There is a rather sad consistency when it comes to US President Donald Trump and stupid things. To wit: he says something totally fatuous, like “Jewish-Americans who vote Democratic are stupid or disloyal,” and his sycophants rush to his defense, arguing that Trump is incredibly, insightfully spot-on. These inane arguments then descend into the echo chamber that is Fox News, Breitbart, and the Washington Times, where they gain a modicum of authority.
One of Trump’s biggest whoppers of the dog days of August was his musings that Denmark should sell Greenland to the United States. An obvious non-starter right out of the gate, an utterance that never should have been uttered, it was immediately picked up and promoted as “not a good idea, but a great idea,” by such bootlickers as columnist Marc Thiessen and Senator Tom Cotton. And so it goes, saving Trump from looking like the complete nincompoop he is.
The (extremely bad) reasons for buying Greenland
That scraping sound you heard was Trump’s supporters going back decades, even centuries, to find comfortable analogies: that president Harry Truman offered to buy Greenland for US$100 million (in gold, supporters always point out), that the United States grew through other such acquisitions, like the Louisiana Purchase or buying Alaska from the Russians, or that the Danes had already sold Washington its territories in the Caribbean (the current US Virgin Islands), so what’s another property deal?
(Never mind that the entire southwestern United States was stolen from Mexico, or that Hawaii was annexed after Americans overthrew a legitimate government, or that, indeed, the whole of the United States was taken from its original inhabitants.)
Supporters of the “Make Greenland American” movement also point out that the island has huge strategic significance for the United States. It stands at the western edge of the “GIUK Gap,” an important chokepoint in the North Atlantic that would be instrumental in bottling up the Soviet, er, Russian fleet (what little there is left of it) in the event of (an extremely unlikely) conflict.
Greenland is also the site of Thule Air Base, location of a huge ballistic-missile early-warning radar, and also the US military’s northernmost outpost. Some have also argued that a US-owned Greenland would be the perfect place for deploying new intermediate-range ballistic missiles.
Finally, Greenland is being promoted as a virtual cash cow of valuable natural resources, such as gas and oil, and particularly as a potential source of “rare-earth elements,” which are instrumental in the manufacture of electronics, fuel cells, and electric motors.
As usual, China predominates
Above all, however, it is because China seems to be so interested in Greenland that the “buy Greenland” camp is so worked up. China – which has declared itself to be a “Near-Arctic State” (a totally silly fabrication, by the way: either you border on the Arctic or you do not) – has lately shown itself to be very interested in Greenland.
In particular, Beijing tried to purchase an old US naval base on Greenland, and more recently it sought contracts to build three airports on the island. Moreover, China is keen to get its hands on Greenland’s rare-earth mineral deposits, further solidifying its growing monopoly in these metals.
Rent, don’t buy
But none of these points argue persuasively for purchasing Greenland. Besides the sheer fact that Greenland doesn’t want to be bought by the United States (and that Denmark has no power to sell it), much can be done to help the Greenlanders while also assuaging American strategic concerns. The United States could offer to improve infrastructure on the island – particularly airports and harbors – that would provide benefits to both countries. Washington could also work with Greenland to exploit potential new trade routes through the Arctic.
In addition, the US military could lease parts of Greenland for expanded military uses, particularly surveillance of the Arctic Ocean, while US companies could invest in mining and other extractive industries.
None of this demands that the United States buy Greenland. And it would cost the US peanuts in comparison.
In particular, if the United States really wants to keep China out of Greenland, then it should work with Denmark and Greenland to exploit the latter’s natural resources responsibly. Partnerships and joint ventures that encourage overseas private enterprises to work with local governments and Greenland-based companies would be more successful than simply buying the place outright.
American deep pockets would go a long way toward helping Greenland and Denmark resist China’s siren song. But the US doesn’t need to own, it can just rent.