Greenland: Trump’s folly?

Buy Greenland? Say what? Seriously? For real? 

It may be President Trump’s most bizarre idea yet.

Greenland is an autonomous region of Denmark. It enjoys self-rule, and pretty much looks to Denmark only for economic subsidies, defense and foreign policy.

As a practice in international relations, buying another nation’s territory disappeared in the 19th century.

The United States engaged in it several times back then: the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the Gadsden Purchase in 1854, Alaska in 1867, and of course innumerable purchase treaties with Native American tribes. There were probably other purchases as well.

The usual way territories changed hands, then and now, of course, was through conquest. That’s not surprising: most nations aren’t eager to sell their ancestral lands.

And that appears to be the universal sentiment in Denmark.

Danish conservatives and liberals alike have responded negatively to Trump’s proposal, some courteously, some not so much.

It’s telling that Trump didn’t suggest a referendum among Greenland’s 56,000 residents, 80 percent of whom are Inuit or of mixed Inuit ethnicity. (Inuits are generally known in the United States as Eskimos.) 

It may not have occurred to him that the residents of a territory should have the right of self-determination. Or if it did, that factor is less important in his thinking than the value Greenland could have for the United States.

That value would lie in strategy and resources. 

With the Arctic melting and exploitation underway of the once-frozen Arctic Ocean for transportation and seafloor resources, there’s a pretty frantic scramble for domination among northern nations, particularly Norway, Russia, Canada and the United States. Greenland is an important defense base for America in that regard.

In terms of the resources of Greenland itself, the immense island happens to be rich in rare-earth minerals. According to the internet, those include neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium and terbium. 

Spoiler alert: I have no idea what those are or what they do. But I know that rare-earth minerals and metals are important components of various high-tech devices, and that China is the source of something like 95 percent of the rare-earths. That fact worries American industrial and strategic leaders.

But Greenland has been a Danish territory for a thousand years, dating from Viking settlements in the 10th century. Although today it looks more to Canada and the United States than to its Scandinavian origins, there’s no question that Greenland belongs to Denmark. 

And it apparently wants to remain that way. 

As a Danish territory, its inhabitants enjoy free health care except in rare instances. The free care includes preventive exams, childbirth, dental treatment, prescription drugs, vaccinations and prosthetic devices, and other important features.

One of those is free transportation to the regional hospital or the health center in the nearest town, or if necessary, to a health care institution in another country. 

Greenland’s population is widely dispersed around its coastal periphery in small towns and villages, and therefore health care transportation would be personally highly expensive without the government program.

What would be the chances that the United States, the only advanced nation with mostly private-sector health care, would continue Greenland’s free health care system once the island became an American territory? 

Could Greenlanders trust an American pledge in that regard? 

America’s record of living up to its treaties is sketchy at best, and has not improved under Trump.

Its ice cap would not be the only thing disappearing if the United States gained control of Greenland. Denmark is doing the right thing by just saying no.

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