Buying Greenland? Trump, Truman and the 'Pearl of the Mediterranean'Breaking News
tags: Greenland, Truman, Trump
Thorsten is a professor at the Department of History at School for Culture and Society, Aarhus University. Areas of research include Danish politics and Danish security and foreign policy after 1945, European cooperation and integration, Nordic cooperation, and Danish and Nordic development aid policy. For more information click here.
In the summer of 2019, the Trump Administration voiced an interest in buying Greenland from Denmark. The historical background for this stretches at least as far back as a case brought by Norway at the International Court in 1933 when it was decided that Denmark had full sovereignty over Greenland. Since then, Danish governments have engaged in reformulations and re-negotiations with respect to Greenland’s sovereign rule, including the 1979 home rule agreement and self rule in 2009. It is arguable, however, that the US had de facto sovereignty for periods of the 20th century. For example, a defense pact in 1941 allowed the US extensive rights to military bases in Greenland in exchange for military protection while mainland Denmark was occupied by Germany. This led to the Truman administration making an actual bid to purchase the world’s largest island in 1946. During the Cold War, Denmark relied on the US to defend Greenland. While today, after obtaining self rule in 2009, it is recognized that Greenland has the right to become independent if it so wishes, questions of its sovereignty remain. These were highlighted by the recent diplomatic spat between Trump and the Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, indicating that the sovereignty issue will continue to be contested and pose a considerable challenge even for a fully independent Greenland of the future. Greenland has been and continues to be a vital strategic asset, not least to the US - and perhaps even more so due to the possible effects of climate change.
Introduction: the strategic value of Greenland
Today, delegations from all over the world, state representatives as well as private, queue up in Nuuk to position themselves as prospective partners and contractors for the future bonanza of resources that Greenland seems to offer. What triggers the interest is Greenland’s possession – expected or certified – of vast deposits of raw materials, among them oil and a number of rare and strategic minerals and soils, in combination with the fact that effects of the ongoing global climate change will make it much easier to access these materials. Part of this increased accessibility is linked to the vision that climate change may soon make the so-called Northern Sea Route, connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans through the North Arctic, a reliable and (partly) ice-free waterway. If this happens, we may indeed come to conceive of Greenland as the ‘Pearl of the Mediterranean' (Middelhavets Perle).
For military analysts and strategists – and for some politicians too – Greenland has possessed this strategic value for some time already. And, again, interest has apparently come to the fore with the Trump administration’s recent scheming to buy Greenland, which was made public in August 2019. In the new power struggle over the Arctic, intensified by the prospect of climate change, Greenland’s strategic importance is considered vital both as an asset to control for its own purposes, but also as an area, especially in the American view, to which competitors and adversaries should be denied access.
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