A few days ago, American media wrote that US President Donald Trump discussed with his advisers the possibility of acquiring Greenland - the largest island in the world, which is part of Denmark (an autonomy). At first glance, this idea is not taken seriously and may seem like a temporary hobby for eccentric Trump. Say, the American president wants to show the whole world that he is so influential that he can actually buy a whole country (98% of the territory of Denmark). There are rumors that Trump wants to be like “second” Dwight Eisenhower - the ex-president of the United States, who in 1959 made Alaska the 49th state of America. Social networks burst with sarcasm. Some even doubted that Trump could even find Greenland on a world map. Nevertheless, some Trump advisers are sympathetic to the idea of annexing Greenland, a storehouse of minerals. Greenland is interesting to the United States for a number of reasons.
Since the Cold War, the American air base of Thule has been located on the territory of Greenland, an early warning system is functioning in the event of the launch of nuclear missiles in the direction of the USA. The US military was exploring the possibility of building a submarine base in Greenland and developed the Project Iceworm to cut through the island’s ice shell a system of tunnels and a platform for launching nuclear missiles (85% of the island is covered with glaciers). These plans had to be abandoned due to the complexity of their implementation due to adverse weather and climatic conditions in Greenland. Denmark has been a NATO member since the foundation of the organization in 1949. It may seem that the United States does not make sense to spend billions of dollars on the acquisition of an island from Denmark, which is already under their military-political control.
However, the geopolitical importance of Greenland grows with the melting of ice in the Arctic Ocean. In recent years, the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland have been competing for the division of the Arctic shelf, rich in oil and natural gas. Alaska’s shelf contains 4.3–11.8 billion barrels of oil and 5.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas from the Cook field. The acquisition of Greenland would allow the United States to claim another 48 billion barrels of oil. The bowels of Greenland are rich in zinc, lead, platinum, copper, nickel, gold, diamonds and rare earth metals. Following the granting of autonomy to Greenland in 2009, natural resources are under the authority of the island. However, neither Denmark nor Greenland, which is a subsidized region with a population of 56,000 people, does not have enough resources for the development of mineral deposits on the island and within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone. Denmark annually gives Greenland half a billion dollars, which is 60% of the island’s GDP.
The development of oil and gas fields in the Arctic is not an easy task for the United States due to low temperatures and bad weather. Oil production at Alaskan fields is 1-2 times more expensive than in Texas, and from the late 80s to the present has been reduced from 2.2 million to 600 thousand barrels per day. The Trump administration is particularly interested in the Arctic and aims to increase its presence in the region. To date, there are two icebreakers in the United States, while in the Russian Federation there are 40 of them. However, unlike the Danes, Americans have more resources. At the end of 2018, the US Senate allocated $ 750 million for the construction of a new icebreaker.
Americans are interested in using the Northwest Sea Route to transport oil from Alaska to ports on the US East Coast. The route passes through the straits between the arctic islands of Canada and the Baffin Sea. The Northwest Sea Route is a shorter route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean than the Strait of Panama. The depth of this route allows vessels with a displacement of over 170,000 tons to pass through the Panama Canal. If Greenland joins the United States, the Americans will be able to take control of part of the route, gaining access to the Baffin Sea, which washes the west coast of Greenland. Although without a powerful icebreaker fleet, a safe crossing of the Northwest Sea Route is hardly possible, given the fact that straits through the Canadian Arctic islands are poorly developed.
According to the strategy of the US Department of Defense, the Trump administration's priority is to restrain the strengthening of Russia and China in the Arctic. The US is concerned about the increase in Russia's military presence in the Arctic, the opening of military airfields. Russia claims to be an oil field in the region of the underwater Lomonosov ridge (presumably 75 billion barrels of oil) and considers the mountain range to be a continuation of its continental shelf. Despite the fact that the Russian Federation participates in the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which extends the sovereignty of the state to the shelf, its leadership is interested in establishing control over the offshore zone of the Arctic Ocean, which is considered international.
The Russian authorities believe that the Arctic should be divided into sectors from the extreme points of their coastline in the Arctic Ocean, and the North Pole is the border of the Arctic states. Since Russia has the longest coastline, it claims to be the largest piece of oil and gas pie. Sovereignty over Greenland would help the Americans reduce the appetites of Russians. The Danish authorities are also claiming an oil field in the area of the underwater Lomonosov Ridge, which, in their opinion, is connected with Greenland. If Greenland was part of the United States, Americans could lay claim to solid sections of the Arctic, regardless of approaches to its division.
The Pentagon is alarmed by the expansion of China in the Arctic under the sauce of dual-use projects. There are Chinese research stations in Norway and Iceland. Denmark is not an exception. China planned to invest in airport construction in the Greenland cities of Nuk and Ilulissat to connect with Denmark and EU member states. In 2018, Washington managed to convince Copenhagen to prevent Chinese investors from entering Greenland. This year, the Danish government and the local Greenland authorities took over the issue of financing the construction of airports. China is interested in gaining access to mineral resources in the Arctic without having direct access to the region. Therefore, the country's authorities are developing cooperation with the Arctic states. China could use the airports in Greenland to supply the necessary equipment for drilling and mining. The island could turn into a raw materials appendage of China at the eastern borders of the United States.
In Copenhagen, they did not wait for Trump's arrival and refused to sell Greenland. The Danish Foreign Ministry said that Greenland is open for business, but not for sale. Trump is not the first American president to be interested in acquiring Greenland. Former U.S. presidents Harry Truman in 1946 and Andrew Johnson in 1867 offered the Danish government to sell the island of the United States but were also refused. Although in 1917, Copenhagen sold the so-called Danish East Indian Islands (modern Virgin Islands) to the Caribbean Sea for $ 25 million to Washington, Truman offered to sell Greenland for $ 100 billion.
The Danes are holding back from the sale of Greenland possible negative consequences for the territorial integrity of the kingdom. In recent years, the Faroe Islands, which have autonomy within Denmark, has intensified the struggle between separatists and unionists. In the last parliamentary elections in Denmark, members of the Unionist Party and the Social Democratic Party were elected as representatives of the Faroe Islands, who advocated the preservation of the archipelago in the kingdom. At the same time, the Minister of Trade and International Relations of the Faroe Islands, Poul Michelsen, leader of the Progressive Party, believes that the Faroese are not Danes, so they need to create an independent state. In 2018, separatists planned to hold a referendum on independence, which was postponed. Centrifugal sentiment in the Faroe Islands, where the population (50,000 people) is less than the number of sheep (80,000), and the main source of income is fishing, intensified after the start of an exploration of oil reserves in 2000, which are estimated at 10 billion barrels. This year, BP, Equinor, Eni received licenses for drilling operations in the Faroe Islands.
The EU also has an influence on the position of Denmark. The sale of Greenland does not meet the interests of Brussels. If Greenland becomes part of the United States, the EU will lose access to the Arctic. Mineral resources on the shelf of the island are of strategic importance for volatile Europe. Although, despite Denmark's membership in the EU since 1973, Greenland is not part of the common market and is located outside the Schengen area. In 1985, Greenland withdrew from the EU due to a reluctance to open its waters to other countries for fishing.