The life span of a news story having to do with the Trump Administration is about one week, so it’s probably safe to encapsulate the bizarre story of Trump’s desire to buy Greenland, the large island located in the North Atlantic. Greenland is an autonomous territory within the Kingdom of Denmark, meaning that it governs itself but allows Denmark control over its foreign affairs.
According to reports first broke by The Wall Street Journal, U.S. President Donald Trump has for the last several months been asking around to see if the U.S. government can purchase Greenland from Denmark. The rumors came to a head mid-August with the Wall Street Journal report. Trump himself confirmed the rumors on August 18.
The people and politicians of Greenland and Denmark did not take so kindly to the interest however. Greenland’s foreign minister replied that the country was “open for business, not for sale.” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen replied that Trump’s idea of trying to purchase the island was “absurd,” which led Trump to cancel an upcoming trip to Denmark to celebrate the U.S.-Denmark relationship. He labeled Frederiksen’s remarks as “nasty” (an adjective which he has used before to criticize women such as Hillary Clinton and Meghan Markle) and then canceled the long-planned trip. It’s a funny way to conduct foreign relations with allies, to say the least.
A purchase of such a large mass of land by the U.S. government would be astounding and historic, especially by the political party that advocates small government and fiscal conservatism. It brings to mind the U.S. purchase of Alaska from Russia, which was negotiated by U.S. Secretary of State William Seward in 1867. The purchase become known popularly as “Seward’s Folly” until the Klondike Gold Rush started in 1897. Fossil fuel extraction in Alaska began with the first oil well in 1902.
It would not be the first time that the U.S. has explored purchasing Greenland either. The Truman Administration offered Denmark $100 million for the island in 1946. Seward himself tried looking into purchasing Greenland in 1868 after the Alaska Purchase. It should be noted that Greenland hosts Thule Air Base, an American military installation.
The riff between Trump and his Danish counterpart, in addition to past U.S. administrations’ interest, is apparently a big enough deal that the Issues Correlates of War (ICOW) dataset, which tracks territorial disputes around the world, is now considering this an official territorial dispute (according to ICOW’s Facebook page).
So why would Trump want to buy Greenland? Of all the issues going on around the world at the moment, why is he thinking about this?
Greenland is believed to hold many natural resources, but is covered in ice. That ice though is melting at a precipitous rate due to global climate change. CNN just reported here that Greenland lost 11 billion tons of ice in just one day. This of course will result in those natural resources being more easily extractable within the next few decades.
It is possible though that Trump is concerned about his legacy as U.S. president. Completing the one thing he actually knows how to do, purchasing real estate, may be his way of making his mark in U.S. (and Greenland) history. Of course, such a move probably would not make up for all the horrible moves he has made as president – including putting migrants in cages, starting trade wars with China and others, and overseeing the disintegration of the U.S. prestige and hegemony.