In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. Spitsbergen is Number 36 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Spitsbergen (now more commonly known as Svalbard) is an archipelago located in the Arctic Ocean, north of Norway and east of Greenland. The book includes sections on physical and political geography, economic conditions, political history, and a concluding section of general observations. The section on political history summarizes the discovery and exploration of the islands and the involvement with them of Great Britain, Russia, and the Scandinavian countries. At the time the study was written, Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, and Russia all claimed sovereignty over or special commercial rights in the islands. The concluding section summarizes and evaluates these claims. In the Treaty of Spitsbergen, signed in 1920 at the conclusion of the Paris Peace Conference, the United States, Great Britain, Denmark, Italy, Japan, Norway, the Netherlands, and Sweden agreed that Spitsbergen was part of Norway, but that the islands should be demilitarized and that citizens of all signatory countries had the right to pursue economic activities on the islands. As discussed in the section on economic conditions, the most important of these activities was coal mining. Many other countries, including the Soviet Union (Russia), subsequently acceded to the Treaty Concerning the Archipelago of Spitsbergen (also called the Treaty of Svalbard), which remains in effect.

Last updated: July 21, 2014