President Donald Trump has seen yet another diplomatic rift resulting from offhanded remarks, this time over the United States purchasing Greenland. Trump suggested the purchase of the Danish controlled – yet sovereign – territory of Greenland to his senior advisors earlier this month. Greenland residents and Danish officials initially responded to the offer laughably but the jokes shortly turned to shock at the realization of Trump’s seriousness. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen was forced to respond, saying that “Greenland is not for sale”. Trump later cancelled an upcoming trip to Copenhagen via Twitter. The suddenness of the diplomatic fallout has left many questioning Trump’s intentions with such comments, although experts do note the geopolitical significance of Greenland in the Arctic Circle. Trump is not the first U.S President to suggest the purchase, as the late President Harry Truman offered $100,000,000 in gold for Greenland following World War II.
Greenland is the world’s largest but sparsely populated island, with only approximately 50,000 residents and is a self-ruling dominion of Denmark. Denmark offers economic and foreign policy support while Greenland handles domestic affairs. Greenland is located within the Arctic Circle along with coastal countries such as Canada, Norway, Russia, and the US (Alaska). The Arctic has remained relatively untouched by these countries, but with climate change opening the Arc waters for longer portions of the year, the large mineral and oil deposits are now more accessible along with international shipping lanes. Arctic countries, and near Arctic countries as China refers to itself, are now vying for position in the region. Russia is far and away the leading country in the Arctic, maintaining the most ice breakers and ice-hardened ships than all other countries combined. Arctic countries have made disputed claims over territory and international waters and more are taking action to increase their presence to compete with Russia. Greenland is now becoming a geopolitical hot zone for countries looking for opportunities. China, as part of the Arctic Belt and Road initiative, has invested heavily in infrastructure projects in Greenland. The U.S, outside of Trump’s offer to purchase the island, has maintained a military presence at a Northern airbase since 1951. With the strategic competitors of China, Russia, and the US involved, Greenland becomes an extremely strategic territory.
Interest in the Arctic has accelerated in recent years resulting from increased melting in the Arctic. Experts estimate that the Arctic loses more ice than it regains each year. As more ice melts, international shipping lanes become accessible, massive oil deposits become reachable, and mineral resources become attainable. The economic advantages are unquantifiable for the countries able and willing to take advantage. The dichotomy however exists as mainly Western countries are becoming increasingly concerned over climate change and the use of fossil fuels. Activists and officials from countries in the Arctic and around the world will likely challenge the development of the Arctic and the danger it presents for accelerating climate change. As the ice continues to melt, Arctic countries and near Arctic countries will press for more influence in the region. Trump’s comments to purchase Greenland mark just the tip of the melting iceberg of the coming geopolitical jostling in the Arctic.