190. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft) to President Ford1


  • United States Policy Toward Svalbard

I. Introduction

Norway’s most immediate foreign policy problem is the Svalbard archipelago, a group of islands athwart the Arctic Circle over which Norway was granted sovereignty by international treaty in 1920 and which are presently the subject of active negotiations with the Soviet Union. Spurred by negotiations with the USSR over the Barents Sea continental shelf and the international implications of oil exploration and exploitation there, the Norwegian Government is now formulating long-term policies toward the Svalbard/Barents Sea region. Aware of the interest of principal NATO Allies, including the United States, in the area for both strategic and economic reasons, Norwegian Foreign Minister Frydenlund suggested bilateral talks on Svalbard in his meeting with Secretary Kissinger in Helsinki last August. The subject was also raised in your meeting with King Olav V and Frydenlund last October.

Following these requests for bilateral consultations, we began a study to examine US economic and strategic interests in Svalbard, Alliance solidarity in relation to the issues of the region, and our preferred positions on related legal questions concerning law of the sea.

The Acting Chairman of the NSC Under Secretaries Committee has forwarded the completed interagency review of US interests in Svalbard and recommendations for US policy. An analytical summary of the response—in which State, Defense, Interior, FEA, CIA and the National Science Foundation participated—is at Tab B and the study itself is at Tab II. A map of the Svalbard area is at Tab C. The following paragraphs summarize the NSSM response.

II. Background

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Norway is negotiating with the Soviet Union to delineate the continental shelf between the USSR and Norway in the Barents Sea—which separates Norway from Svalbard (formerly called Spitsbergen). At stake is the right to exploit seabed resources in the contested area, thought to contain sizeable oil deposits. Additionally, Norway is concerned about the legal status of the Svalbard continental shelf, now at issue with all the other 1920 treaty signatories (of which there are now 41, including the U.S.). If the Svalbard shelf is determined to be an extension of Norway’s continental shelf, Norway would have exclusive right to exploit its seabed resources. If not, however, that right of exploitation would have to be shared with the other signatories.

United States interests in Svalbard are threefold. Politically, the area is of particular importance to Norway, one of our closest NATO allies, which seeks our support in its negotiations with the USSR. Additionally, it is in our interest to prevent Soviet encroachments in the Svalbard area, which is in the NATO region; such encroachments could affect stability in the North and give rise to active East-West confrontation in the area. Militarily, the Svalbard archipelago has significance by virtue of its proximity to the Soviet Kola peninsula—which provides the Soviet Northern Fleet the USSR’s only ice-free unrestricted access to the open ocean from European Russia—the importance of ice-free routes between the Barents and Norwegian Seas, and the possible use of these waters as patrol zones for ballistic missile submarines. Economically, the Svalbard area may have petroleum reserves as large as those of the North Sea or the United States—to which we legally have access as a signatory to the 1920 treaty.

The NSSM concludes that our interests in the northern area are better served by preventing Soviet encroachment and supporting the claims of a close NATO ally than by pressing to the limit our economic rights under the 1920 treaty. At the same time, we should be able to protect our economic rights in the area through bilateral arrangements with the Norwegians.

III. Recommended Next Steps

The principal conclusions of the NSSM response, in which all agencies concur, are:

The United States should seek to protect its economic and strategic interests on the Svalbard continental shelf and those of its Allies through guarantees by Norway (i.e., outside the provisions of the Spitsbergen Treaty) in the context of full acceptance of Norway’s sovereignty rights over the continental shelf. This approach would include maintaining our reservation of rights under the Spitsbergen Treaty to exploration and exploitation of mineral resources of the shelf while eliciting Norwegian views and [Typeset Page 607] plans for a regulatory regime to guide exploitation of petroleum resources in the Svalbard region. If these discussions show promise of a regime satisfactory to the US, we should consider consultations with Norway and other Treaty signatories to formulate guidelines for regulation of the shelf with, at a minimum, some form of assured access to the final product.

With regard to the exercise of sovereignty on Svalbard, the United States should be guided by Norway’s perception of its sovereignty needs. The US should counsel firmness in defense of Norway’s legitimate rights as the best means to secure those rights.

The United States should provide diplomatic support to Norway’s efforts to assert more vigorously its sovereignty on Svalbard through expressions of support for Norway by our allies and other treaty signatories, and démarches to the Soviets.

—The US should provide assurances to the Soviets that Norway seeks carefully delimited objectives without constraint on legitimate Soviet prerogatives. While démarches should draw on USUSSR mutual interest in relaxing tensions and maintaining stability in the northern area, it should be made clear that in any controversy with the Soviet Union, Norway does not stand alone.

—The US should urge Norway to continue to reject Soviet attempts to use the sector line approach to resolving their continental shelf boundary dispute. This approach would enhance other Soviet sector claims in the Arctic.

—To increase the non-Soviet presence on Svalbard, the US should undertake a program of expanded scientific effort in the region; additional funds should be provided for this increased activity as appropriate.

—Consideration should be given at a future time to a proposal for reciprocal USUSSR assurances in support of strict adherence to the principle of demilitarization of the Svalbard archipelago and its territorial waters; however, regardless of the regime eventually placed over the shelf, the demilitarization provision of the treaty should not be interpreted to limit US military activities offshore.

—An intelligence survey of present Soviet dispositions and activities in the Svalbard region should be carried out to provide a baseline against which to measure future Soviet activity.

In brief, the consensus expressed in the NSSM response is that US interests in the Svalbard area are best protected and advanced by supporting Norway’s efforts to assert more vigorously its sovereignty on Svalbard and by a negotiated resolution of the continental shelf issue in which Norway obtains the desired recognition of its sovereign rights but provides guarantees of access. The NSDM for your approval at Tab A would set forth the prin[Typeset Page 608]cipal US objectives in the Svalbard area and, in keeping with the recommendations of the NSSM response, would provide guidance for realizing those objectives.


That you approve the NSDM at Tab A.

  1. Summary: Scowcroft sought Ford’s approval of a NSDM on policy toward Svalbard.

    Source: Ford Library, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box 65, NSDM 325—United States Policy Toward Svalbard (1). Secret. Sent for action. Tab A is Document 191. Attached but not published is Tab B, an undated analytical summary of the response to NSSM 232; Tab C, a map of Svalbard and the surrounding Arctic seas; and Tab II, an April 7 memorandum from Sisco to Ford forwarding the report prepared in response to NSSM 232. The April 5 report is not attached, but is ibid., Box 65, NSDM 325—United States Policy Toward Svalbard (2). A stamped notation on Scowcroft’s memorandum indicates the President saw it. Ford initialed his approval of Scowcroft’s recommendation.