October 22, 2019
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Exploring a deal to buy Greenland is far from Trump’s worst idea

Felipe Dana | AP
Felipe Dana | AP
In this Aug. 16, 2019, photo, NYU student researchers sit on top of a rock overlooking the Helheim glacier in Greenland. Summer 2019 is hitting the island hard with record-shattering heat and extreme melt.

President Donald Trump and his administration are in no short supply of bad ideas. Considering an attempt to purchase Greenland from Denmark isn’t one of them.

Last week, it was reported that the Trump administration was looking into the possibility of buying Greenland, a largely self-ruling part of the Kingdom of Denmark located almost entirely within the Arctic Circle. Trump confirmed that exploratory effort while speaking to reporters on Sunday.

“Strategically, it’s interesting. And, we’d be interested. We’ll talk to them a little bit,” the president said about engaging with Denmark in the conversation, as reported by NPR.

“It’s not No. 1 on the burner, I can tell you that,” he added, downplaying the priority of this unlikely, if not impossible land deal.

The idea has understandably been greeted less-than-warmly by Greenland and Danish officials, who made it clear that the world’s largest non-continental island is “not for sale.” While Trump’s initial suggestion was worth a few minor diplomatic headaches, his subsequent decision to postpone an upcoming trip to Denmark — which he acknowledges is a reaction to the Danes’ non-interest in his Greenland deal — is woefully misguided.

We should be collaborating with the governments in Greenland and Denmark, not confusing or alienating them. And we certainly shouldn’t be taking our ball and going home when we don’t get what we want.

While Trump’s underlying Greenland idea has been met with its share of surprise, jokes and ridicule here at home, it’s still interesting in theory.

Notwithstanding the practical reality that the current inhabitants and owners have no desire to sell (which would seem to be a deal-breaker), it remains encouraging that the president is thinking about ways to expand U.S. presence in an area of significant and increasing strategic importance.

Trump is not the first president to suggest a Greenland deal — Harry Truman tried unsuccessfully to buy it for $100 million in 1946. Despite that failed attempt, Greenland has long been been important to U.S. military interests. It is home to the Thule Air Base, our country’s northernmost military installation. From that high latitude, the U.S. Air Force keeps an eye out for intercontinental ballistic missiles. No small task.

On top of its longstanding strategic importance, changes in the Arctic have only intensified the military — and increasingly, environmental and economic — imperative of maintaining and even expanding the U.S. presence in the region.

As rising temperatures melt Arctic ice, international competition continues to heat up over new resource and transportation opportunities. New land is literally emerging from the melting ice — and with it new access to oil, gas and mineral reserves — and a decrease in sea ice is opening new shipping lanes.

Greenland’s rapidly-melting ice sheet could play a greater role in global sea level rise than researchers previously thought, and according to a University of Alaska Fairbanks model using NASA data, that melt could add up to 63 inches in the next 200 years.

“We all live with one ocean,” a NASA researcher told CBS news. “So a billion tons of ice lost here in Greenland means higher sea levels in Florida, California, New York, even as far as Australia.”

That’s all the more reason to be alarmed about the very real impacts of climate change. But the reality of the situation in the Arctic requires U.S. leadership and outside the box thinking in order to meet challenges and seize opportunities, even if they are born out of worrying climate trends.

There is, of course, a level of irony that the unquestionable impacts of climate change — which Trump unfortunately jokes about, diminishes and questions — are creating emerging opportunities in Greenland and the Arctic generally.

Russia in particular has been aggressive in asserting itself in the Arctic. The U.S. has thus far failed to match Moscow’s investment or intensity there.

Staff for Sen. Angus King, a co-chair of the Senate Arctic Caucus, said King appreciates added attention to Arctic issues, but is approaching the president’s idea of buying Greenland with skepticism.

The president’s talk about trying to buy Greenland could possibly — and we emphasize possibly — be a step toward a much-needed thaw in the president’s approach to climate change. A recognition of the mounting strategic importance of the area is also a tacit recognition of the impacts of climate change — even the president fails to highlight the underlying causes.

Trump’s look to expand American real estate in Greenland does not include a much-needed, long-overdue and overt acknowledgment of the troubling impacts that climate change is having in the area. And it’s a shame that he’s allowing this idea to complicate diplomatic relations with another Arctic nation. But it nevertheless represents a critical recognition that the U.S. needs to play a bigger role in that region, and that, at least, is a step in the right direction.

 



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