Century-Long Evolution of the Svalbards Legal Regime: Unresolved Issues

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2020-64-12-123-132
A. Todorov (atodorov85@gmail.com),
Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO), 23, Profsoyuznaya Str., Moscow, 117997, Russian Federation

Abstract. Despite ongoing turbulence in international relations, Arctic is reasonably considered to be a region of stability. This is possible not least due to a state of legal certainty in the region, which enables the Arctic governance to be predictable and transparent. Some topical issues, however, remain unsolved. One of them is the Svalbard case. By signing the Paris Treaty 1920, the parties recognized Norway’s sovereignty over the archipelago with several restrictions granting other signatories equal rights to engage in commercial activities on the islands, a special taxation regime, etc. However, since the times of the Treaty, the world economy and the international law had been actively developing, with fishing interests of coastal states and technologies for deep-seabed mining emerging. Such legal notions as Exclusive Economic Zones and Continental Shelf were adopted after 1920, and certainly could not have been regulated by the Paris Treaty. This rose the question of applicability of the Svalbard Treaty to the maritime zones off the islands, causing significant international attention and controversies. Since the late 1970s, Norway has been insisting that the provisions of the Treaty do not apply to the existing and potential maritime zones off Svalbard. Russia, Iceland, Spain, UK and some other countries disagree. The issue of maritime boundaries of the 1920 Treaty remains unsolved. It is obvious though, that the absence of a clear regulatory regime for fishing and deep-seabed mining in Svalbard’s waters is not in the interests of the Arctic states (especially in case of joint fish stocks of the Arctic Ocean). That is why it would be reasonable if the Arctic countries initiate informal consultations with other stakeholders. Though one should not expect fast achievements of this process, any positive and constructive advance would in the end contribute to strengthening the legal certainty and predictability for this region.

Keywords: Arctic, Svalbard, international cooperation, Svalbard Treaty, UNCLOS, fishery, exploitation of seabed resources, continental shelf, exclusive economic zone


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For citation:
Todorov A. Century-Long Evolution of the Svalbards Legal Regime: Unresolved Issues . World Eonomy and International Relations, 2020, vol. 64, no. 12, pp. 123-132. https://doi.org/10.20542/0131-2227-2020-64-12-123-132

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