The Svalbard Treaty was signed in Paris on 9 February 1920. The treaty provides for Norwegian sovereignty over Svalbard, while at the same time providing for certain rights for the other signatories.
Since the seventeenth century, people from many countries have been involved in Svalbard within fields such as whaling, fishing, research, mining and tourism. For a long time, they went about their business in a land that did not belong to any particular state. Svalbard was an international free-for-all, meaning that there were no rules, no regulations, no tribunals to solve conflicts. The situation was workable as long as activities were limited to whaling and research, for the area was large and conflicts rare.
Introduction of Regulation
In the early twentieth century, mining, not least, called for new rules. Exclusive ownership of land became an issue when mineral deposits were found. Now the need for legislation and courts to solve conflicts between miners and owners, for instance, became apparent.
After several failed efforts to satisfy such needs, a settlement was eventually reached during the Versailles negotiations after WWI. It was signed on 9 February 1920, though it only came into effect with the Svalbard Act, on 14 August 1925. The initial name of the Treaty was "Treaty between Norway, the USA, Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Ireland and the British Overseas Dominions and Sweden with regard to Svalbard".
Svalbard is part of Norway
The treaty establishes Norway's full and undivided sovereignty over Svalbard. Svalbard is part of the Kingdom of Norway, and it is Norway that ratifies and enforces the legislation that is to apply for the archipelago. Nevertheless, the treaty does include some conditions restricting the enactment of Norwegian sovereignty, and Norwegian authorities are required to see to it that Norwegian legislation and administration respect these conditions.
Citizens and companies from all treaty nations enjoy the same right of access to and residence in Svalbard. Right to fish, hunt or undertake any kind of maritime, industrial, mining or trade activity are granted to them all on equal terms. All activity is subject to the legislation adopted by Norwegian authorities, but there may be no preferential treatment on the basis of nationality.
Article 8 establishes that collected taxes, dues and fees may only benefit Svalbard. Norway may not exercise its authority to acquire any income other than that which is needed for the administration of Svalbard. In practical terms, this means that income taxes are lower in Svalbard than they are on the mainland; nor does Svalbard have any value-added-tax or any other taxes aimed to augment State revenues. Revenues and expenses from the administration of Svalbard are budgeted separately, in the Svalbard budget.
According to article 9, Norway is required to make sure that no fortresses or naval bases are established. Svalbard may not be used for martial purposes. Norwegian military presence in Svalbard is very slight, consisting mainly of coast guard surveillance. Foreign military presence is unwelcome.
The treaty imposes the obligation, on Norway, to protect Svalbard's natural environment.
Parties to the Treaty
A total of 43 countries are registered as parties to the Svalbard treaty: Afghanistan, Albania, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, India, Iceland, Italy, Japan, China, Latvia, Lithuania, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, North Korea, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, the UK, Switzerland, Sweden, South Africa, South Korea, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, the USA, Venezuela, Austria.