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Emerging frontier

Why Trump’s Greenland foray wasn’t so harebrained

Emerging frontier

(CIA World Fact Book)

When I first read the headlines, I thought it was a joke, some SNL parody that wandered onto the front pages: “Trump inquires about US buying Greenland,” reported CNN mid-August.

The tabloids took it in satirical stride, too. “Trump wants to buy Greenland,” led a New York Daily News cover piece, “But Denmark says he just can’t af-fjord it.” 

The preposterous, purchasing the vast island, an autonomous territory of Denmark, turned out to be serious. President Donald Trump admitted he had floated the idea with advisers—including the White House counsel—since last spring. Yet again, the president made parody out of protocol, chiding the prime minister of Denmark for “blowing off the U.S.” and canceling a scheduled trip to Denmark because she wouldn’t sell. 

But here’s a news flash for those of you who think I can only say negative things about the Trump White House: Buying Greenland was not a harebrained idea. One estimate put its worth at $533 billion, or about the equivalent of one year’s U.S. military budget. Here’s why the United States might seriously undertake it.

From the vantage point of the North Pole, Greenland sits like a sentry thrust into the Arctic Ocean.

Geographically, Greenland is part of North America, though it’s always been incorporated into Europe. Its land mass dominates the North Atlantic, and 90 percent of its population is Greenlandic (or North American), with only 10 percent Danish or other Nordic people groups. It’s more Canada than Copenhagen.

There’s also precedence for such a purchase. Look only to the other side of the Arctic Circle, where President Andrew Johnson purchased Alaska from the Russians in 1867 for $7.2 million. That’s $125 million in 2019 dollars—only a fraction the value of Greenland, a land mass larger than Alaska, potentially more resource-rich, and situated more strategically inside the Arctic Circle. 

From the vantage point of the North Pole, Greenland sits like a sentry thrust into the Arctic Ocean. It occupies a flanking position against the vast coastline of Russia. As the polar cap melts and the rich resources of the Arctic become more apparent, and up for grabs, future Americans might have thanked Donald Trump for securing so strategic a base.

Meanwhile, the United States in all seriousness is losing the Arctic. The most important global issues of coming decades, notes Johns Hopkins professor and American Enterprise Institute scholar Hal Brands, “are the return of rivalry between great powers and the intensification of climate change.” Sitting at the intersection of both trends is the Arctic.

Whether you conclude climate change is short- or long-term, manmade or cyclical, its effect in the Arctic today is undeniable: Greenland has experienced its biggest ice melt this summer, losing a record 12.5 billion tons in a day. It again has faced threatening wildfires. According to new atmospheric monitoring, more than 100 “intense and long-lived wildfires” have burned above the Arctic Circle since June, emitting enough carbon dioxide to equal Sweden’s entire annual emissions.

With a melting polar cap is a race to ply its navigable waters and plumb its resources. Russia and ascending Chinese forces may one day threaten the northern extremities of the American homeland via the Arctic. Already an international battle is underway for control of Lomonosov Ridge, an unusual underwater formation likely to prove rich in oil and gas and other resources. Russia and Denmark have lodged competing claims for sovereignty over it, and a team of scientists in 2015 concluded the ridge is attached to Greenland. The United States appears to be on the sidelines, and could be checkmated by Russia and China together pressing Denmark for concessions.

Into this emerging frontier, the United States has the opportunity to shape the Arctic for good. That’s what happened when it decided in the aftermath of World War II to take on also-outsized projects in Europe and Asia. The Cold War might have taken a different turn without Alaska in American hands. 

But in the end, Trump himself turned a serious proposition into a joke again, tweeting a vast Trump Tower superimposed on Greenland’s rocky escarpments with a promise “not to do this” to Greenland.

Indeed. Because in the Trump era we don’t have foreign policy, we have foreign policy episodes. Stay tuned for the next show.


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  • SoTired
    Posted: Thu, 09/05/2019 03:43 am

    Sigh. Another endorsement of climate change without telling why I should believe a computer model forecasting the climate 100 years into the future when a path for Hurriance Dorian was too elusive. Anyone remember the 'hole' in the ozone layer? I hope World returns to its roots quickly, this leaping about is distracting.

  • not silent
    Posted: Thu, 09/05/2019 03:46 pm

    The article fullly acknowledges disagreement about whether current trends in our changing climate are long-term or short-term and whether it's manmade or cyclical.  You don't have to accept all computer models to acknowledge that some ice has melted.  

    It seems that too often we view things as all-or-nothing (it's probably part of human nature).  While there are things that are pretty much black and white (hopefully most World readers would agree that the existence of God and the inerrancy of the Bible fall in that category), there are also things that we simply don't know enough about.  I think "climate change" is one of those things.

    The climate is always changing, of course; but even scientists can't agree on how much it is influenced by human factors or the effects it will ultimately have on our planet.  I think this is partly because the issue is extremely complicated and partly because there are people on both sides that push data which supports their position and suppress data which does not.

    Several years ago, I read the official IPCC Report on the government website; and it convinced me more than anything else that this is a political issue as much as a scientific one.  That makes it very hard to parse through the alarmist reports and figure out the truth. 

    In my opinion, I think we should do all we can to take care of this planet, whether human factors are driving climate change or not.  In other words, we should try to limit pollution of all kinds-emissions, agricultural runoff, industrial waste, dumping, landfills, and any others I've not mentioned.  This will probably require the development of renewable energy sources.  However, I don't think it will help to institute measures that will do more to bankrupt our economy than to help the environment.  Unlike some other nations, we are actually TRYING to help the planet. 

    God gave us this planet and he intended for us to steward it wisely.  Besides, it's the only one we have.

  • Laura W
    Posted: Thu, 09/05/2019 06:07 pm

    Agreed. And of possible man-made causes, we should also consider the ones that aren't CO2-related.