Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Blogger Candidate Forum: Greenland Is Not For Sale

Hello Everyone:

It is a lovely warm Wednesday afternoon and time for Blogger Candidate Forum.  It has been a very eventful 24 hours.  First, during an Oval Office press conference, Mr. Donald Trump responded a question about a press conference held by Representatives Rashid Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN).  The representatives expressed their anger that the Israeli government caved into American pressure and enforced a 2017 law preventing advocates of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement from entering the country.  Blogger is not going to get into it because that is not the point for day's post.  During his response, he inferred that Jewish voters who vote Democrat either have a great lack of knowledge or are disloyal--i.e. disloyal to him and by extension, the United States.  This set off a category off the charts storm of criticism over this implied anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic trope.  Amid the hurricane of controversy, the president canceled his upcoming state visit to Denmark, bringing us to today's subject.

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Map showing where Greenland is
Greenland is an autonomous country of Denmark, located between the Arctic and Atlantic ocean, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and the world's largest island.  Although Greenland is culturally and politically associated with Europe, geographically it is part of North America, really.  It is home to Thule Air Base, administered by the United States and rich in natural resources.  Its strategic location and the abundance of iron, ore, lead, zinc, diamonds, gold, rare-earth, uranium, and oil have made it attractive to past presidents--Presidents Andrew Johnson and Harry Truman--and now Mr. Trump who wanted to buy it.  Danish Prime Minister Mette Fredericksen firmly and politely turned him down, prompting the president to cancel an official visit days before he was scheduled to leave.  This prompted the question, why countries do not buy territories like they used to?

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American westward expansion

Once upon a time, sovereigns bought and sold territories to each other.  For example, the United States looks the way it does not only because of military conquest, but because real estate deals, notably the Louisiana Purchase and Alaska Purchase.  Occasionally, the land deals were tied to military action.  Case in point, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War, transferred territories held by Mexico to the United States.  The United States paid Mexico $15 million in exchange for other consideration (; June 5, 2012; date accessed Aug. 21, 2019).  Somewhere along the way, the market for sovereign territory dried up.  Duke University Professor Joseph Blocher writes,

...To be sure, there is still an active market for proprietary interests in public lands; the federal government, after all owns approximately 30% [; date accessed Aug, 21, 2019] of the nation's land.  But borders--sovereign territory rather than property--do not seem to be for sale, especially domestically.  Why? (Ibid)

Image result for Daewoo purchase of farmland in Madagascar
Terraced rice farming in Madagascar

The closet thing to the kind of purchase that Mr. Trump was thinking of is China's state-run Heilongjiang Nongken Group's purchase of 800,000 acres of Argentina for growing crops for export (; Sept. 1, 2011; date accessed Aug. 21, 2019) or Daewoo Logistics' leas of 3.2 million acres (; Nov. 23, 2008; date accessed Aug. 21, 2019), half the arable land in Madagascar.  No national border had to be redrawn, but the mega-deals raises issues about national sovereignty in the host countries .(; June 5, 2012).

Professor Joseph Blocher wrote, "There are also some sign that the concept of sovereign land purchases may be making a comeback.... some commentators have half-seriously suggested sell off some its island [; Mar. 4, 2010; date accessed Aug. 21, 2019] to settle its debts" (; June 5, 2012).  Greece did not sell off some of its islands to settle its debts which brings us to question of why Mr. Donald Trump wanted (or wants to buy) Greenland.

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Scenic Greenland

The president floated the idea of buying Greenland (; Aug. 15, 2019; date accessed Aug. 21, 2019) multiple times but Danish Prime Minister Mette Fredericksen dismissed the notion as "absurd" (Ibid).  However, the whole diplomatic row that this caused is an indication just how important Greenland has become in the geopolitical landscape.  How important?  It piqued the curiosity of the Chinese.

Jordan McDonald writes, "Greenland's strategic value is linked tightly to new North American shipping lanes opening up due to polar ice caps" (Ibid).  The new shipping lanes have drastically reduced maritime trade travel times, which typically includes passage through the Panama or Suez canals to circle the globe.

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Map of the North Atlantic Ocean

 Greenland's main economic drivers are fishing and tourism, but it has drawn growing interest in its vast natural resources (; Aug. 16, 2019; date accessed Aug. 21, 2019).  Mr. McDonald writes, "There have been expeditions to assess the extent of the nation's resources, but the true quantity is unknown" (Ibid).

China, which is involved in trade war with the United States, has previously expressed interest (; Jan. 25, 2018; date accessed Aug. 21, 2019) in a "Polar Silk Road" (; Aug. 16, 2019) of trade through the North Atlantic shipping lanes.  China even went as far as to propose new airports and mining facilities in 2018 by withdrew its bid (Ibid; June 4, 2019).  Michael Sfraga, the director of the Polar Institute at the Wilson, told NBC News,

If [China were to] have a significant investment in a country that is so strategically important for so many countries, they would have influence there,.... If you invest a lot in a small island country, you have a lot of sway there (Ibid; Aug. 21, 2019).

A report issued by the Pentagon earlier this year warned,

Civilian research could support a strengthened Chinese military presence in the Arctic Ocean, which could include deploying submarines as a deterrent against nuclear attacks (; date accessed Aug. 21, 2019)

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Thule Air Base

Greenland is an advantageous location for the American military.  Since World War II, both countries have had an agreement in place to house military assets on the island.  The United States has operated Thule Air Base since 1943 and has a ballistic missile early  warning system and a satellite tracking system (; Aug. 16, 2019). 

Greenland is not the only country in the North Atlantic to offer economic opportunities for a powerful country looking to invest in the region.  However, there is a cost to the environment, the history, and the culture of Greenland and the Arctic from a burst of investment activity.  While Mr. Donald Trump continues to press his argument for buying Greenland from Denmark (for now), let us hope cooler more rational minds will prevail over him.


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