The Grey Zone: The disputed area in the Barents Sea is once again a "hot" topic. Why?

Essay by monica8982000University, Bachelor'sB+, October 2005

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In January 1978 a newly defined sea area in the north in between Norway and Russia was created. The area got the name "Grey Zone", and has a rather complicated and interesting history until this date. The Grey Zone agreement was controversial and comprehended the ongoing struggle between the USSR and the western world, involving the US. I will describe this by looking at some key points, mostly concerning how history shaped this area and additionally its status today. As the essay develops I will furthermore look into some questions which help define the process. Why were the political struggle and today's reason for an agreement not central at that time? And why is it once again topical? Was the agreement fair in the first place? Is there any near future solution?

In the 1970s the relationship between the USSR, now Russia, and the US was rather tense. The Cold War between the two super-powers was ongoing, and Norway was in the middle of it all.

Norway's strategic position to the USSR Naval bases in the north was central in matter of the US defence policy, and Norway was therefore strongly supported by the US. Nevertheless the area of the Grey Zone was not central in the issue of the Russian Navy's sailing pattern, neither was it substantial to their ongoing exercises. It was unconditionally a question of political power, and thereby to not give into another nation demands. Despite the fact that Norway was closely supported by the US, the USSR still had more influence throughout the negotiations. Partly by reason of their military and political power, besides the US would not risk more instability for this kind of matter.

The dilemma of deciding the border structure and geographical lines was mainly concerning which kind of rules or principles to follow. The USSR had earlier stated the ownership of the north polar area after the principle of geographical sector (a line striate up to the North Pole), and claimed the same principle which goes back to the year of 1926, also to be used in this case. Norway claimed the area to be shared according to a middle-line principal, in other words, divide the area in the middle without the considerations of geographical position. In the south of Norway, The North Sea is divided after the middle-line principle between UK, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, Holland and France. This is also described in the Convention of the Continental-Field from International Sea Court of 1958. The principle was introduced in 1945 after President Harry Trumann of US claimed the rights for the US Continental-Field. It all ended in the international convention of 1958 which was supposed to regulate future agreements and guide disputes from the past. Referring to Article 6 of the International Convention; " less special circumstances making an exception, the middle-line principle is the one to follow." However these special circumstances are not described in Article 6, this makes the case ambiguous and the lack of clarity benefits the USSR.

When the negotiation started to be serious at the late 1970s, Norwegian Minister of Sea-Court Mr Jens Evensen and Soviets Minister of Fishery-Resources Mr Aleksandr Isjkov were in several meetings, and it was also those two who later signed the contract the 11. of January 1978. The contract was primarily dedicated to solving the fishery agreements in the zone, and defining the rules of any third nation ships in this particular area. When the contract was settled, the Grey Zone was given a clearly defined geographical area; it was a total area of 67500 square kilometres, 23000 of this undisputed inside Norwegian border, and 3000 of this undisputed inside, the now, Russian border (Wikipedia www). The contract was quite controversial for the Norwegian government to accept. They meant the name Grey Zone defined the area as unclear in favour of the USSR, because of the gap taken on the Norwegian side, and that this would injure the possibilities for future negotiations.

Members of other parliamentary parties started to question the negotiators pro-USSR statements. But Mr Evensen called the agreement a temporary solution, and said he was all the time considering national security. It has now been 26 years, and the agreement is still the same. Although the contract included a commitment for re-negotiation every year, and is known re-negotiated until the year of 2006.

In addition, Mr Evensens`, governmental helps man at present time and later embassy diplomat in New York, Arne Treholdt, was also closely involved in the process. Together with Evensen he was considered as pro-USSR, and was watched constantly by both the US and the Norwegian intelligence. In 1983 he was charged for spy-activity by Norwegian federal court and later sent to prison. The charges was based on some meetings Mr Treholdt had participated at in Berlin, where he had met several highly raked KGB-agents, and also accepted payment from USSR linked sources. But it was never to be proved that he directly affected the case of the Grey Zone.

Today the Grey Zone is ones again topical; with state of the art technology both nations are now aware of the large quantities of oil and gas in these areas. But the exploration after oil and gas was in progress as early as the 1970s. Norway had a designed oil-research ship in the area, with a technology most likely unrecognizable for the Russian at that time. The Russian did not approve the research activity and forced the Norwegian ship out of the area. The fact that the Norwegian ship was looking for oil was never stated, and it could as well be looking for submarines. Spokesmen from both countries' government claims these days they already then knew about the sources of oil and gas in the Grey Zone area.

Under the last meeting between The Prime Minister of Norway Kjell Magne Bondevik, and Russian President Vladimir Putin the Grey Zone was mention as one of the important topics of discussion.

Russia is still a nation with big importance and political influence; it has a growing economy and one of the largest reserves of oil. The world situation has dramatically changed, and the struggle between Russia and the US is now longer a subject. As before, Norway is still a small scale country, in addition one of the biggest exports of oil and fish. In my point of view the solution will not be reached with new defined borders, the Grey Zone will for ever be, but an agreement will be made of how to share the interests. Which way this solution will be reached is more likely depending on the interests of the EU and the US benefits from a solution.

Illustration of the Grey Zone and the surrounding area:

This is the Grey Zone Russia