Developments over the last decade have created new challenges for execution of Norwegian sovereignty over the Svalbard islands. The radical downsizing of coal mining has been rapid and has affected the composition of the Norwegian community that has become increasingly dominated by tourism, with a large share of the employees being non-Norwegian.

Russia’s fundamental interests on Svalbard are stable: keeping a presence, aiming for special treatment, but not undermining the Svalbard treaty regime. Frictions with Norwegian authorities are related to Russia’s plans to diversify away from increasingly loss-making coal mining into tourism and research support, where Norwegian environmental legislation and restrictions on helicopters are obstacles. The positions of various states on the status of the maritime zones and the continental shelf around Svalbard have not changed much, but the appearance of the snow crab – a sedentary species – on the shelf provoked a legal dispute where the EU reluctantly became involved.

In the fresh of the press High North edition of the Norwegian journal Internasjonal politikk, Øystein Jensen and Arild Moe elaborates on this topic.