Europe's Northernmost Frontier

Courtesy Reuters

THE Spitsbergen archipelago--the northernmost frontier of Europe--was proclaimed an integral part of the Kingdom of Norway on August 14, 1925. This was in accord with the Paris Treaty of 1920. The nations which signed the Treaty, among them the United States, hoped that by awarding the area to Norway they would put an end to ancient conflicts, and that its future would be secure in the hands of a peaceful country. They made but two major stipulations: that the signing nations should have continued access to their economic interests there, and that the archipelago, to which the Norwegians gave its Norse name Svalbard, was not to be fortified.

For a quarter century Norway has scrupulously honored the treaty. No fortifications have been built in Svalbard. But today the Norwegians there are outnumbered three to one by Russians who have been sent into the region, ostensibly as coal miners, since 1947. Secrecy surrounds the Russian activities. However, coal mining is obviously not the only activity of the Soviet settlers; although there are three times as many Russians as Norwegians, they succeed in producing only a third as much coal--about 100,000 tons a year. The Russians are established about Isfiord, the main settlement area, in such a fashion that they could take over Svalbard "any morning before breakfast." These developments have been little remarked upon, but they are noteworthy, for an attack on unfortified Svalbard would directly involve the United States under the terms of the Atlantic Pact.

Svalbard, which in old Norse means "land with the cold coasts," comprises a number of islands roughly 39,000 square miles in area, or one-fifth the size of Norway, lying 360 nautical miles off the north coast of Scandinavia and within 600 miles of the North Pole. It straddles a branch of the Gulf Stream, and as a result for six months of the year West Spitsbergen, the main island, is in contact with the rest of the world by open water--a unique attribute among Arctic areas. Svalbard is less than an hour by

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