How a cluster of islands near the North Pole offers tips for world peace

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Explainer: How a cluster of islands near the North Pole offers tips for world peace | fel_lewis

There’s a “very real danger” of running into polar bears in Svalbard, warns the official website for the Arctic tourist destination.

Other tourist drawcards to Svalbard include the midnight sun and polar nights – there is no daylight from November to February. “The aurora borealis may even appear at lunchtime,” says the tourism website. Even the way Svalbard has been run, since Count Wedel Jarlsberg of Norway and others signed a treaty on February 9, 1920, is unusual. Australia is a party to the Spitsbergen Treaty, which covers some 62,000 square kilometres of glacial islands and fjords dotted with walruses and snow geese. Far from being a relic of a post-World War I era, the treaty is still the subject of debate while also providing inspiration for resolving gnarly international tensions in 2020.

“Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Svalbard Treaty is that it creates the world’s most open migration zone, apart from possibly Antarctica,” says Andrew Simon-Butler from the Melbourne Social Equity Institute at the University of Melbourne. “This completely visa-free regime, which Norway voluntarily extends beyond treaty parties to all people, is coupled with a thriving international community, particularly in the capital of Longyearbyen.”Svalbard has roughly 2600 residents.

The connection between Svalbard and the South China Sea is not, at first, obvious. But, for Professor Rothwell and other international law experts, the Svalbard Treaty offers a useful precedent for sorting out territorial disputes. Professor Rothwell concedes that this idea has never been actively advanced by any of the countries with interests in the South China Sea.What might the treaty have to do with outer space?

 

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