Speech/article | Published: 2006-05-15
Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre
Svalbard – an important arena
Article in Nordlys (newspaper, Tromsø, Norway), 15 April 2006
Translated from Norwegian
We listen carefully in our dialogues with our partners. But we also make it quite clear that there are some questions that are not up for discussion or negotiation.
In a few days’ time, the Nordic foreign ministers will be meeting in Svalbard. There are many good reasons for the choice of venue. Svalbard is an important part of Norway. It offers spectacular scenery. And the important political issues connected to sustainable resource management of the High North are right on our doorstep. This gives an important signal, and I am delighted therefore to be hosting this event in Svalbard. The visit of the Nordic foreign ministers will be an excellent opportunity to discuss the full range of issues relating to the High North as well as a number of other items on the international agenda, including the situation in the Middle East.
It is frequently claimed in the public debate that Norway’s role in Svalbard is only to manage the archipelago in the best interests of the world community, or of the parties to the Svalbard Treaty. This is wrong. Several possible solutions were discussed before the status of Svalbard was determined. One of these was just such a management role for Norway. But it was rejected in favour of granting Norway full and absolute sovereignty over the archipelago. Since 1925, Svalbard has been part of the Kingdom of Norway, and will continue to be so.
In accordance with the Svalbard Treaty, Norway is obliged to grant the parties to the treaty equal access to take part in the activities specified in the treaty. The Norwegian authorities set the rules for industrial operations in Svalbard. Within this framework, which includes the protection of the vulnerable natural environment, nationals from all the parties to the treaty are equally entitled to carry out industrial operations in the archipelago. Thus, Norway may not set any discriminatory rules. The prohibition against discrimination is not unique to Svalbard; other international agreements also contain prohibitions against discrimination in a number of areas.
The settlements in Svalbard have undergone considerable changes and are now more diverse and dynamic than ever before. This is a development we welcome. The archipelago is well situated for research into subjects such as climate change, the aurora borealis, deep sea currents and biological diversity. This, combined with state-of-the-art technological infrastructure and easy access, has made Svalbard a centre of excellence, attracting polar researchers from some 20 different countries. The facilities include the University Centre of Svalbard, which is an important arena for international cooperation on research and further education. The archipelago is and will continue to be at the top of the league in terms of Arctic research opportunities.
Modern-day tourists are drawn to exotic destinations. Svalbard is undeniably exotic. It offers opportunities to experience an Arctic environment with easy access and a level of comfort that many people now consider essential. We welcome tourists to Svalbard, but we also have to make sure that the main tourist attraction – the wild, unspoilt nature – remains just that. The Government wants Svalbard to be one of the world’s best preserved wilderness areas, and around 70 per cent of the archipelago is protected.
Coal mining is the Svalbard community’s oldest livelihood. The mines and the jobs they generate are an important part of the economic activity in Svalbard and help to maintain its settlements. The extraction of coal within the framework of the necessary environmental regulations will continue to be an important industry in Svalbard in the future.
I would also like to say a few words about the sea areas off Svalbard.
It was recently reported in the media that the UK has protested against Norway’s plans to establish an economic zone around Svalbard, where we now have a fisheries protection zone. This is not the case. The UK has put forward its views on the legal status of the sea areas outside Svalbard’s territorial waters. Some of these views coincide with ours, whereas others do not. We do however agree on the importance of responsible resource management, including in the sea areas around Svalbard, in accordance with the provisions of international law.
Norway wants to direct more attention to the common challenges in the High North. We have initiated a number of dialogues on these issues with states that have an interest in the region. As the need for energy continues to grow and the energy reserves in other areas continue to decline, the interest in this part of the world and its unexploited resources is increasing.
The fishery resources in the Barents Sea and the sea areas around Svalbard have been under pressure for a number of years from states with limited resources in their own waters. We listen carefully in our dialogues with our partners. But we also make it quite clear that there are some questions that are not up for discussion or negotiation. One of these is the question of Norway’s continued jurisdiction in accordance with international law and with a view to responsible management of resources.