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Why ‘imperial’ Donald Trump wants to buy Denmark’s Greenland

Donald Trump made an ‘absurd’ offer to buy Greenland from Denmark. Minerals, North Atlantic shipping and other factors may have prompted the proposal.

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New Delhi: US President Donald Trump last week floated the idea of buying Greenland, setting off a diplomatic row between the US and Denmark.

Greenland is a part of Denmark, but functions as a self-governing autonomous region.

Ticked off by Trump’s offer, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen called the proposal “absurd”. “Greenland is not for sale. Greenland is not Danish. Greenland is Greenlandic. I hope that is not something that is seriously meant,” said Frederiksen.

In response, Trump Wednesday criticised the Danish PM, calling her “nasty”.

“All she had to do was say ‘no we wouldn’t be interested’. But we can’t treat the United States of America the way they treated us under President Obama,” he added.

Trump also cancelled his scheduled trip to Denmark. In tweets, he thanked Frederiksen for being so “direct” and looked forward to “rescheduling sometime in the future”.

But looking beyond the emerging diplomatic conflict between the two countries, it is important to ask what lies behind Trump’s interest in Greenland. There are two factors that are driving what some critics refer to as Trump’s ‘imperial mindset’.

Greenland’s colonial history 

Greenland has had an enduring history of being traded as a colony among different imperial powers. As outlined by Professor Felicity Jensz of the University of Munster, Greenland’s colonial period began in 1721. This is when the island region came under the Dano-Norwegian monarchy. By the end of the Napoleonic wars, Greenland became a solely Danish colony.

It remained a Danish colony until 1950 — when it was finally given the status of an autonomous region in Denmark. In 1979, Greenland established its own parliament and became partially sovereign — it has the sole right to legislate on everything other than defence and foreign policy.

But it is this identity of Greenland as a colony, which drives the US President to assume that it could be bought for a certain sum.

Moreover, there is precedence in the US for making public offers to buy the island region. US President Harry Truman had offered to buy Greenland for $100 million in 1946.

North Atlantic competition

Donald Trump’s growing interest in Greenland also has something to do with the intensifying big-power competition in the North Atlantic region.

As China, Russia, European Union and the US wrestle to establish their dominance over the Arctic and the North Atlantic region, Greenland has acquired significant geopolitical significance. There are a few factors that help explain this.

First, Greenland is believed to have vast mineral deposits including zinc, copper, coal, rare minerals and iron ore. These natural resources are untapped and their quantities are mostly unknown. Thus, the country that gets to enter Greenland in a significant way would get to extract its pound of flesh.

Second, with global warming and receding ice sheets, North Atlantic shipping has become especially lucrative. With melting ice sheets, several new sea lanes have opened up — dramatically reducing the shipping time and bringing down costs. Greenland is centrally located to take advantage of this new reality.

Lastly, for the US, Greenland acts as an ideal spot to establish forward air and naval bases — which would allow it to extend its dominance over the broader Arctic region.

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