100 Years of the Svalbard Treaty

Mr Andrew Simon-Butler1

1Melbourne Social Equity Institute, The University Of Melbourne, Australia

Alongside the 60th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty, we sit on the eve of another polar law milestone with almost 100 years since the signing of the Svalbard Treaty in February 1920. This longstanding multilateral treaty creates a unique governance regime for this Arctic archipelago, consisting of six key features. These being – 1) Freedom of movement and access; 2) Equal use, treatment and employment/commerce rights; 3) Demilitarisation; 4) Administrative sovereignty over territory and resources; 5) Local use of tax revenue and 6) Environmental protection. With close to a century of state practice, including a history of effective Norwegian administration and peaceful coexistence with the largely autonomous Russian settlements located on Svalbard, this treaty and the model it establishes can be viewed as an exemplar of effective and equitable governance in the polar regions. This paper not only examines each of these six key features of the ‘Svalbard Model’, but also its potential applicability as an analogue for other regions of special territorial status where future civilian settlements may be built, such as the Antarctic Peninsula. As possibly the most accessible, prosperous, demilitarised and internationally diverse location above the Arctic Circle, Svalbard under its almost 100-year-old treaty warrants scholarly attention.


Andrew Simon-Butler is an Australian Lawyer, Australian Registered Migration Agent and Barrister and Solicitor of the Law Society of Ontario. He works in a research capacity for the Melbourne Social Equity Institute at the University of Melbourne, where he undertakes legal research into human rights and public international law generally. In addition to polar law, he also publishes in the areas of international space law and international migration law. He has previously worked for the International Space University in both Ireland and Australia, the Australian Departments of Defence and Immigration and for an Australian Senator.

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