President Trump made his name as a real-estate man, and now he is reportedly contemplating the biggest purchase of his life: buying Greenland.
The Wall Street Journal reports, “In meetings, at dinners and in passing conversations, Mr. Trump has asked advisers whether the U.S. can acquire Greenland, listened with interest when they discuss its abundant resources and geopolitical importance, and, according to two of the people, has asked his White House counsel to look into the idea."
Denmark owns Greenland, although Greenland is self-ruled. At over 836,000 square miles, Greenland is the world’s largest island (Australia and Antarctica are considered landmasses.) Despite its enormous size, only 56,000 people live in Greenland; that’s because three-quarters of Greenland is covered by a permanent ice sheet.
Greenland came under the Norwegian crown in 1262; the Portuguese briefly claimed it at the start of the 16th century. In the early 1700’s, Denmark and Norway, which were joined under one crown, owned the island, but in 1814 when the union was dissolved, Denmark took control. In 1979, Denmark granted Greenland home rule. Denmark now handles Greenland’s foreign and security policy.
Trump is due to visit Copenhagen in September. The Wall Street Journal notes, “A decades-old defense treaty between Denmark and the U.S. gives the U.S. military virtually unlimited rights in Greenland at America’s northernmost base, Thule Air Base. Located 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle, it includes a radar station that is part of a U.S. ballistic missile early warning system. The base is also used by the U.S. Air Force Space Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command.”
In 2017, Greenland’s prime minister traveled to Beijing to discuss the possibility of Chinese state-run banks financing airports, including one in the capital city, Nuuk. That prompted then-U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to warn Denmark that Beijing should not be permitted to militarize Greenland’s area near the Arctic. The Wall Street Journal reported, “Pentagon officials expressed worry that Greenland’s aid-dependent government could struggle to repay a loan for the $555 million project, and after a few missed payments, China’s government could take control of runways that could potentially be used by warplanes on an island where the U.S. has a missile-tracking air force base.”
Greenland later announced that Nuuk’s airport would be built with loans backed by the Danish government. Denmark subsidizes Greenland to the tune of $591 million every year; that’s 60% of Denmark’s budget.
The idea of buying Greenland has been floated before; President Harry Truman offered to buy Greenland from Denmark for $100 million in 1946; the State Department during the tenure of President Andrew Johnson considered buying Iceland and Greenland in 1867.
Kenneth Mortensen, a real-estate agent in Nuuk, reminded the Journal that all land in Greenland is owned by the government, saying, “You can never own land here. In Greenland, you get a right to use the land where you want to build a house, but you can’t buy. Of course, buying Greenland is a different issue altogether; I’m not sure about that.”