Nov. 8, 2018
High North and High Stakes: The Svalbard Archipelago Could be the Epicenter of Rising Tension in the Arctic
500 nautical miles north of the city of Tromsø, off of the northern cape of Norway, lies the Svalbard Archipelago; a collection of islands nearly one fourth the size of continental Norway with a unique history and an even more unique status under international law. Since its official discovery in the mid-1500s Svalbard has generally been an area of peace and cooperation due in large part to its location on the fringes of civilization. However, Svalbard’s tranquility has been punctuated by periods of competition and conflict when profitable resources are at stake. From whaling in the 1700s, coal in the late 1800s, and fishing in the present, profit from natural resources has been a consistent driver of instability in the area. Outside of resource-driven tension, the island chain spent most of its pre–20th century existence as a de facto “no man’s land” or global commons, ungoverned by any one nation.