Donald Trump is fond of bragging about his conspicuous wealth and buying power, plastering his name over buildings and gilding the elevators of Trump Tower. But his latest reported aspiration is on the extravagant side, even for him: to purchase Greenland from Denmark.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the US president has “expressed interest” in buying the expansive icy territory for the US, and has asked his aides to explore the possibility. He has even sought the view of the White House counsel, though the Journal noted his inquiries came “with varying degrees of seriousness”.
News that Trump had set his sights on acquiring a meaty chunk of the Kingdom of Denmark set Twitter aflutter on Thursday night. Pundits tried in vain to find a real estate valuation for the 811,000 square miles on Zillow, while others attempted to calculate Greenland’s worth in pickled herring.
About 80% of the world's largest island is covered in ice. Inuit people first inhabited it by moving from present-day Canada 4,000-5,000 years ago. It was named by Erik the Red when he led a fleet of 25 ships from Iceland to colonise it in 985 AD.
Population: 56,000 - 90% of whom live in 16 towns.
Size: 836,000 sq miles (2.16m sq km) - roughly the same size as Great Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium combined.
Official language: Greenlandic - closely related to languages spoken by Inuit in Canada and Alaska.
National dish: Meat soup called suaasat which normally contains seal, whale, reindeer or seabirds.
Life expectancy: 72.9 years
Head of state: Queen Margrethe II of Denmark
Premier: Kim Kielsen
Capital city: Nuuk (population 18,000)
National anthem: Nunarput Utoqqarsuanngoravit, adopted in 1916. The first verse translates as: “Our country, which has become so old, your head is all covered with white hair. Always held us, your children, in your bosom, and gave us the riches of your coasts.”
Religion: Christianity was introduced to the island around 1000 by Erik the Red’s son Leif Eriksson.
Government: Denmark granted the island limited self-government in 1979, 26 years after it was incorporated into the country by the Danish constitution. Further powers were devolved in 2008. Economic self-sufficiency has been a stumbling block to the island gaining full independence.
EU membership: Greenland was a member of the European Union as part of Denmark from 1973 to 1985. It withdrew in 1985 after 53% of people voted to leave in a referendum called following disputes over fishing rights.
Military: There is no military force. Defence and foreign policy remain in the hands of the Danes.
Airports: 14. The first three were built in the 1940s and 50s by the US, which was handed the defence and control of Greenland while Denmark was under Nazi occupation.
Famous Greenlanders: Jesper Grønkjær, played football for Ajax, Chelsea, Atlético Madrid; Rasmus Lerdorf, co-authored the PHP programming language; Aleqa Hammond, the country’s first female prime minister.
Despite the levity the idea has provoked, it is not entirely in the realm of fantasy. In 1946 US President Harry Truman tried to buy Greenland from Denmark for $100m but was rebuffed. There was a more successful precedent dating back to 1917 when the US acquired the Danish West Indies, rebranding them the US Virgin Islands.
The US military already has a major airbase on Greenland, on the north-west of the island. The base has 600 personnel and is important in the country’s global radar system.
Trump travels to Denmark next month in his first official visit to the kingdom, though Greenland is not thought to be on the agenda. The Journal reported that the president raised the issue at a dinner last year in which he said he had heard Denmark was finding its financial support to the self-governing territory burdensome.
Floating the thought of the US buying the island, he asked the other guests: “What do you guys think about that?”
What Denmark thinks about that is in itself not at all clear. The Guardian asked the Danish embassy in Washington for a comment but did not receive an immediate response.