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BC’s Tales of the Pacific | Why would the US buy Greenland?

IN the news recently, we learned that the American president spoke with officials from Denmark about the possibility of purchasing Greenland, the world’s largest island.  Why would the United States want to buy Greenland?

Although the island is massive, it has a very small population, around 56,000 people scattered among a dozen towns. Much of the island is covered with snow and ice, with giant glacier fields and rugged mountains that render much of the land mass uninhabitable. That is the bad news.

This is the good news. As the polar ice cap continues to melt countries are quickly jockeying for position to dominate the world’s newest and most strategic waterway, the Northwest Passage linking Pacific Asia with Europe via the North Pole. Take out a globe and look at the view from the top and you will see the route we, and all the world’s leaders, are talking about.

Russia and China are investing heavily in technology, infrastructure and assets that will give them advantages concerning the new trade route. But the United States already holds a strategic advantage. By owning Alaska the United States controls the Pacific side of the North Sea route. Any vessels attempting to run the route must pass through the Aleutian Islands chain and very close to the Alaskan mainland. As the North Sea route develops, the Bering Strait will become as important to world trade as Panama or the Suez Canal.

Now look at the other end, the European side of the route. Notice how Greenland sits astride the Atlantic end of the route. Any vessels sailing the North Sea route, commercial or military, would have to pass between Greenland and Norway. If the United States owns Greenland, it would possess strategic advantage over any other country attempting to dominate the route.

At this point, China and Russia have expressed the most interest in developing the North Sea route, so naturally they would have the most to lose if the United States acquired Greenland. For that very reason, one would expect China and Russia to try to buy Greenland for themselves. In fact, China has already approached the Danish government along these lines, speaking of the development of a “Polar Silk Road” but they abandoned their bid a few months ago. If the United States did not make a bid for the island it is hard to see how it would not end up in the hands of one of the other powers.

“But BC, can’t Denmark just tell the others that Greenland is not for sale? Can’t they just keep it for themselves?” Sure they can. Just like Vietnam, the Philippines and the United Nations have told China that they have no legal claim to own the South China Sea. That has worked out so well.

BC Cook, PhD taught history for over 20 years. He lived on Saipan and travels the Pacific but currently lives on the mainland U.S.