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Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that President Trump had, on various occasions, floated the idea of the U.S. purchasing Greenland. Trump later confirmed his interest, saying "essentially, it’s a large real estate deal" and jokingly tweeting a doctored image of a Trump-branded building towering over the barren Greenland landscape.
Greenland is a massive yet sparsely populated island off the northeast coast of Canada that's largely covered in ice. The island is a self-governing territory of Denmark.
In response to reports of American interest, Greenland's Foreign Ministry said it was "open for business, not for sale." Denmark's prime minister called the idea "absurd."
Trump is not the first U.S. president to try to buy Greenland. The Truman administration offered the Danes $100 million in gold and potentially part of Alaska for the island in 1946. Denmark declined, but has allowed the U.S. to maintain an Air Force base there for the past 70 years. The two countries completed a deal in 1917 for America to acquire what are now the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Why there's debate:
Many wrote off the idea as nothing more than offhand comments made by a president prone to speaking off the cuff. Others have argued that the notion was functionally impossible because Denmark may not be in a position to sell Greenland, even if it wanted to.
Purchasing Greenland might not be as unreasonable as it sounds, some have countered, and such a transaction would not be unprecedented. America has a long history of buying huge swaths of land, including Alaska and most of the central U.S. Supporters of the idea say Greenland has strong strategic military value. The island also has major oil and mineral resources that are expected to become accessible as its ice sheets melt due to climate change. Denmark may also want to redirect the $740 million it spends annually to support the island.
Trump was scheduled to meet with the leaders of Denmark and Greenland in Copenhagen next month, but late Tuesday said he was postponing the visit. Denmark's prime minister said she was "disappointed and surprised" by the cancellation, but emphasized that "Denmark and the U.S. are not in crisis; the U.S. is one of our closest allies." She added that she hopes the U.S. will be part of future conversations on issues facing Greenland and other parts of the Arctic, such as climate change and security concerns. On Wednesday, Trump called her "nasty" in response to her comments.
Buying Greenland is a good idea
"Don't laugh — an American purchase of Greenland could represent an extraordinary deal in terms of America's national security, economic interests, and environmental protection." — Editorial, Washington Examiner
Greenland has vast natural resources that could benefit the U.S.
"The only real upside to melting Arctic ice is the increasing accessibility of various resources: oil, zinc, lead, iron ore, even gold and diamonds. If the worst-case climate change scenarios don't pan out, well, that would be a relief; but if they do, why shouldn't Americans be the ones to lead the world in 21st-century polar mining?" — Matthew Walther, the Week
There’s a problem with this plan — Greenland is not for sale
"The practical problem is that Greenland is not for sale — and there is no indication that Greenland’s inhabitants want to see their island strip-mined by Americans." — Matthew Yglesias, Vox
Even if Greenland were for sale, the cost would be too extreme
"Even if you got an agreement in principle, the price would be extremely high. If this were to go ahead, it's going to be in the billions, possibly even trillions." — University College of London professor Iwan Morgan to CNN Business
The U.S. president thinking he can buy another territory is more worrying than funny
“When small nations wake up to the world’s superpower threatening to unroot that relation, it’s not something to take lightly. … It’s everything but a joke." — “The Greenland Dilemma” author Martin Breum to New York Times
Greenland's fate is up to residents
"Ultimately, though, it will be up to Greenland itself to decide its future." — Copenhagen Post
The U.S. should consider territorial expansion, even if Greenland is off the table
"Trump’s idea may be outlandish (and impossible) but that doesn’t mean there’s no benefit in thinking about reviving the market in sovereign territories, which once made America great." — Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg
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