There is much ado about President Trump offering to purchase Greenland, and the Danish government politely turning it down. Was it stupid to make the offer in the first place? It’s not the first time the U.S. has offered to buy Greenland, which captured the interest of William Seward in 1867 and President Truman in 1946. Trump’s offer is looked at as rude, but its actually a bit genius.
The biggest under reported piece about Greenland is timing with China. China recently tried to purchase the Grønnedal naval base on the western side of the island. It wasn’t economically viable, but it would give them a foothold in Greenland to work from. China looked at other purchases of various mines in Greenland, including mines near the North Pole and mines for uranium and rare earth metals.
The Danish government’s response has been tepid. The local Greenland government, longing for independence, needs viable economic development in order to be independent of Denmark. Keep in mind that the majority of the 58,000 mostly Inuit people on Greenland don’t really identify as Danish, and have been creeping closer to independence over the past 20 years. Heck, Greenland isn’t even part of the EU anymore. China needs a claim to the Arctic, and has plenty of experience loaning money in debt diplomacy, so it seems like a win for China.
Enter Trump and the “bombastic” claim to purchase Greenland. How can Denmark respond?
- Denmark can take the offer. Greenland becomes essentially like an independent Indian nation inside the US.
Sounds crazy? Right now, Greenland operates under it’s own laws, and allows Denmark to manage foreign affairs and security. What about US Indian tribes?
“These tribes possess the right to form their own governments, to enforce laws (both civil and criminal) within their lands, to tax, to establish requirements for membership, to license and regulate activities, to zone, and to exclude persons from tribal territories. Limitations on tribal powers of self-government include the same limitations applicable to states; for example, neither tribes nor states have the power to make war, engage in foreign relations, or coin money (this includes paper currency).” (from Wikipedia)
That doesn’t sound like a bad deal.
- Denmark can reject the offer and say that Greenland belongs to them.
By doing so, Denmark will have to say how important Greenland is…which will spark it to show it can protect the area, perhaps invest in it, address Inuit concerns and, most importantly, not allow China a foothold.
Trump’s offer comes on the heels of Secretary of State Pompeo making fun of China’s claim to be a “near-Arctic” nation. “Near-Arctic” means…nothing. It’s a poor attempt for China to get in on the “global superpower” game, and Pompeo rightly laughed them off the stage. Trump crushing China’s hopes in Greenland provide much-needed follow-through on this Arctic-denial strategy.
Trump’s offer is a win-win for the U.S. It starts serious dialog about Greenland and makes the Denmark government, who have to defend Greenland, become more serious about its defense. No surprise, Denmark is increasing its defense budget, although still falling short of the 2% GDP NATO limit. And most importantly, it directly kicks China out of the running for Arctic Nation status.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.