President Donald Trump was scheduled to visit Denmark, but he announced on August 20 that he would not go. The president canceled the trip due to Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s harsh public rejection of Trump’s offer to buy Greenland.
It started out as a rumor in the press: Trump was checking out the possibility of buying the world’s largest island, Greenland, which is currently an autonomous country under the administration of Denmark. When asked by journalists, he confirmed the speculation, saying, “Strategically it’s interesting, and we’d be interested, but we’ll talk to them a little bit. It’s not number one on the burner.”
Many Danes perceived the president’s comments as a joke, including the Danish Prime Minister, who called the proposal “absurd.” Trump responded in kind on Twitter.
“Denmark is a very special country with incredible people, but based on Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s comments, that she would have no interest in discussing the purchase of Greenland, I will be postponing our meeting scheduled in two weeks for another time … The Prime Minister was able to save a great deal of expense and effort for both the United States and Denmark by being so direct. I thank her for that and look forward to rescheduling sometime in the future!”
Greenland was discovered by the outlaw Erik the Red in the tenth century. Erik belonged to a group of Norwegian anarchists who settled in Iceland to avoid the rule of the king in the newly formed kingdom of Norway. He was so much of a troublemaker that even the Icelandic anarchists didn’t want him, so he created a settlement in a place he had discovered. He christened it Greenland. His son, Leif Erikson, later went on to discover America, 500 years before Christopher Columbus.
Erik arrived in Greenland during the Medieval Warm Period and was, therefore, able to sustain agriculture on land that today is tundra. When the climate started sharply cooling a few centuries after he arrived, Erik’s settlement withered and died. Eventually, Greenland ended up as a satellite of the kingdom of Denmark.
In America, most people reacted with scorn and laughter at the idea of acquiring Greenland. However, the idea is not new. It was discussed as early as the 1860s, and President Harry Truman offered Denmark $100 million to buy the island in 1946.
With its proximity to both the United States and the polar region, Greenland is a highly strategic piece of real estate. The US already has a military presence there, and the island played a central role during the Cold War. Since relations with Russia are growing chillier and even China is displaying signs of imperialism, it makes sense for America to expand its presence in the region.
Greenland also happens to be packed with natural resources, including oil. It would strengthen Trump’s negotiation positions in global trade deals if America became more self-sufficient in natural resources, and Greenland could play a part in that.
Trump is fueling the view among many Europeans that he is volatile and impulsive. On the surface, his impromptu cancellation of an official state visit may seem less than presidential. He might have meant what he said, but in the past he has approached matters more carefully as part of negotiation strategies.
Maybe he wanted to teach Denmark and other nations not to treat suggestions by one of the most powerful men in the world as “absurd.” Perhaps there were other hidden factors, but he used comments over Greenland as an excuse. Whatever the reason, for now, there will be no state visit to Denmark and no deal to buy Greenland.