Recently, a bizarre saga has been playing out between Washington, DC, Copenhagen and Nuuk. Reviving the old American strategy of purchasing large tracts of land from foreign powers to enlarge the country, President Trump has been looking into buying Greenland. There is much to unpack here. Without diving into the strange world of geopolitics, this proposal looks off the wall. There is method to the madness, though, much to the chagrin of the habitual Trump bashers.
Greenland as a strategic location
America has a long history of military involvement in the territory. It started in 1940 when the Nazis overran Denmark – Greenland’s mother country. To keep the island out of German hands and thereby prevent it from being used as a staging base for operations against Britain, or even Canada, or the American homeland, US forces were sent in. A military presence in Greenland was maintained throughout the war and continued on since then.
Once the Nazi threat was destroyed by the combined might of American factories and Russian blood, the US faced a new arch nemesis: the very people who they partnered with to defeat the Germans. The globe-trotting war against communism invariably found Greenland playing a role. What the island represented was a halfway mark between the Soviets and the Americans. Whoever controlled it would have a leg up on the other. Since the US still had a presence there left over from WWII, it was obvious who would control it. Greenland was bolstered with a ring of radar stations which would take any surprise out of a surprise Soviet attack in the Arctic. There was even a massive underground base built there called Camp Century which Star Wars fans might liken to Echo Base from The Empire Strikes Back. Better than that was the plan to put nuclear missile silos under the ice, which did not pan out. US Cold War policy in Greenland had hits and misses certainly, but the value of the successful ventures such as the radar cannot be overstated.
The arctic island has shown itself to be an important piece of real estate for a very long time. Greenland was a strategic garrison against Nazi expansion in WWII and it served an array of purposes in the Cold War. If Trump purchased it, the strategic effect it has had in the past will not diminish at all. With tensions between America and Russia at a high point since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the value of Greenland is evident.
All considerations of the location of Greenland aside, it has real economic potential. With only a small population of a few tens of thousands, industry is not the island’s strong point. What it lacks in factories and fields, it makes up in minerals. The Brookings Institute studied the mineral wealth of the territory in 2014 and made some promising statements. Loads of oil could be found in Greenland with two oil fields that could be brought online before 2025, with one containing half a billion barrels and the other four times that. Interest was also shown in the East Greenland Rift Basins Province which could contain upwards of 30 billion barrels of hydrocarbons. The same group reports that mineral firms have been eyeing Greenland for investment for some time. It is important to note that a crucial lack of infrastructure complicates all exploitation of natural resources.
There are strategic and economic cases to be made for the purchase of Greenland. On those merits, it seems fair for President Trump to proceed with the deal if he can get Copenhagen and Nuuk to agree. Most of the United States was either bought from foreign powers or won as spoils of war. Buying Greenland would not be out of the ordinary in American history. Analysts are saying that Greenland is analogous to how Alaska was when it was bought from Russia. The former of the two has vast mineral wealth and is an excellent location for power projection in the region; just the same can be said of the latter of the two. Investment in no slight magnitude will be required to realize Greenland’s full potential, but no one is more suited to develop than Americans. To keep Russia in check in the Arctic, more resources are needed and Greenland is the perfect place to house them.
At this point though, it looks like no amount of musing about oil, rare earth metals and military bases will make the deal go through. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has said in an interview that Greenland is “not for sale.” While Copenhagen has rebuffed Washington’s quasi-offer, they have not rebuffed America. PM Frederiksen went on to quip that, “jokes aside, we would naturally love to have an even closer strategic relationship with the US.” The US-Danish relationship at that point was not put in jeopardy – much to anger of the habitual Trump haters in the press who manufactured a way for this to prove Putin is Trump’s puppet master. After the olive branch from Denmark, President Trump countered by dropping a meeting with PM Frederiksen in a few months. This snub was undiplomatic and does strain bilateral relations, but Denmark cannot afford to hold a grudge against the country that is in the words of Denmark’s PM, “our most important ally.” What the next movement is, in this odd geopolitical dance, is anyone’s guess.
Photo credit: “Could Greenland be the new Alaska?” via Forbes
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