President Trump has come in for considerable ridicule for saying that the U.S. should purchase Greenland from Denmark. But Sen. Tom Cotton, writing in the New York Times, makes a strong case for buying Greenland. He reasons:
The acquisition of Greenland would secure vital strategic interests for the United States, economically benefit both us and Greenlanders, and would be in keeping with American — and Danish — diplomatic traditions.
Tom notes that President Truman tried to buy Greenland after World War, in recognition of its strategic importance in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The Cold War is over, but China, our main strategic adversary these days, has its eye on Greenland:
Intent on securing a foothold in the Arctic and North America, China attempted in 2016 to purchase an old American naval base in Greenland, a move the Danish government prevented. Two years later, China was back at it, attempting to build three airports on the island, which failed only after intense lobbying of the Danes by the Trump administration.
Beijing understands not only Greenland’s geographic importance but also its economic potential. Greenland is rich in a wide array of mineral deposits, including rare-earth minerals — resources critical to our high-tech and defense industries. China currently dominates the market in these minerals and has threatened to withhold them from us to gain leverage in trade negotiations. Greenland also possesses untold reserves of oil and natural gas.
Purchasing Greenland would also benefit Greenlanders. According to Tom, the island’s economy is held back by lack of infrastructure and financing. As the world’s largest economy, the U.S. would be better able than Denmark to remedy this situation.
The Danish government was dismissive of Trump’s idea to purchase Greenland. It’s not clear how much of this had to do with merits and how much had to do with its distaste for President Trump.
In any event, as Tom observes, Denmark currently transfers $670 million per year in subsidies to support Greenland. The transfer of Greenland’s sovereignty would alleviate a significant financial burden on the Danish people while expanding opportunities for Greenlanders. Other than antipathy for Trump, it’s not clear why Denmark would reject out of hand a deal with a fair purchase price.
Tom reminds us that when the U.S. bought Alaska from Russia, the purchase was dubbed “Seward’s Folly.” It turned out to be a fantastic deal. Purchasing Greenland might look similarly shrewd down the road.
There’s no question in my mind that if President Obama had talked of buying Greenland, the “smart set” would have treated the idea as a serious proposal with considerable potential benefits. As Sen. Cotton shows, that’s how it deserves to be treated.