Trump is thinking of buying a giant socialist island (2019). President Donald Trump is interested in buying Greenland, The Wall Street Journal reports. “In meetings, at dinners and in passing conversations, Mr. Trump has asked advisers whether the U.S. can acquire Greenland,” the paper says. And while one source speculated to the Journal that the president might be making a kind of joke—“Since Mr. Trump hadn’t floated the idea at a campaign rally yet, he probably isn’t seriously considering it”—the paper also reports that Trump has asked White House lawyers to investigate.
This plan faces, shall we say, an immediate logistical hurdle: Greenland is not for sale. Denmark, which forcibly colonized Greenland’s residents in the 18th century, now governs the island as a semiautonomous territory, and isn’t too keen to part with its large Arctic asset. In addition to any sentimental attachment the Danes have to Greenland, the island—the world’s largest—makes otherwise dinky Denmark much more geopolitically important, allowing it to attend gatherings of the Arctic Council and the like. It also links Denmark to its Viking past.
And the decision is not even Denmark’s to make. Legally and morally, the island’s 56,000 residents—most of whom are ethnically Greenlandic Inuit—get to decide on any international union their state joins. And this morning, the office of Greenland’s foreign minister tweeted that the country was “open for business, not for sale.”
Should the United States buy Greenland from Denmark?
It’s something that President Trump has repeatedly asked his staff to explore in recent weeks, bewildering top aides. But he’s not the first to ponder the question, which was first floated in the 1860s, when a report commissioned by the State Department under President Andrew Johnson concluded that the icebound island’s abundance of fish and mineral resources could make it a valuable investment.
And in 1946, President Harry Truman’s administration went even further, offering to purchase Greenland from Denmark in exchange for $100 million in gold.
“People have forgotten about how important places like Greenland were in the Cold War,” said Ronald E. Doel, an associate professor of history at Florida State University and a co-editor of “Exploring Greenland: Cold War Science and Technology on Ice.”
The autonomous territory is part of Denmark but is physically part of the North American continent and sits between the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans Although many will view the proposal as a joke Greenland is regarded as a strategically important to the U.S. The U.S. military’s Thule Air Base in Greenland is its northernmost installation and forms part of its nuclear early warning system. The arctic route it sits on is the shortest possible distance between Europe and North America.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was due to visit the regional capital Nuuk in May before the trip was cancelled due to the escalating tensions with Iran. The trip was reportedly to dicuss economic development and promoting long-term peace they are “concerned about activities of other nations, including China, that do not share these same commitments”, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Trump’s musings over Greenland are part of his larger tendency to see territory as a tradable commodity, particularly in dealing with the Middle East. During the 2016 Republican presidential primary debates, candidate Marco Rubio chastised candidate Trump for treating Palestinian aspirations for statehood as a “real estate deal.” Jared Kushner’s plan for Middle East peace relies on territorial exchanges between the Palestinians, Jordan and Egypt. Trump’s March tweet recognizing Israel’s control over the Golan paid little attention to the symbolic claims at stake.
This is a dangerous approach to territorial conflict. As recent events in Kashmir make clear, nations are still prepared to shed blood and treasure to secure national claims. Understanding the symbolic value of territory is key to managing this and any future territorial disputes.
In other words, Trump’s real estate approach to Greenland may be the tip of the melting iceberg.