respond to New Times inquiries: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark (Greenland, Faroe Islands), Estonia, Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Sweden, South Africa, Germany, USA , Austria and the EU.

- On safe ground


[international law] State Secretary Kjetil Skogrand says the Foreign Ministry does not care so much about what other countries think in this matter.

- I do not want to comment on other countries' positions. It is up to other countries what they may think. We have a thoroughly thought-out attitude, and stand on very, very secure ground under international law, says Skogrand to Ny Tid.

He says Norway is therefore prepared to face Iceland in The Hague, and is taking a possible trial with great calm.

- One thing is the law, another thing is politics?

- There are large resources in this area, and of course also many who have great interests in exploiting this, but we can not help but relate to international law, he says.

He says the issue of protection zone and the question of the shelf are completely separate issues.

- The protection zone covers the resources in the sea, but not on the seabed. The shelf is regulated by Norwegian shelf legislation. The ongoing mapping of the shelf is a purely scientific exercise. We will map where the deep sea begins. It is up to us what documentation we submit to the UN. If there are overlaps, we will have to solve this with relevant countries later.

- But Iceland thinks the shelf belongs to Svalbard and not Norway?

- Here, the Svalbard Treaty is unambiguous, it applies to the archipelago, but above sea level, says Skogrand.

- But which law will apply on the shelf then, if it does not belong to Norway, and the Svalbard Treaty does not apply?

- Regardless, we have the administrative authority.

- And if someone wants to start drilling for oil?

- It will be unacceptable and will have to be stopped. But this is a purely theoretical problem.

Will provide revenue to the UN


[risky] Director of the Norwegian Foreign Policy Institute (Nupi), Sverre Lodgaard, wants to share the goods around Svalbard and reminds us that the fall height for Norway is great.

- Norway is convinced that we have international law on our side, but in the sphere of power we stand alone, says Lodgaard, who believes we should discuss ways to consolidate our positions.

Paragraph 82 of the Law on the Law of the Sea states that up to seven per cent of the revenue from the utilization of resources in international waters, at great depths, should go to the common good of man, in practice through the UN.

- What if we proposed the same for the disputed zone around Svalbard? Instead of planning hard taxation, we could propose to give away some of the income from any oil and gas extraction in these areas, says Lodgaard, who believes such a proposal will make it more difficult to attack Norway's position.

He says that despite the fact that most international law lawyers in Norway believe that we have international law on our side, there are still different opinions about whether we will win a possible trial in The Hague.

- International law does not work in any political vacuum, and we have almost everyone against us, Lodgaard says.

- Is it reasonable to demand as much sea as we do?

- When we claim sovereignty and rights in almost 30 percent of Europe's total land and sea territory, and large parts of this area can prove to be resourceful, other countries will not cry unless everything is in our hands. It's not exactly a pity for us, says Lodgaard.

By Sigri Sandberg M., Jógvan H. Gardar and Tarjei Leer-Salvesen

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