Svalbard: International Relations in an Exceptionally International Territory
The Svalbard archipelago (also known as Spitsbergen) is an international relations hub and home to the world’s northernmost communities. After centuries of being regarded as terra nullius, Norway gained jurisdiction over Svalbard through the Svalbard Treaty of 1920. The Svalbard Treaty also granted rights to nationals of other states, most significantly the right to undertake economic activity on equal footing. In order to reinforce their territorial claims, Norway and the Soviet Union/Russia maintained mining towns in Svalbard for much of the twentieth century. Today, the Norwegian towns of Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund are economically dominated by Arctic tourism and scientific research, while the Russian town of Barentsburg remains a “company town.” The rise of new economic powers in Asia (particularly China), assertive Norwegian foreign policy, and economic liberalization have combined to make Svalbard a uniquely international territory, with citizens from dozens of countries contributing through their very presence to diplomatic claims on behalf of their home states. Svalbard remains at the crux of a series of international disputes between Norway, Russia, and other states, involving marine territory, military activity, and environmental protection. Svalbard’s community life and its role in international relations can only be understood with reference to one another.
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