GP Insights

GP Insights # 131, 24 August 2019

Trump calls-off visit to Denmark amid 'absurd' interest to buy Greenland
Harini Madhusudhan

What happened?

After agreeing to visit Denmark, Trump tweeted this week, "based on Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen's comments, that she would have no interest in discussing the purchase of Greenland, I will be postponing our meeting scheduled in two weeks for another time." This statement came against the response of the Prime Minister of Denmark, Mette Frederiksen, to Trump's proposal to buy Greenland. Ms Frederiksen called the offer 'absurd,' to which Trump took offence on behalf of the United States and called her comment, 'nasty.'

Mid-week, Trump even shared a photograph of a village in Greenland with a large Trump tower Photoshopped in. Trump took the issue further with his attack on NATO at large, but Denmark in particular, saying their defence spending is only at 1.2 per cent of GDP.

Through the week, from his tweets and photoshop skills to mildly flexing over Denmark, Trump has turned Greenland from a spectacle to a diplomatic debacle. Spokesperson of the Danish royal household, which had formally invited Trump, said Queen Margrethe II was surprised by the cancellation.


What is the background?

The strategic location of Greenland has always made it an attractive colony. It is a vast island that borders the Arctic Ocean, which is covered in ice up to 85 per cent. It was a Danish colony until 1953 and gained autonomous territory status in 1979. The island's economy heavily depends on Danish subsidies, to this day. Greenland has 55,000 inhabitants, many of whom intend to reduce reliance and seek "full" independence from Denmark.

The US has an Airbase and a radar station in Greenland. The official reports from Greenland clearly show no intention to sell their territory. Additionally, in the past months, China has been showing interest in Greenland. The US-China power dynamics are at play in the region and may drive Greenland to show interest in the role of the US military in Greenland.


What does it mean?

Trump's statement that "nobody does this to America," is an attempt at bullying Denmark into siding with the USA. Trump wants to have control over a bigger chunk of the Arctic.

Trump understands what Greenland lacks and what they want and then made the move that triggered Denmark. Despite strong opposition from Denmark, the administration in Greenland might approach Trump, not for a sell-off but with expectations of better economic and military support.

The China angle might be misplaced but would still be relevant in the nations' approach to the growing relevance of the Arctic.

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