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Buying Greenland? Trump, Truman and the 'Pearl of the Mediterranean'

- Thorsten Borring Olesen

In the summer of 2019, the Trump Administration voiced an interest in buying Greenland from Denmark. The historical background for this stretches at least as far back as a case brought by Norway at the International Court in 1933 when it was decided that Denmark had full sovereignty over Greenland. Since then, Danish governments have engaged in reformulations and re-negotiations with respect to Greenland’s sovereign rule, including the 1979 home rule agreement and self rule in 2009. It is arguable, however, that the US had de facto sovereignty for periods of the 20th century. For example, a defense pact in 1941 allowed the US extensive rights to military bases in Greenland in exchange for military protection while mainland Denmark was occupied by Germany. This led to the Truman administration making an actual bid to purchase the world’s largest island in 1946. During the Cold War, Denmark relied on the US to defend Greenland. While today, after obtaining self rule in 2009, it is recognized that Greenland has the right to become independent if it so wishes, questions of its sovereignty remain. These were highlighted by the recent diplomatic spat between Trump and the Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, indicating that the sovereignty issue will continue to be contested and pose a considerable challenge even for a fully independent Greenland of the future. Greenland has been and continues to be a vital strategic asset, not least to the US - and perhaps even more so due to the possible effects of climate change.