The Great Greenland Gambit

Recently, a small-minded tattletale revealed that President Trump has been exploring the possibility of the United States purchasing Denmark’s overseas territory of Greenland. Greenland is a vast, icy wasteland lodged in the northern Atlantic and southern Arctic Oceans. It also happens to be the home of key U.S. military bases—controlling space assets and providing early warning of potential nuclear attacks.

Moreover, Greenland contains a treasure trove of natural resources, including a variety of metals, gemstones, oil, fish, and hydroelectricity. It is sparsely inhabited by impoverished native Inuits and could benefit tremendously from an infusion of U.S. investment and technical expertise. For the Danes, Greenland is a financial burden they likely would be glad to shed.

The proposed U.S. purchase of Greenland, therefore, makes sense. Whoever leaked word of the hypothetical transaction, apparently did so with only one end in mind: giving a black eye to the international pariah and supervillain, Donald J. Trump.

Sadly, the people of the United States, Denmark, and Greenland may all suffer because of this leaker’s chronic Trump Derangement Syndrome. There is a chance, however—albeit a slim one—that the damage wrought by this agent provocateur can be undone.

The reaction in the United States and in Denmark to the precipitous release of information about the proposed purchase of Greenland has been predictable: U.S. liberals and the vast majority of Trump-hating Danes have recoiled in horror, thunderstruck by the idea that the hapless natives of Greenland would be handed over to the tender mercies of the cruel and “racist” dictator Trump. They have also cast the hypothetical transfer of sovereignty as a crass real estate deal writ large—an analogy unwisely embraced by Trump himself. When the full implications of the sale of Greenland to the United States are understood, the reality is much more complex.

It’s not just profits and losses at stake for all three peoples but also livelihoods, identities, and questions of national security.

Trump, and those who support the deal, instead of describing it as a massive exercise in property development, would have been better off focusing on the transaction’s human dimensions. They should have cited, for instance, the many communities of Native Americans in the United States, especially in Alaska, which are thriving because of federal assistance, entrepreneurship, and private-sector exploitation of their natural resources. Greenland’s natives, by contrast, suffer appalling rates of suicide, alcoholism, and unemployment.

Yes, transformative change of this kind can be frightening, but those who embrace it often prosper in this world. There is not much for the people of Greenland to gain by cocooning themselves against modernity, particularly when it is coming in one form or another if China has its way.

Given the fact that climate change is opening up huge new expanses of Greenland to settlement and economic development, Greenlanders legitimately can question whether the tiny kingdom of Denmark is the logical choice to lead their ice-bound land into the future.

Proponents of the U.S. purchase of Greenland can also point to the fact that the inherent logic of such a move has caused it to be proposed before: Secretary of State William Seward, who negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867, also wished to buy Greenland. President Truman (ironically, a liberal icon) wanted to purchase Greenland in 1946 because of its strategic value in the Atomic Age.

In the end, we must hope that the people of the United States, Denmark, and Greenland, once they have had time to recover from the latest paroxysm of Trump-hatred, reconsider their hasty dismissal of Trump’s outside-the-box proposal. The existing state of affairs may be acceptable to the three peoples concerned, but the potential benefits of a transfer of sovereignty are tremendous.

At a stroke, the United States of America would be close to 1 million square miles bigger, and it would have a permanent presence in the North Atlantic and the Arctic for the first time. Denmark would be richer and it would be rid of one of Europe’s last colonies leftover from the Age of Exploration and Imperialism. The people of Greenland would live in a land as dynamic and rich as Alaska—once considered America’s “Last Frontier” that has become a magnet for industry and tourism, as well as the home of some of our proudest and strongest native communities.

Let’s take a deep breath and, instead of condemning President Trump for his boldness and ingenuity, acknowledge that a U.S. purchase of Greenland could be a masterstroke of diplomacy and economics, not “Trump’s Folly.”

There is a saying that all great empires are either expanding or they are dying. Kudos to President Trump for having the vision to propose that our American empire expand—peacefully and benevolently—to the north.

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About Nicholas L. Waddy

Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an Associate Professor of History at SUNY Alfred and blogs at: www.waddyisright.com. He appears on the Newsmaker Show on WLEA 1480/106.9.

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