The Danish territory of Greenland was recently brought into public awareness when the Trump administration began talking about purchasing the island from the Danish government, but the real question is: where would a future independent Greenland lie in the geopolitical sphere? Ken Sweeney discusses.
Most of the world this week has been giggling with the news that President Donald Trump was putting in a bid for purchasing the entire island of Greenland on behalf of the US government. Many saw it first as some kind of a hoax, but the story was quickly confirmed when economic adviser Larry Kudlow spoke to reporters as he left New Jersey while returning from vacation to the US capital. Since then, it has continued to run and as per usual with the Trump administration, ended up developing into a diplomatic row of sort.
Open for business but not for sale
The whole episode had naturally been greeted with derision by members of the Danish government when Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen called the idea “absurd”. Former Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said that “It must be an April Fool’s Day joke”, while Aaja Larsen, who is one of Greenland’s two MPs in the Danish parliament, told the Financial Times: “I don’t think it’s a good idea. I say no thank you to Trump.” The rebuttal by the Danish government has now resulted in an apparent sulk by the US President with him announcing the cancellation of a scheduled visit to Denmark in September and calling the Danish leader “nasty”in one of his now infamous tweets.
So thankfully, while the whole concept of Greenland and its 50,000 inhabitants of mainly Inuit, not Danish, origin going under the hammer will not be happening anytime soon, as indeed this recent story is completely ridiculous and typical of the ideas coming out of the White House lately, further down the line, the question of Greenland’s future may still be a hot debate in the geopolitical sphere.
While in this day and age, Thrump’s proposal may seem ludicrous, in fact this idea of purchasing Greenland has been tried before when former US President Harry Truman attempted to purchase the world’s biggest island from Denmark following the end of the Second World War. Then, as now, the Truman administration saw a strategic value in having Greenland in US possession.
Currently the island is an autonomous country of the Kingdom of Denmark, and as such enjoys a considerable amount of independence from Copenhagen. However, there is still a belief that at some stage in the near future Greenland will call for a complete break from the Danish crown, and when it does, the big question is where it will go in terms of its geopolitics.
On paper, you would think that due to its connections with Denmark, a strong European bond would be self-evident and an independent Greenland would surely be a shoe-in for future EU membership, but in fact Greenland voted to leave the EU when it was the EEC in 1985, as its government was in disagreement with the the EEC’s commercial fishing regulations and ban on seal skin products. Since then the island has made gradual steps to move away from direct rule of Denmark, culminating in the self-rule provisions for assuming responsibility for self-government of judicial affairs, policing, and natural resources in June 2009. This has left Denmark in control of only foreign affairs and defence matters, and is effectively seen as a final step towards eventual full independence from Denmark.
An independent Greenland
If we are look at independence in terms of decades, then is the recent move of the US not so crazy after all? There is no question on the strategic value of the island and its position is valuable as a watchtower for the powers that be. Currently the US has Thule which is a major air base in the far north of the island, and has been there for decades, but recently the island was in the middle of an international row when it was subject to Chinese interest in building three airports on Greenland. The US strongly objected, which resulted in Copenhagen pulling out of any Chinese proposal.
Greenland is of huge importance on a global scale and its value as source for natural resources is unprecedented. However, climate change is affecting the island on daily basis, with millions of tons of ice melting into the sea causing sea levels to rise and thus changing the climate around the world. Any outside influence that speeds up this damage or prevents the changes from being monitored or slows it down can have drastic effects on global scale. We cannot allow short term gains by the powers that be be at the expense of the future of the planet and it is here that Greenland may be the most important future battleground.
The question is what would an independent Greenland do with such a proposal? And if indeed it would be warming up to any of the powers or would it adopt a more open door policy on its territory by allowing the various big players to have free cites or zones operating on the island similar to the ones that were in place in China at the beginning of the 20th century? The danger is that by letting such zones in, it is often impossible to get them out and therein starts the land grab. While Greenland has vast resources, many are impossible to obtain right now and in future decades they may become obsolete, should the world move away from traditional use of fossil fuels, for example. At that point, Greenland’s value may solely be its position on the map, and if the powers have their watchtowers looking at each other, the value of the island could change considerably. There is always the threat of Russian influence and while a number of territorial disputes exist in the regions surrounding the island, the temptation of investment funds coming into Nuuk via Moscow could be difficult to resist for a fledgling nation on the fringes of the world and existing in an extreme environment.
Then we have the US and Canada who have strong connections historically, but for different reasons. Canada has good trade and cultural connections through the Inuit culture, while the United States has had a long history of cooperation through infrastructure development and state aid as a result of the rental of the land for its air bases. The influx of American culture has had a lasting impact of local society and no doubt would be an influence in any future decisions on where Greenland would lie in the state of things politically, but would not be a final deciding factor, as many Greenlanders still believe in a European social democratic system of government. This could mean that the similar Canadian system of government may be a guiding factor for a future Greenland and help to steer Nuuk away from falling under too much influence from Washington.
Your move, EU
So what, if anything, should the EU do at this point? Is it too early for some kind of a proposal for Greenland to be brought back in? Is it even possible? Certainly, the concept of EU territory on the American hemisphere would be a valuable asset to the EU and it is probably safe to say that of all the powers that be, the EU would, on paper, have the best interests of the citizens of the island at heart. That’s not to say that Brussels would value the island for more nefarious reasons in the future, and indeed with talk of future militarisation of Europe and a possible dissolution of NATO, Europe will be looking for territories to base themselves outside the European continent with Greenland being an ideal asset.
But whatever the future for the world’s largest island, it is most likely that we will see an independent Greenland. And should that be the case, it is vital that the then world’s newest nation be truly independent and not under the hammer of one of the powers such as China, Russia or the US, subject to their whims and exploitation. If is the case that Greenland choose EU membership, then the same rules must apply. Brussels must also follow that path of non exploitation and act as a protector of the island to ensure that the environment is secure and that it is not used as a weapon in some future cold conflict. Europe must also be prepared to welcome a non European culture and take the next step of moving beyond the continent as a union of European peoples. This has to be done with consideration and trust and that is the real task.