In August, a Wall Street Journal news article sparked mixed reactions. According to the piece, US President Donald Trump was seriously considering buying Greenland from Denmark. The news initially caused some laughter among actual and former Danish politicians – perhaps because most of them didn’t pay attention to the seriousness of the matter for the Trump Administration.
The topic became a serious one when both White House Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow and President Donald Trump confirmed the idea of purchasing the world’s second largest island, after Australia. This unseen idea of Trump is largely criticized by Danish lawmakers and the debate between Washington and Copenhagen even led the US President to cancel his visit to Denmark. But what is really behind this peculiar action?
It is important to recall that this is not the first attempt to buy Greenland. In 1946, Democratic US President Harry Truman wanted to buy Greenland for $100m, but Danish authorities rejected his offer. Besides, American history is no stranger to these types of deals. In the past, there were historic territory acquisitions, such as the Louisiana purchase from France in 1803 for $15m, the Alaska Purchase from Russia in 1867 for $7.2m and the Danish West Indies purchase, renamed as the Virgin Islands, in 1917 for $25m.
Despite these examples, a possible Greenland purchase would lead to the largest expansion in US history, with 2,166,000 km² of area, exceeding the total acquired area in the Louisiana Purchase (2,100,000 km²). Of course, a large acquisition such as this one would dramatically change the size of the country, guaranteeing the US to become the world’s second largest country behind Russia. Undisputedly, such a deal would give a different type of status to Donald Trump as the President of the United States.
Another important characteristic of Greenland is its geographical position between Eurasia and North America. Such an area may be utile for the United States in many means, such as the military one, despite already having some important military bases, thanks to a previous deal with Denmark. Thule Air Base, which has been running since early 1950s, is perhaps the most important example. The route over the pole is also the shortest flight path for Russian and Chinese missiles and bombers, which adds another strategic aspect to the island. It is also important to underline that Greenland has a unique role in space control. With its Space Warning Squadron and with future development of that field, the Arctic’s role may increase for developing further projects.
Despite the political and legal disputes over the issue, Washington is now moving forward to open a US consulate in Greenland. Of course, the re-establishment of an American consulate, previously operational between 1940-1953, may help United States to boost its influence in the zone. But how should this rapprochement be considered? As initial steps for a diplomatic annexation or a sincere change of mind and a way for the improvement of relations? Such a move, combined with a possible establishment of a commerce office in the island, may guide United States to have a greater economic control in the area. As Donald Trump openly spoke about the existence of mineral resources in Greenland, a possible cooperation in trade may help U.S. to take advantage of Greenland’s commodities such as copper, iron ore, uranium and zinc.
Despite these positive aspects of the Trump Administration’s intentions, the Greenland dream contains too many question marks, because the remarks of Washington seems like they are considering the issue as something bilateral between Washington and Copenhagen, without considering the autonomy of Greenland. Since 2008, Greenland has a greater autonomy compared to the other territories previously acquired by the United States.
Despite strong ties with Denmark, Greenland has its own prime minister and parliament which has power on numerous issues, despite some delicate subjects such as the foreign policy. All these aspects show that a possible US offer also needed to be discussed by lawmakers and locals of Greenland, and maybe it should even need a referendum process. This background makes us understand the words of Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen; “Greenland is not for sale. Greenland is not Danish. Greenland belongs to Greenland.” As we can see, Greenland is much more than a piece of territory for its legal and political status.
As Trump’s idea of purchasing Greenland didn’t have a positive echo among Danish authorities, such a historic move seems to be impossible at this stage. Despite the idea raising some imperialist sentiments around the United States, the international community wasn’t impressed by such a topic, and the case seems to be closed as a simple “war of words”. After a tumultuous period with Denmark, the US President saw that a diplomatic approach, such as opening a consulate and Greenlandic affairs officer, looks more feasible than purchasing the whole island.
On the other hand, maybe these remarks of Trump was just a way of arousing interest from the media and other experts of the Arctic issue. These latest developments showed that the United States is considering getting involved in that area. However, the words of the Trump administration on purchasing Greenland had negative impacts in the island and its NATO Alliance, Denmark. Is it possible for the United States to have an influence in the area, after these skirmishes? It is now up to Trump to save the United States’ credibility within the Arctic and stop the influence of other countries in this region, such as Russia and China, and to try not to harm its ties with other parts of this cooperation, starting with Denmark.