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United States Purchase of Greenland

Greenland is home to only about 57,000 people, most of whom belong to the indigenous Inuit community. It has had an autonomous government since 2009, with Copenhagen determining its foreign policy.

The idea of selling Greenland to the United States is nonsensical, the Prime Minister of Denmark, Mette Frederiksen said 18 August 2019, after an adviser of U.S. President Donald Trump confirmed the president’s interest in the acquisition of the autonomous Danish territory for "strategic reasons." Frederiksen said in an interview during a visit to Greenland : “Greenland is not for sale. Greenland is not Danish. Greenland belongs to Greenland. I strongly hope that this is not meant seriously,” The premier added that “it’s an absurd discussion, and Kim Kielsen [Prime Minister of Greenland] has, of course, made it clear that Greenland is not for sale. That’s where the conversation ends.”

"Thankfully, the time where you buy and sell other countries and populations is over. Let's leave it there. Jokes aside, we will, of course, love to have an even closer strategic relationship with the United States," she said. Her comments came after Trump said on Sunday he was interested in the idea of a purchase, but it was not a priority for his administration. "Strategically it's interesting and we'd be interested, but we'll talk to them a little bit. It's not No. 1 on the burner, I can tell you that," said the US president, who is expected to visit Denmark on September 2-3 as part of a trip to Europe.

Trump’s economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, told Fox News Sunday that the president was not joking regarding his considerations of purchasing the world’s largest island from Denmark. “I don’t want to predict an outcome, I’m just saying the president, who knows a thing or two about buying real estate, wants to take a look at a Greenland purchase,” he said, before he added that “Denmark owns Greenland, Denmark is an ally, Greenland is a strategic place, up there. And they’ve got a lot of valuable minerals.”

The US president confirmed 18 August 2019 that he was interested in buying Greenland, a self-governing part of Denmark, but said it was not a priority for his administration. "It's something we talked about," he told reporters. "The concept came up and I said certainly, strategically it's interesting and we'd be interested, but we'll talk to (Denmark) a little bit," he said, stressing that it was "not number one on the burner" for the government. When asked if he would consider trading a US territory for Greenland, Trump replied that "a lot of things could be done." He said "Essentially, it's a large real estate deal".

Trump was not happy with the “nasty” manner in which he was publicly rebuffed by the Danish PM after she rejected outright his offer to “buy” Greenland, and he’s not staying quiet about it. Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House on 21 August 2019, said he cancelled his planned meeting with PM Mette Frederiksen because she had issued an “inappropriate” statement and “you don’t talk to the United States that way.” An offended Trump told reporters that Frederiksen could have just said ‘no’ instead of publicly calling his idea to buy the world’s largest landmass “absurd.” He said “I thought it was not nice — the way she blew me off”. Trump floated the idea of buying Greenland because of its “strategic” benefits to the US, but the idea was roundly dismissed in Copenhagen and the US president was accused of “insulting” the Danish queen after canceling his visit over the rejection.

Trump's anger was in contrast to his earlier comments thanking Frederiksen for being "so direct" and saving him “a great deal of expense and effort." Trump tweeted "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... The Prime Minister was able to save a great deal of expense and effort for both the United States and Denmark by being so direct. I thank her for that and look forward to rescheduling sometime in the future!" he added.

Greenland is home to vast amounts of natural resources, including the equivalent of up to 50 billion barrels of oil (which includes natural gas, according to a 2011 report by the Financial Times), according to 2008 US Geological Survey data. Furthermore, 10% of the world’s fresh water is contained in its massive ice cap. But most importantly, beneath that ice lies a huge reserve of so-called “rare earth elements” – a crucial resource for every high-technology industry, from mobile phones to airplanes. About 90% of the planet’s rare earth elements are now controlled by China, which contributes greatly to most of the world’s mobile phones being produced there, and we all know about Trump’s trade war with Beijing. Besides, Greenland potentially provides significant strategic advantages to the US, as it would greatly increase the US presence in the Arctic and, to some degree, in the Atlantic as well.

The White House adviser also recalled that President Harry Truman (1945 -1953) also had wanted to buy the island. In the fall of 1945, the Navy was indeed preparing to maintain other Atlantic facilities in Greenland, Iceland, the Azores, and Port Lyautey on French Morocco’s Atlantic coast. The AAF and the Army had big plans for the North Atlantic bases.

In May 1946, Gen Carl Spaatz, the AAF commander, told officers on the Air Staff that the AAF’s primary objective for the next three or four years would be to develop defenses on the polar frontier. For airmen, the so-called “Polar Concept” had become an article of faith. In Washington, Army men scaled off their maps and discovered that Iceland comes within the 1,000-mile limit, that Greenland is closer yet, that Greenland is visible from Iceland, Canada from Greenland, that the latter's ice-cap is the world's largest and finest natural landing field for airplanes, and that things were getting a little too close for comfort.

There perhaps was born the thought that it might be well for the USA to purchase Greenland. In June 1946, Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson suggested to Secretary of State James F. Byrnes that the United States purchase Greenland from Denmark; in September, the JCS formally asked the secretary of state to make the offer. Byrnes approached the Danish foreign minister at a UN meeting in New York in December 1946 with the proposal, which eventually was rejected by the Danes.

