US President Donald Trump. (Bloomberg)
US President Donald Trump. (Bloomberg)

Why Trump sees greener pastures in Greenland

  • Trump wants to buy Greenland, the world’s largest island
  • The melting of glaciers and ice caps is making Greenland more accessible

Donald Trump has said the U.S. is interested in buying Greenland, a semi autonomous region belonging to Denmark. Laughable as it may sound, Trump is serious, and the Danes are not amused. Mint explores why the US is suddenly interested in an island it had reduced its focus on after the end of the Cold War.

What is the chatter about Trump being keen to buy Greenland?

Trump wants to buy Greenland, the world’s largest island. A sparsely populated mass of land in the Arctic Ocean, Greenland is a semi autonomous, a self-governing country belonging to Denmark even as it is geographically part of North America. Initially, it seemed Trump was joking. But subsequently, he talked about it enough number of times to show he was serious. As both the Danish PM Mette Frederiksen and Greenland Premier Kim Kielsen rejected Trump’s idea, he cancelled a trip to Denmark he was due to make next month as part of his tour to Europe which otherwise stays undisturbed.

Why is Trump interested in buying Greenland?

Climate change is melting Greenland’s vast ice that still covers 70% of its area. The melting of glaciers and ice caps melt is making Greenland more accessible. As new channels and shipping routes come up, the Russians and the Chinese are taking greater interest in the Arctic for economic reasons. In January 2018, Beijing unveiled its ‘Polar Silk Road’ strategy to extend its economic footprint through the Arctic. Greenland is said to be rich in gold, coal, oil, gas, uranium and rare earth minerals that are critical in making electronic equipment and gadgets like mobile phones, all major exports of China.

Is it the first time US has expressed interest in buying Greenland?

Such an offer was first made in 1867. Then in 1946, a year after World War II ended, the US, under President Harry Truman, offered Denmark $100 million for Greenland. It was for strategic purposes, to provide the U.S. a base in Europe to thwart the enemy which could be the then U.S.S.R or any other country.

What is the current status of US-Denmark relationship?

Denmark is an ally of the U.S. under the NATO treaty. The U.S. has been taking care of Greenland’s defence since 1941 though it was allowed to set up air bases there only after it signed a deal with Denmark in 1951. The U.S. Air Force currently maintains its sole air base in Greenland -- Thule Air Force Base in the northern part -- some 1,200 kilometers south of the North Pole. The Thule base is a ballistic missile early warning and space surveillance site. It thus helps the U.S. track enemy activity in the region to help it respond quicker.

What does one find when they go to Greenland?

Greenland has a population of 57,000, with a little over one fourth of it living in its capital city Nuuk. Whale and polar bear hunters, ‘Inuits’, Greeland’s natives, comprise 90% of its population. The country suffers from high rates of unemployment, alcoholism, depression and suicide. Greenland is famous for its hot springs and dog sled racing. The maximum temperature in the northern part doesn’t ever go beyond 10 degrees Celsius but can rise to over 20 in the southern part. The air quality is among the best in the world. Because of low humidity, it doesn’t feel as cold as one might think. Sea eagles, seals, whales, musk oxen and polar bears form Greenland’s rich wildlife.


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