861.24557H/1–1747: Telegram

The Ambassador in Norway (Bay) to the Secretary of State

us urgent

31. Following is abbreviated translation of Norwegian Foreign Office communiqué on Spitzbergen published here this morning:

“Contrary to will of Norwegian Government there appeared in world press during last few days reports of certain discussions which took place during war concerning Spitzbergen, Spitzbergen Archipelago.

Since these discussions were confidential Norwegian Government hitherto has considered itself unable report on them officially. However, because of nature of afore-mentioned newspaper reports Foreign Office feels it necessary issue following statement:

In fall 1944 Soviet Government broached to Norwegian Government, which was then in London, question of revision of Spitzbergen treaty of 1920. It pointed out that treaty was concluded without participation of Soviet Union and that it did not satisfactorily provide for either Soviet Union’s security or its other interests. Treaty was signed by two countries which fought on Germany’s side against Allies, namely, Italy and Japan.

War had disclosed importance of protecting supply routes over Arctic Sea and Soviet Union, therefore, wished to discuss, together with economic questions, question of joint measures concerning security of these areas. Soviet Union could not agree that treaty continued to remain in force.

Soviet Government stated it intended take question of revision up officially in regular manner but it felt obligated first to notify Norway which had sovereignty over islands. It was necessary to settle in entirely just fashion these questions which involved Norway’s and Soviet Union’s common defense interests as well as their economic interests. Regarding economic interests it was stated Norway would suffer no loss.

Norwegian Government in reply stated it was desirous of reaching solution which could contribute to strengthening still further good relations which had always existed between Norway and Soviet Union and which war had deepened. It was pointed out further that Norway had met with understanding declaration of Soviet Government, after [Page 1010] Spitzbergen treaty was signed in 1920, that it could in no way recognize as legally binding any solution of Spitzbergen question which was put into effect without Soviet Union’s participation. It was recalled further that not until Soviet Union had in its note of February 16, 19241 announced it recognized Norway’s sovereignty over Svalbard, including Bear Island, and therefore it would take no future exceptions to Spitzbergen treaty and organization of mines, that Norwegian Government asked Storting on February 22, 1924 to approve treaty so it could be ratified by Norway. In 1935 Soviet Union adhered to treaty without reservations.

It was clear to Norwegian Government that powerful political interests were involved. In defense of this region Norwegian and Allied ships were regularly traversing these waters and suffering heavy losses. Norwegian Government stated its understanding of viewpoint that war had put situation in new light.

However, under international law, defense dispositions could not be taken until treaty was revised. Article 9 in treaty binds Norway not to establish or permit establishment of naval bases or to build any fortifications in area which treaty covers and which must never be used for belligerent purposes. Norwegian Government stated, therefore, its belief, which it assumes other Allied powers which were parties to Spitzbergen treaty share, that article 9 either should be dropped or be replaced by new article which would permit military utilization of islands as regional link in universal security organization.

Norwegian Government declared itself willing to consider, together with Soviet Government, possibilities of agreement between Norway and Soviet Union on military utilization of islands. After further discussions between Soviet Foreign Minister and Norwegian Ambassador in Moscow2 Norwegian Government, in April 1945, stated it was willing to sign provisional joint declaration on matter. This would state, among other things, that Norwegian and Soviet Governments desired, with full maintenance of Norway’s sovereignty over Spitzbergen, to bring about joint arrangement for defense of islands which would serve to promote security of two countries and which could become link in development of international security organization.

Qualification was made that this arrangement should not come into effect until it received approval of American, British, Danish, French, Dutch and Swedish Governments. Norwegian Government also made reservation that arrangement must be accepted by Storting.

During discussions Norwegian Government maintained that for constitutional reasons it could not consider arrangement which might result in changing sovereignty of islands and Spitzbergen treaty could be abrogated only in accordance with international law. During provisional negotiations it was determined that two governments were agreed that any change in or abrogation of Spitzbergen treaty could take place only with consent of other signatory powers.

No joint declaration was signed. Great Britain and United States have been kept informed by Norway, with knowledge of Soviet Union, of negotiations between two countries and have given no expression of any reaction in connection with case.

[Page 1011]

After end of war there were no negotiations of any kind between two countries on Spitzbergen question until Foreign Ministers of Norway and Soviet Union conferred on matter in Paris in August 1946 and in New York in November 1946. After this Denmark, France, Holland und Sweden were informed as signatory powers.

During conversation in New York Foreign Minister Molotov expressed wish to take up negotiations. Case therefore is now under consideration in government and Storting.”

Repeated Moscow as 7.

Pass to War and Navy.3

  1. See footnote 7, p. 1005.
  2. Rolf Otto Andvord. In 1947 he was Secretary General of the Norwegian Foreign Office.
  3. This message was relayed to the War and Navy Departments on January 17, 1947, at 11:15 a. m.