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Business News/ News / Greenland Pivots to North America on Its Path to Independence
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Greenland Pivots to North America on Its Path to Independence

There’s a reason former US President Donald Trump offered to buy Greenland, and it wasn’t to save the polar bears.

Greenland Pivots to North America on Its Path to IndependencePremium
Greenland Pivots to North America on Its Path to Independence

(Bloomberg) -- There’s a reason former US President Donald Trump offered to buy Greenland, and it wasn’t to save the polar bears.

As the autonomous territory inches toward its goal of full independence from Denmark, it’s hoping its many resources — from minerals, to a burgeoning strategic significance — will help draw it into the sphere of less traditional partners to its west. 

Its newly published blueprint for foreign, security and defense policy offers a glimpse into what that future may look like. Although Greenland brushed off the former US president’s overtures back in 2019, it makes clear that it reciprocates America’s interest: 

“The new thing here is that we have hopes for much greater integration and cooperation with North America," said Kenneth Hoegh, Greenland’s diplomatic representative in the US and Canada. The former Danish colony has long looked eastwards, with Copenhagen still overseeing competencies like foreign policy, defense, and security.

But the document published last week in Inuit and Danish contains few references to future cooperation with Copenhagen. Instead, Greenland is hoping to forge closer links with North America through trade in critical minerals, and by having a bigger say in key defense relationships that have historically been governed by Denmark. 

“We were not for sale," Hoegh said in a Bloomberg interview. But “we are open for business."

Greenland’s global profile has been rising amid heightened concerns about Arctic security. With Sweden this month joining NATO, Russia is now isolated as the only Arctic nation outside the alliance. Polar marine traffic is rising as climate change creates longer shipping seasons, and Greenland’s vast natural resources, including rare earth minerals, have attracted global interest from major powers including China and Russia.

Space Base 

The Arctic territory, which has a population of just 57,000, has gradually been gaining greater autonomy in its affairs and last year got its own representative at NATO. Still, while its status as a Danish colony officially ended in 1953, it has been slow to step out from under its shadow. 

Now it wants to gain an equal seat at the table and finally reap the economic benefits of a longstanding US military presence.

Denmark’s 1951 defense treaty with the US led to the creation in Greenland of the Thule Air Base by the US military under the code name “Blue Jay." Created in total secrecy, the base — now known as the Pituffik Space Base — has become a key pillar of NATO and North American defense, given its strategic location between the Arctic and North Atlantic. 

The new policy document underscores that the reciprocity of the relationship with Greenland is also critical to US defense, especially against threats from the Arctic. The territory will eventually develop a more detailed defense policy, it says, and debate whether to create a military or civilian national service and upgrade its defense capabilities.

The Arctic Is Where NATO and Russia Are Flexing Military Muscle

A brief section at the end of Greenland’s policy document also talks about increasing trade and export ties to East Asia, particularly as a market for Greenlandic fish. But the emphasis is on its relationships with the US and Canada, especially in their Norths.

Greenland says it hopes to build ties with these countries via trade in minerals that support the global green-energy transition, and wants to secure supply chains with dedicated shipping routes and direct flights. That will mean investing in new, larger airports — something that has proved tricky in the past.

“There are major challenges in securing greater trade from Greenland to the US and Canada," said Aaja Chemnitz, a Greenlandic MP in the Danish parliament for Inuit Ataqatigiit. Past efforts to improve transportation routes have failed because they haven’t been commercially driven, she said, and all sides would need to see benefits if new attempts are to succeed. 

But Greenland’s foreign minister emphasized that current geopolitical tensions have increased the need for cooperation. “The world has become increasingly fraught with uncertainty. This makes it all the more important to engage more with our allies," Vivian Motzfeldt said in an advanced copy of the English version of the document seen by Bloomberg.

The US supports strengthening and expanding its partnership with Greenland, a State Department spokesman said, including in areas of trade and investment, mineral resources development, and science and research.

Canada Border

The second-largest Arctic nation after Russia, Canada has been trying to diversify its trade and security relationships though “friendshoring," as relationships with China and India come unstuck and concerns mount in Ottawa about what a second Trump presidency could mean for its US ties.

A spokesperson for the Canadian foreign affairs department did not respond to a request for comment. 

The Canada section of the Greenlandic document includes a laundry list of areas for potential economic cooperation, including trade, transport, tourism, fishing, research and construction, as well as the expectation that Inuit people in Greenland and Canada will soon be allowed to travel freely back and forth. 

It says Greenland will open a diplomatic representation in Ottawa in the next few years, like the one it already has in Washington, and urges Canada to follow the US by opening a consulate in Greenland. 

Canada and Greenland share more than just geographical proximity. The relations between their Indigenous populations go back thousands of years and today they face joint challenges related to Arctic economic development and climate change. 

Ottawa is a thousand kilometers closer to Nuuk than Copenhagen is, and a flight from the Greenlandic capital to Iqaluit, in Canada’s Nunavut territory, would take only an hour — if a route existed. Since 2022, Canada and Greenland have even shared an island, giving rise to one of Canadians’ favorite trivia questions: Besides the US, which country shares a land border with Canada? 

Canada and Denmark End Arctic ‘Whiskey War’ With New Land Border

The resolution two years ago of the Hans Island dispute — which for half a century mainly involved pulling down each others flags and leaving Canadian whiskey or Danish schnapps behind to console the other side — has set the stage for closer ties, according to the document. 

“This is a way of preparing Greenland, in the best possible way, for greater and greater levels of autonomy which eventually could lead to independence," said Hoegh. 

--With assistance from Laura Dhillon Kane, Kati Pohjanpalo and Michael Ovaska.

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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Published: 29 Feb 2024, 12:19 AM IST
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