With the White House studying the possibility of buying Greenland from Denmark, we must understand why U.S. President Donald Trump would risk alienating an ally. This, of course, is about the formidable natural resources located at Greenland, as well as its strategic placement on the Arctic, a region set to become a key shipping route.
It is not the first time that Washington has launched such an offer to the Copenhagen authorities. Trump, however, is not the first U.S. President to make attempts at buying Greenland, with Harry S. Truman in 1946 offering $100 million.
Although Greenland is administrated by the Kingdom of Denmark, it has its own government and parliament and since 2008 has enjoyed broad autonomy, with only Foreign, Financial and Security policies decided by Copenhagen.
With the U.S. intensifying its efforts to stop the emergence of the multipolar world order, it has realized it is lagging behind Russia is dominating the Arctic. This is especially true since the latter has efficient icebreakers and owns much more Arctic territory than the U.S.
It is for this reason that the world’s largest island has a huge geostrategic appeal, which the Trump Administration has not neglected in noticing. It is especially crucial since the Thule airbase is located 1,500 kilometres from the North Pole. And we, of course, cannot overlook the vast reserves of oil and gas.
Washington itself admits it is nowhere at the level needed to challenge Russia in the Arctic with Zukunft, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Coast Guard Service between 2014 and 2018, explaining in 2017 that it will take the Department of Defense a generation to reach Russian military capabilities in that remote region. He is not exaggerating if we remember that Russia has a fleet of 40 heavy icebreakers, a huge advantage to the US’ two.
With the progressive thaw produced by climate change, it opens the way for a new corridor of alternative sea routes to the current ones. This would allow ships to pass through the northeast and northwest, considerably reducing crossing times and thus favouring trade between Europe, America and East Asia.
The second attention factor is particularly economical. A study by the US Geology Service in 2008 indicates that the Arctic could host 22% of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas reserves. To these sources of wealth would be added important fishing points and valuable metals, such as bauxite, coal, copper, diamond, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, gold, lead or zinc.
The strong interest in these icy and inhospitable lands caused territorial disputes between the riparian countries that have not yet been resolved. Thus, Denmark considers that the Lomonosov Dorsal – which crosses the ocean from the Russian islands of New Siberia to the Canadian island of Ellesmere – is an extension of Greenland, but both Russia and Canada argue that it is an extension of its continental shelf.
The Russians even sent an underwater scientific expedition, which in 2007 planted its tricolour national flag, made of titanium, on the seabed of the North Pole, at 4,200 meters deep. That is the context in which Trump’s purchase offer moves.
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