In 1867, having won the Civil War to the chagrin of England which had sided with the South, Seward spent $7,200,000 of the taxpayers' money on the purchase of Alaska from Russia. He burned his fingers on it too, as on dry ice, because the public couldn't see any value in that "useless" expanse of Arctic wastes. Nothing daunted, he turned to Denmark and made arrangements for the purchase of the Virgin Islands, which for some reason ·came to nothing for 50 years. Then he turned his attention to the acquisition of Greenland and Iceland-which in those days were both Danish colonies.

The State Department's "A report on the resources of Iceland and Greenland," compiled by Benjamin Mills Peirce, is rare today but can still be found. It was prepared at Seward's request av the first step toward purchase and is an excellent summary of everything then known about those lands. It mentions Greenland's low-lying fringe of grassy meadows, beech and willow, where the ancient Norsemen had once maintained a sheep- ·and cattle-raising culture for some four centuries, and which today is known to have an aggregate snow-free (in summer] area bigger than England. It goes into what little was then known about Greenland's enormous resources, coal, cryolite, with "indications (since proven] of great mineral wealth." It deals at length with the island's vast store of marine and land animal wealth.

Most revealing, however, from the historical point of view, was the main reason given for urging the purchase of Greenland. In his letter of transmittal to Seward, Benjamin Walker said: "The proof has heretofore been submitted by me, that the government, recently established in British America, called the Dominion of Canada, was gotten up by England in a spirit of bitter hostility to the United States. • • • By this purchase (of Alaska) we have flanked British America on the Arctic and the Pacific. • • • Now, the acquisition of Greenland will flank British America for thousands of miles on the north and east, and greatly increase her inducements, peacefully and cheerfully to become part of the American Union."

The political entity that Seward wanted to buy in Greenland was the southern half. The northern half was terra incognita, far less well known that any part of Antarctica is now. Petermann, the world's leading geographer, thought that it . reached across the Pole and down the other side, ending in what is now known to be Wrangel Island. Hence, if Seward accepted that geographical reasoning, he thought of buying Wrangel Island just as much as Greenland, and, through purchase, of acquiring the commanding position on the Arctic Sea that Russia now holds. Just before and after the publication of Seward's report a long string of heroic American explorers firmly established American rights to northern Greenland by virtue of discovery and exploration. Kane, Hayes, Hall, and Greeley were names to be conjured with in the long and stirring cycle of Greenland explorations· in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Peary crossed northern Greenland in 1892, and again in 1895. The most important of all his life work as an explorer, not even barring his attainment of the Pole, was done in 1900 when he sailed around northernmost Greenland, established its insularity, and thus settled once and for all a baffiing geographical problem.

In 1916 the US was again interested in the acquisition of the Virgin Islands. As part of the bargain Denmark asked that the US to grant official recognition to her sovereignty over Greenland. Admiral Peary bombarded members of the US Government with letters, explaining Americanr rights there, and begging Washington's statesmen not to give away with a flourish of the pen what had been won in the preceding 50 years through the expenditure of heroic American effort, of thousands of American dollars, and a number of American lives.

Admiral Peary wrote "Geographically Greenland belongs to North America and the Western Hemisphere, over which we have formally declared a sphere of influence by our Monroe Doctrine. Its possession by us will be in line with the Monroe Doctrine and will eliminate one more possible source of future complica-tions for us from European possession of territory in the Western Hemisphere. Will turning Greenland over .to Denmark now mean our repurchase of it later, or will obtaining it now mean closing the incident and placing Greenland where it must ultimately belong?"

The United States had a reputation for failing to give official recognition to the work of its great explorers with anything but medals and parades. To the men in Washington, Greenland was still a mere forbidding clump of polar ice. In the treaty of New York, signed August 4, 1916, The US acquired an important strategic base in the Caribbean Sea, and grandly gave away another in the north.

On April 9, 1940 the German Army invaded and occupied Denmark. This invasion at once raised questions as to the status of Greenland, which has been recognized as being within the area of the Monroe Doctrine. The Government of the United States announced its policy of maintenance of the status quo in the Western Hemisphere.

On May 3, 1940 the Greenland Councils, meeting at Godhavn, adopted a resolution in the. name of the people of Greenland reaffirming their allegiance to King Christian X of Denmark, and expressed the hope that so long as Greenland remained cut off from the mother country, the Government of the United States would continue to keep in mind the exposed position of the Danish flag in Greenland and of the native and Danish population of Greenland. The Government of the United States expressed its willingness to assure that the needs of the population of Greenland would be taken care of.

In view of Germany's complete absorption of Denmark, various questions arose regarding the Danish colony of Greenland. Lindbergh, when he landed in Greenland, commented on the fact that the inland ice made an ideal landing field for planes. With a German air base established in Greenland, what of Canada, and, as far as that goes, what of the United States. Rumors appeared in the papers that the United States is thinking of buying Greenland from Denmark. This came to nothing; this was an election year, and the storm that was once raised over the purchase of "Seward's folly" on the other side of the continent showed that there was political dynamite in the purchase of a supposed mere "useless" clump of arctic ice and snow.

Seemingly farfetched as an isolated venture, the possible purchase of Greenland began to take on a measure of sense when considered together with: (1) the present American efforts in relation to turbulent world affairs; (2) the past 15 years of stirring history in the polar regions; and (3) a glance at a terrestrial globe instead of one of those confounded Mercator projection maps that lose themselves in infinite space when they reach the far north and south.

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Page last modified: 05-09-2019 11:28:57 ZULU